Understanding Helium 5G: The Challenge and Expert Advice

Over the course of the past year, we’ve all learned how to maximize the deployment of a LoRa Helium miner. It’s been a fun run as we sorted through the vital parts of a high earning deployment:

  • Location (Local Density)
  • cLoS (Clear Line of Sight)
  • Antenna Elevation
  • Antenna Type
  • Cables & Install Details

Now we’re faced with a new challenge:  How do you deploy a 5G Hotspot?   I asked a couple of experts to walk me through what 5G is (NOT 5 GHz, by the way) as well as how they’re thinking about finding the very best locations to deploy a Helium 5G miner.  Some of you learn best by video, so here it is.  For the rest of ya, I’ve written it all out below.  No matter how you learn, let’s dive in!

I’ll start with who I talked to, Dennis and Jeremy, with Travis Teague from Helium just listening in an unofficial capacity.

For the past 6 years, Dennis (@Rhyyo_IOT on the Helium Discord) has been running an IoT company, mostly based around LoRa.  On the path to growing his LoRa network he stumbled into 5G and began building and deploying 5G network coverage. 

Jeremy (@rollinson on the Helium Discord) has been working in wireless for 20 years.  From the very beginning, when WiFi went into enterprise solutions, he’s been fascinated with moving information without wires.

He’s run companies providing antennas and cables, been hired to set up the networks for wireless cameras at big events (Lollapalooza, the NFL draft), and made WiFi do all kinds of things it was never intended to do.  Eventually he jumped into CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) because he wanted to use it at events for point of sale and access control.  

Yeah, those are geek terms. Don’t worry too much about ’em now, just focus on the fact that these guys have a collective TON of applied experience in the 5G space.

When Helium announced 5G and FreedomFi, both Jeremy & Dennis jumped in, and have been extraordinarily helpful on the Helium Discord #5g-cbrs channel.

Ok, now that you know who these guys are, let’s dig in to the questions.

What Is 5G?

Is it 5 Ghz?  Nope.

5G is a standard, not a frequency.   The G stands for Generation, so 5G = the Fifth Generation of wireless standards.

The 5G standard covers all kinds of frequencies, from 900 MHz up to 80 GHz.  The common thread is how all these frequencies “talk” to each other.  Yes, I’ll use some non-radio-geek approved jargon here.  🙂

The idea of multiple frequencies on one plan isn’t new. 4G (what we all have had on our phones) doesn’t come on one frequency.  It’s spread across a bunch of ’em.  This is a common mistake for those of us not familiar with the technical aspects of radio frequency bands.  4G is not 4 GHz.  Relax, we’re going to cure our ignorance together.  🙂

Different frequencies “do” different things.  In general, the lower the frequency the longer the distance it’ll cover but the less information it can carry.

What you’re familiar with in the world of LoRa is (in the US) 915 MHz, which can go hundreds of kilometers but only carries a tiny amount of data; say, a 10 digit grid coordinate from a tracking device.

At higher frequencies, way up in the 60 GHz range, you can blast full huge-data high-def video about 1,000′ with a clear line of sight.  Building, trees, rain, even a person in the way can block that signal.

Ok, so with the 5G standard a little more clear, let’s talk about the FreedomFi Hotspot, which will allow you to participate in a few bands of the 5G standard.

What Is CBRS?

CBRS is a USA-only “thing”.  CBRS is a dedicated frequency band from 3.55 – 3.7 GHz that’s open to anyone in the US as long as they have compliant equipment. Yes, it’s not fair that other countries don’t have access to the HNT earned from 5G data flow.  I’m pretty sure they’ll figure it out soon.  As of December 2021, America has the drop on this. No, I don’t make the rules.  Vote the bums out!  Ok, off my soapbox and back to 5G.

