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.


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


14 responses to “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 8x100 = 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. Juergen Avatar

    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 Avatar
    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 Avatar
    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?

  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.

  13. Here is what I total­ly don’t under­stand Heli­um 5G and Pollen Mobile are push­ing CBRE net­works and they both have part­ner­ships with Dish Net­work. Dish Net­work owns Boost Mobile and they have about 9 mil­lion cel­lu­lar cus­tomers. Now Boost uses the old Nex­tel, Ver­i­zon and Sprint CDMA net­works which are the old 2G and 3G net­works. This is where Dish Net­work was suck­ered into a bad deal when they pur­chased the CDMA net­works cus­tomer base that seamed like a great deal because the sell­er would con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing cov­er­age on their CDMA net­work. See legal­ly they had to keep the old­er net­work because they were pro­vid­ing ser­vice to mil­lions of indi­vid­u­als. When they sold all of the indi­vid­ual accounts they no longer had to main­tain an old net­work full that was expen­sive to main­tain and when the tow­er infra­struc­ture was an easy 4G5G upgrade. So after the sale Dish Net­work was noti­fied that the CDMA ser­vice that they need­ed was going to be phased out and were sor­ry but your going to have to build your own net­work or pay more for net­work ser­vice and get all of your cus­tomers to upgrade to 4G or 5G sup­port­ed devices. 

    So here is the cur­rent prob­lem: 3G has a to data trans­mis­sion rate of 3 megabits of down­load speed and 0.0 megabits of upload speed. 96 devices on the CBRE small cells at 3G down­load speeds would need 288 megabits. 4G down­load speeds are up to 12 megabits per sec­ond so 96 devices could use 1.2 giga­bytes per sec­ond and 5G has 1 giga­byte to 10 Giga­bits per sec­ond per device so 96 5G devices could use up to 960 giga­bytes. The reg­u­lar indoor and out­door CBRE small cells only need 100 megabit inter­net con­nec­tions and the gate­way units sup­port up to 3 small cells with­out a switch and with a switch up to 6 small cells. The max­i­mum down­load speed is only 220 megabits which tech­ni­cal­ly could sup­port 96 3G devices at close to full speed and even if they offered more band­width they would be lim­it­ed to the 1 Giga­bit eth­er­net that mul­ti­ple CBRE small cells use with up to 96 devices each. The only thing that even makes any sense would be that all 4G, LTE and 5G con­nec­tions would only be oper­at­ing at 2G speeds. So every­one con­nect­ed could at least make phone calls but might need to turn of cel­lu­lar data because it was­n’t sup­port­ed until 3G on high end devices. So phone calls should work but no stream­ing, video calls, social media, emails and text mes­sages might work. Lets say phone calls actu­al­ly are fine I still don’t under­stand how 2G speeds make any mon­ey and the only way your going to get any devices to con­nect is if your the only avail­able ser­vice provider in an area with no oth­er ser­vice. If we get paid at a 5G rate for a 2G speed I think were going to need to call Mr. Robot to get cus­tom fre­quen­cy jam­mers and well all be in business. 

    Can some­one please explain why Heli­um 5G is a good idea after proof of cov­er­age and MOBILE Gen­e­sis is over?

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