No, not the noble gas we learned about in high school chemistry.
I’m talking about the Helium blockchain.
Last summer, a smart friend of mine mentioned he was looking into mining Helium. He’s a software engineer with a good track record on investing so my ears perked up.
The elevator pitch for Helium goes something like this:
There are a bunch of internet of things (IoT) devices, big and small, that need access to reliable, wireless internet. We’re talking about millions of devices.
Things like electric scooters, temperature sensors, shipment trackers, smart irrigation meters, gas leak detectors, air quality monitoring devices, parking garage sensors, electric mouse traps, weight scales, light bulbs… and the list goes on.
But it’s difficult to get reliable internet to these devices. They are often in motion, located outdoors, or too many in number to utilize a typical home WiFi network.
Enter Helium hotspots.
Helium hotspots hook into existing internet, and then transfer small amounts of that internet over long range radio waves (LoRaWAN) to these IoT devices that are designed to use it.
The hotspots are referred to as “miners” because in addition to providing the wireless internet coverage, they also confirm that good connections are made to the device, and they confirm that other hotspots are providing good internet as well. They are “mining” blocks of data.
For this, they are rewarded with Helium Tokens (HNT) on the Helium blockchain. Helium tokens are bought and sold just like Bitcoin and Ethereum.The price changes 24 hours a day.
And just like Bitcoin, Helium tokens are minted each time a transaction occurs on the blockchain, and they are given as a reward to the miner that witnessed another miner or provided Proof of Coverage (PoC) for the network.
Companies that want to use this network simply buy data credits, and use the open source technology when they design their devices.
To have a readily available wireless network in every major city in the world is a huge hurdle that no longer need impede the rollout of a particular IoT application, from building a smart city to tracking deliveries.
Companies like Salesforce, Bosch, and InvisiLeash are actively building products using the Helium network.
Approved manufacturers build the miners. By placing the provided antennae connected to internet in your home, you can be part of the network and get rewarded with Helium for providing your internet and a negligible amount of electricity to run the miner.
If you choose, you can then transfer the Helium Tokens out of your digital wallet and exchange them for U.S. dollars on the open market.
Another interesting feature of this network is that users are incentivized to provide the best possible coverage because then they will earn more Helium.
So, if I upgrade my antennae, or put it on my roof instead of on a window sill inside, I can get more HNT on a daily basis. In this way, the earnings vary from hotspot to hotspot but the entire network is decentralized enough that no one bad connection can bring it down and the opposite actually occurs, individual users try to make the best connections possible.
Too many hotspots in a given area may mean I need to put it higher in the air, thus giving the network overall better coverage. The network is a living organism, because we are living organisms. It fixes itself through self-interested individuals trying to maximize their earnings.
There’s been a lot written and recorded about Helium mining, and much of it by smarter people than me. I encourage you to google or check YouTube for tips. But here’s the general order of operations that I followed to get up and running with Helium:
How to Start Mining Helium
Step 1: Order a hotspot.
I went with a Bobcat Miner 300. I ordered one from the company directly, but because the network is growing like crazy, it has a long lead time. So, I also ordered another one from eBay which cost a bit more but I wanted it sooner so I paid more for it.
There are other brands but I have no idea what the differences are in terms of quality amongst the different brands. They are built based on approved, open-source technology.
Step 2: Download the Helium app
Once you receive your hotspot, download the Helium app and follow the instructions to pair it with your hotspot. Use an ethernet connection as it is more reliable than WiFi for this type of work.
Once you setup your hotspot, you’ll be assigned a fun 3 word name that will be associated with your specific hotspot forever. Something like “Quick Orange Buffalo” or “Snippy Blue Penguin”. No, you can’t change it either. It is a unique identifier. Hopefully you like it. And with something like “Tiny Mango Owl”, how could you not?
Step 3: Assert the location of your hotspot.
Important! When you are setting the location of your miner, you can “assert it” or place it up to 100 meters away from your physical location. You may want to do this if another miner is already located in your hex, but a neighboring hex is open.
Do not move the virtual location of the miner more than 100m from the physical location otherwise it may be invalid.
Step 4: Monitor your connection in the app.
It may take up to a week to sync to the Helium Blockchain.
Some tips to help with syncing: Assign the device a static IP address on your home network. Open port 44158 on your home network and ensure the hotspot is port forwarded through that port only. Don’t plug/unplug the miner too many times.
You can type in the IP address of your miner once connected to check on the status.
Step 5: Check the Explorer app and the Hotspotty website.
Monitor for things that may negatively impact your earnings such as a low transmit scale and troubleshoot using the different codes provided by the site.
You should see the following:
Step 6: Slowly upgrade your setup.
Improve your setup by locating the miner in a desirable location such as an attic, a second story window, or even an upgraded antennae on your roof. Some users generate hundreds of dollars per month because they have very advanced antennas.
I moved my miner into my attic for now until I can install a more permanent and powerful antennae on my roof. I installed a simple light bulb with an outlet and then used an Ethernet over Electric connection to connect the hotspot. I zipped everything together to keep it secure.
Now you know how and why to start mining helium. There is plenty more to learn about the network, radio technology, and IoT, but these basics should be enough to get you started if you are interested.
But How Much Can I Make Mining Helium?
The burning question everyone wants to know! And as with all the best questions in our lives, the answer is, it depends.
If your miner is hooked up to slow internet, and sitting on the ground floor of your home in a sparsely populated area, you may make 10 cents per day or even nothing.
If your miner is connected to reliable internet, and placed high up in your house at the top of a hill, with a professional antennae in a densely populated city, you can literally make hundreds of dollars per month.
The best thing to do is go to the Explorer app and click on various hotspots. View their hex. Check their antennae height. You can also see their exact earnings compared to the network average. This will give you some indication of what you stand to earn.
Here’s mine over the past 2 weeks. You can see I’ve made $31.54 over the past 2 weeks based on the current price of HNT:
Alternatively, you could just buy the HNT token as a bet on the long-term prospects of this technology. But don’t forget that there is risk with any money making endeavor. Mining or owning HNT is no different.
The price of the token may drop 90% tomorrow due to a completely new and unavoidable security risk. This is not investment advice. Think of this as a hobby that might make you some money.
For more in-depth information, here is a great podcast on the topic: The Hotspot – Helium Network & Blockchain Podcast by Arman Dezfuli-Arjomandi.
In any case, it’s the first real-world application of blockchain technology that I’ve seen value in.
Place your bets accordingly.
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