Why is CBRS special?  It’s not like WiFi, where anyone can just blast out a signal.  On CBRS, the radio gets on the network, “phones in” and says “Here I am.  This is what I can do.  Tell me what frequency I can have, tell me what transmit power I can have.”  The network responds with a set of guidelines that say, “Stay in this lane, at this power”, and the radio is off to the races in it’s own little space, uninterrupted by other CBRS radios. 

All of that happens with very little to no human involvement.  You don’t have to buy dedicated spectrum.  You don’t have to bid billions of dollars at an FCC auction just so you can get on the radio. Everybody gets to play in that space, because everyone is forced to play by the rules automatically.  

CBRS is also recent; it just became available in January 2020.  So, dedicated spectrum, no human interaction to argue over bandwidth, and brand spankin’ new.  That’s what’s special.

The FreedomFi CBRS offering will carry a lot of data a very short distance, and almost anything solid will block the signal.

The FreedomFi will also (probably) eventually allow you to connect in to other frequencies.  For now we’ll stick with the CBRS frequency band.

Where does that leave you, the Hotspot deployer?  Well, before we get to identifying the perfect 5G deployment, let’s talk about one more important thing, which is the 3 part split of a 5G Helium setup. 

What Are The Parts Of A Helium 5G Hotspot?

  • Hotspot / Miner
  • Radio
  • Antenna

Let’s start with the miner, or Hotspot.  This is the thing that mines HNT.

For most of us in the Helium Network, the other Hotspots we’ve bought (Nebra, RAK, SenseCap, Bobcat, etc) have included a radio and an antenna to provide LoRa coverage.  This is where the FreedomFi is different.

The FreedomFi allows you to split out the miner, radio, and antenna in order to “future proof” your participation in Helium.  

Ok, so you’ve got your Hotspot.  Next, you have the radio.  In the case of the FreedomFi miner, a radio will allow you provide coverage in the 3.5 – 3.7 GHz spectrum (as well as others in the future.) Confusingly, the radio can come with an antenna, or it can be separate from an antenna. 

Last, you have the antenna, which you can upgrade.  I know, I know, I can already hear you gear-geeks salivating at the thought of upgrading your antennas.  I’ll warn ya, this time it ain’t going to be cheap.  For a high end badass 3.5 – 3.7 GHz antenna you’re looking at north of $10k.

Still, you don’t HAVE to have that antenna.  You can spend $1,000 and probably be good.  The priority with FreedomFi miner is the same as with the current LoRa miners:

  • Location is where you make your money.
  • Installation is where you spend your effort.
  • Antennas and gear are where you play with toys.

Now, with the FreedomFi it’s a little confusing, because the FreedomFi miner includes a LoRa radio but not the CBRS radio.  You’ll have to add a CBRS radio and an antenna.  In some cases the antenna is included with the radio.  Confusing if you don’t know about the split.  Easy when you know how.

How Much Will A Helium 5G Deployment Cost?

So, what’s it going to cost?  At a (reasonable) guess:

Gateway (Hotspot): $1,000

Indoor Radio (with antenna): $1,500

Upgraded Radios: $2,500 – 5,000

Fancy Antennas: Pencil in $7,000 as your start point

Cable, Connectors, Bits & Bobs: Plan on another $100-300

Now, it’ll get interesting (and expensive) fast, because you can buy multiple radios, each with their own antenna, that can report to one Hotspot. 

What Is The Ideal Location For A Helium 5G Hotspot?

We are not in LoRa land anymore. We’re in a very different space, with a different set of requirements.  You’re not going to compete with the TelCos (Telephone Companies like AT&T, Verizon, etc) outside.  They have better equipment, bigger budgets, and better locations.  

No more lonely mountains with the wind whipping past and the city laid out at your feet.  We’re doing down, dawg.  We’re going underground.

Under ground is where you can edge in with very specific deployments that meet exactly what you need in order to funnel a ton of radio traffic through YOUR radio.

