Kerlink is a LoRaWan hardware player since the first ages of this technology. This French company has equipped most of the operator’s network and is used to propose high quality industrial products.
The iFemToCell is not a new product. It exists since a couple of years and I already tested the IFemToCell 4 years ago. Recently the company has created a Helium edition we are going to review in this blog post.
This is an interesting device as it is a kind of hybrid between a light miner and a full miner. Even if the Kerlink platform is powerful, it is far away the power of a raspberry Pi and certain operations like consensus group can’t be performed. As this is now delegated to Validator, this difference have no impact on rewards. In another hand, this device is consuming less power and it is possible to power it with sun more easily. This is quite interesting.
Let see what is this device and what is specific during its deployment.
Migrating existing LoRaWAN network to Helium or joining Helium for new deployment is accessing to the world largest LoRaWAN network and enable your devices to be deployed in the large covered zone. By doing this you extends the community network and as a counter part getting benefit on future data transfer and immediately get an access to the low cost ecosystem (data transfer, network server, high redundancy network…)
In a previous post I explained how to configure a RAK Wisgate as a Helium Data-Only hotspot. In a such situation your LoRaWAN gateway becomes a hotspot relaying the Helium traffic and getting some little rewards for the data transfer. The more important is to extend the coverage. This way of doing is good but I’ve got some issues on the field: The data transfer from the hotspot to the blockchain (even if just the state channels) is high and the software, currently in alpha, is not totally stable. When deploying a gateway is isolated area to provide new coverage, honestly, these two issues are blocking points.
The second important consideration is the existing gateways, already deployed on the field: they are currently used for private networks. They have been deployed some years ago and are not in the compatibility list of Helium hardware. Even if they are, deploying a new software on them, remotely can be a problem.
For these different reasons, I’ve been investigating a different approach by creating centrally hosted hotspots connected to different LoRaWAN gateways through the legacy Semtech protocol. This is what we are going to detail on this blog-post.
It’s time to extend the Helium network out of the city centers ! Now as most of the Helium Pioneers have stacked a lot of HNT, it is time to reinvest a part of it to grow the attractivity of the network and improve the future value of the token as a consequence. At least it is my point of view on what every Helium participant should start doing. Each hostpot revenue is currently sufficiently high to participate to network extension with Data-Only equipment.
Data Only Hotspot are LongFi (LoRaWan) gateways not doing mining, they are just relaying data and, as a consequence, only earn token for packet transfer. If the network use becomes high, this could be an interesting revenue.
Data Only Hotspot target 2 different use-cases:
Low density area, they are the zone where you don’t have a big chance to have many other hotspot around and full hotspot price won’t make it interesting regarding the low chance to get PoC reward. Basically, they are good to deploy in the countryside, mountains … to extend coverage but not expecting high revenue. This is important to do to enable used-cases based on a large coverage for the network.
Professional networks. This is the main, short term, interest of Helium Data Only Hotspot. Service providers using LoRaWan are mostly relying on private networks with owned equipment’s. These equipment can be migrated or deployed on the Helium network with Data-Only Hotspot without risk of market shortage, larger reliability and lower cost and lower bandwidth and power consumption than full miners. Service providers get different advantages for doing this: get benefit of the existing Helium coverage worldwide (as primary solution or as a redundancy) and get some income for transferring other LoRaWan communication.
For my first experimentation with Helium Data Only Hotspot, I made the choice of RAK Wisgate Edge Prime because this device is reasonable price for high end experience. It is outdoor, with LTE, supporting PoE under $400. This is really fitting well with the second use-case : professional deployment I noticed above. I will later review the Dragino lower cost gateway for addressing the first use-case.
Sensecap is one of the Helium miner official hardware. This one has been made in collaboration with Seeed a big hardware maker and provider.
The production and distribution has started on July 2021 and that solution is really promising to help solving the shortage issues currently seen in the Helium market. As a reminder, Helium growth has been from 15.000 hotspots to 100,000 hotspot in less than 8 months. In a period of global shortage in semi-conductor market it is quite challenging for the hardware provider and the current estimates are about 200,000 – 400,000 back orders.
Sensecap coming batch of 10,000 and more units are really welcome, with the promise of selling produced only devices instead of pre-orders. It sounds like a good choice now days.
So let’s review the technical part of the Sensecap miner.
After reviewing the Rak Wireless miner in a previous blog post, after receiving my own Nebra miner, I’ll give a review of it.
The Nebra miner is one of the different Helium miner machine. It is at first a LongFi (LoRaWan) gateway. It includes a software to run it over a blockchain to create a global IoT network. you can get more details on what is helium in the linked blog post.
This review is on a Nebra batch #1, it is possible that some of the given information will not be valid in a couple of weeks when the batch #2, #3 … will be delivered. No need to precise it but this is an end-user review. I’ve ordered and paid my miner. I’ve no link with Nebra.
Rak Wireless is one of the Helium miner provider, currently the main one. This miner is based on a Rapsberry PI 4 but we will see that it’s not the only part in the miner as Helium Blockchain is not about computing but radio communications.
So the Rapsberry Pi is not the most important parts of the machine, it’s the LoRa concentrator, a piece of technology capable to listen simultaneously on 8 different radio channels and decode really low level signals around -139dBm, basically 0.00000000000001 mW of signal power…
In this post we will detail the technical details about this miner and the interesting aspects. I will also detail my installation experience, this one is not especially specific to RAK as the installation process is quite similar with all the different miners.
In term of radio, the different miner are equivalent and in term of processing the power of a Raspberry Pi 3 is good enough to run the blockchain. More over in the coming month the addition of the Validator in the block chain will drastically reduce the number of complex operation inside the miner. As a consequence, the performance is not an important criteria. This is to say, currently the tech specifications are not really important in the miner choice and I won’t detail a lot that part.
STM32-WL is the new ST family supporting LoRa and LoRaWAN in, not a single chip but a single die. I did not yet written on it (busy busy busy) but this technology is really interesting as it resulting on a simplified architecture with less chip in your circuit and at the end a lower power consumption, a lower footprint and a lower cost.
LoRa-E5 from Seeed studio is a module containing a STM32-WL circuit and the associated RF circuitry to simplify design based on such chip. Its public price is $9.9 for the module alone and you can also find different boards using it. This price is in the maker market but a bit high for a such system for mass production. This module contains the stronger STM32WL family chip, chip price is 3.71€ / 1000 on mouser. But the module includes all the circuitry around and facilitate your design.
The module is mainly maker market and comes with software to be immediately used by end-user within an Arduino or equivalent environment. It can also be re-flashed for being used with your own software in it. The cortex M4 in is is stronger than most of the Arduino platform.
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