Step 1: You want to find a place with poor wireless coverage.  An underground bar, a large indoor space, anywhere where the bars on your phone just don’t pop up because signal is blocked.  

Step 2:  Find a place with a lot of people.  You need high traffic.  You need people using their phones like crazy in order to pass enough data through your radio to earn.

Step 3: Find the owner of that space and work a deal where you provide high speed wireless internet access.  Maybe you pay for their internet.  Maybe you just buy them a beer.  Or 900.  However you do it, the basic value prop is that you provide great phone coverage and their customers are happy with it.  Trust me, just try it.  Talk to people.

So, How Much Will My Helium 5G Miner Earn?

The absolute most you earn per radio will be in the neighborhood of US$60/hr.  That’s the high end, at a great spot.  You probably won’t earn that much.

5G data looks like it’ll get paid out at $.50/GB processed.  

Just for perspective, current carriers that don’t have their own towers pay up to $2 GB/wholesale.  So.  $.50/GB looks pretty darn tempting to Mint, or DISH Network.  Just FYI, you should probably be paying attention to DISH. 

What About Reward Scale?

Well, if you assert this FreedomFi Hotspot in a location, yes, it will affect the reward sale at that location.  That won’t, as far asI know, affect your earnings; just PoC earnings.  Obviously that’s under intense debate right now, but for the amount, assume that you putting a LoRa capable miner into a location will have an effect on PoC reward scale.   

What’s the Range of a 5G FreedomFi Hotspot?

Indoor radio/antenna setups will be reaching about 1,000′.  I’d pencil in 500′, but that’s me being conservative.  Test it, yo.

Outdoor setups connecting to a phone are more like 2,000′.

What Kind of Internet Connection Do I Need To Provide?

People will use all the bandwidth you give ’em.  If you’ve got 10 GB fiber backbone, use it.  The better network you build, the more people will use it. The low point will probably be around a GB up & down, symmetrical.  Any location that provides business internet (vs residential) will be able to handle the full throughput of 1 CBRS radio.

The more upstream you can provide, the better.

QUICK CONNECTION TERMS:

Backhaul = Internet

Uplink/upstream – Traffic flowing from a user’s phone into the radio.  Think of uploading a video.

Downlink/downstream – Traffic flowing from backhaul to a user’s phone/device.

Usually, there is far more downstream traffic than upstream.

Array – Spreading bandwidth across different radios and antennas.

WISP – Wireless Internet Service Provider

Spectrum Access Service – The backend that runs the entire CBRS network so they don’t step on each other.  This is the reason WISPs aren’t going to overrun your Helium deployments.

Carrier Neutral – The entity who processes any signal from any carrier.  We (Helium community) are carrier neutral.

How Do I Test Wireless Signal?

The easy and cheap way is with an app on a newer Android phone. 

A Pixel 4 and above is fine, Samsung S10 and newer, or anything that has LTE band 48.

Use the app Network Cell Info Lite (the free version is fine), 

For throughput testing, use nperf.com

Where Can I Learn More?

The best place for the latest info is probably over on the Helium Discord 5g-cbrs channel.  If you have questions about 5G, please post to comments.  I’ll find out the answers and either respond to the question or update this document.  

Here’s to your 5G success!  

p.s. While you wait for your 5G miner, take a look at what you can learn about current LoRa setups and the tools to maximize your Hotspot deployments here

13 thoughts on “Understanding Helium 5G: The Challenge and Expert Advice”

  1. Most of these internal spaces can be served by WiFi (which also supports voice calls using VoWiFi). What’s the point of putting a CBRS 5G system costing over $7000 when the end used can be served more effectively using a WiFi6 router that costs $200?

    As for unit economics, those are very off as well. Assuming 100 users in a bar using 5Gb data – how much can they realistically use if the monthly data usage is 5Gb? Maybe 1mb per person per hour (you don’t go to a bar to watch Netflix). So in a day assuming 8 productive hours that’s 8×100 = 0.8Gb which at $2.0/Gb s worth $1.60/day. It will. Take a long time to get a return in a $7000 equipment.

  2. Helium really should concentrate on their LoRaWAN and try to establish a market of consumers for this network.
    For 5G the challenge is too big.
    – Hardware too expensive
    – Antenna setup too complicated. Put it to your window and earn money -> NO
    – You can’t provide that much up/downstream to earn money that is needed for 5G
    – You directly compete against global players. If you can’t directly connect to the internet and need a provider like Telekom, 1&1, Vodafone, … you can’t win this battle

  3. Patrick Buckley

    Sure you can pay thousands and buy nice new equipment but what is not discussed is the cost of Backhaul (systems connection to the internet) which to get the bandwidth needed to provide a profitable 5G service will be thousands upfront and at least hundreds monthly. Have you noticed NO ONE HUSTLING 5G IS EVEN ADDRESSING THIS, guess why…
    AND currently no one can connect to the system you are paying thousands for.
    After the rug pull with the Helium IOT/Hotspot scam wonder if they will get to the middle of this project, lots of folks owning shiny new devices with high hopes, and then do another rug pull and move on to something else to sell new potentially useless equipment for vapor ware projects.
    If you believe in Helium and HNT BUY HNT, if the projects work you will earn much more from that and if it doesn’t you will be able to convert HNT to $$ than the shiny boxes you wasted your money on.

  4. Hi Patrick, those are reasonable points, although I disagree that “no one is addressing” the backhaul aspect of 5G. I’ve covered a few times on YouTube. I’d also disagree with the idea that there have been any “rug pulls” in Helium. Everything was in plain view for anyone who read the white paper and the announcements in Discord. Many didn’t.

    I agree with your point to buy HNT; that’s an excellent strategy at this point, as the future of 5G is uncertain as far as how soon it’ll be worth it.

  5. Cocky Rooster

    5G! Have one antenna, just bought 2 More Antenna’s. Do you know if you need a POE Switch for hooking up 3 antenna’s or can I just plug them into the Freedom Fi Miner that I have since they have the ethernet plugs?

  6. Looking at buying a freedomfi with a indoor cbrs small cell. What else would I need to buy? Also is this going to make my investment back and more? Sorry to be asking this I’m sure you have gone over this many times on utube. I just have been so busy I’ve not had much time lately to get on. I have 40 helium miners going . They have been good up until the 11 when they switch to light. I’m not giving up on this I believe in helium. I have also been buying a few more miner on eBay for under 150 bucks where people are giving them away. There lose my gain lol. Thanks for any info you can give me. Just don’t want to spend 3 grand and not make it back. Thanks for all you do

  7. Rob, only deploy CBRS where you think the coverage will be useful and it’s unlikely the telcos will provide it. Indoor/undergrond/mall type scenarios.

  8. Talking about reward scale. Do the LoRa and 5G share the same reward scale? Say I place a 5G unit in a hex with other existing LoRa miners. Sure my LoRa reward scale takes a hit. But does the 5G side match that, or is it “1” in this scenario?

  9. Since LoRa is so far built into all the 5G units, the placement of a 5G miner will effect the LoRa scale (because it has a LoRa miner). For standalone 5G, it won’t effect reward scale, or if it does, it’ll be in a very different way.

  10. What if I set up 30 to 60 5G miners in a small town america? Assuming little competition from big telcos… would this be a good idea? Thanks

  11. Hi Eric,
    It *could* be good eventually, if Helium signs deals with the providers in your area. Definitely NOT a low risk endeavor. Does that make sense?
    Nik

  12. Side question I’m interested in converting a MNTD GoldSpot inti a Helium 5g hotspot miner. The MNTD has a YouTube video of this process but wondering if MNTD will sell the 5g Neutrino 430 or if one would have to buy it separately to convert a Goldspot IOT miner into a 5g miner.

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