After Action Report — Helium In The Wild

From Nov 4th through 17th of 2022, Gris­tle King Inc con­duct­ed the Heli­um In The Wild tour on behalf of the Heli­um Foun­da­tion.  This idea was con­ceived, devel­oped, and sup­port­ed by Nik Hawks, Joey Hiller and Scott Sigel to help get boots on the ground off US soil and demon­strate the Heli­um Foundation’s com­mit­ment to build­ing the IoT network. 

The tour start­ed in Lis­bon with Solana Break­point, includ­ed cov­er­age of the Hackathon Train event, moved to Lon­don where we held a larg­er event, then on to Paris where we held a small meet­up.  We fin­ished in Barcelona where we attend­ed the Smart Cities Expo and orga­nized anoth­er meetup.

Dur­ing that time we met Heli­um enthu­si­asts, took the pulse of the com­mu­ni­ty, shared as much con­tent as we could through for­mal pre­sen­ta­tions and infor­mal con­ver­sa­tions, and gath­ered video to be devel­oped into a 5 part series of short videos to be released on the GK YouTube doc­u­ment­ing the tour.


Lis­bon — Solana Breakpoint

In Solana we attempt­ed to meet devs build­ing on the Heli­um Net­work but, frankly, failed.  I’m not say­ing they weren’t there, but in mov­ing through the crowds and talk­ing to many folks at the booths, I met very few peo­ple who had done any­thing more than “heard of” Heli­um. There were major pre­sen­ta­tions by Amir Haleem (CEO of NOVA), Abhay Kumar (CEO of Heli­um Foun­da­tion), Joey Hiller (Tech­ni­cal Direc­tor at Heli­um) as well as oth­ers, and all were rea­son­ably well attend­ed. Still, the gen­er­al pub­lic I met just walk­ing through the crowds was­n’t, in gen­er­al, famil­iar with Helium. 

Lis­bon — Hackathon train

On the Hackathon train we obvi­ous­ly had a dif­fer­ent crowd.  Two things stood out:  First, just get­ting Heli­um to work is still a strug­gle, even for geeks.  While every­one seemed to even­tu­al­ly sort out get­ting their sen­sor onto the net­work and pass­ing data, the event high­light­ed that Heli­um as a use­able net­work is still in its infancy.

Sec­ond, some peo­ple have been in the LoRaWAN field for a long time.  The exper­tise to build on this net­work is there, though con­cen­trat­ed in just a few experts.  These peo­ple should be cul­ti­vat­ed and sup­port­ed as pub­lic edu­ca­tion­al resources.  More on that later.

Lon­don — Here Be Drag­ons & Build­ing an IoT Business

In Lon­don we had our largest gath­er­ing. 35-ish peo­ple showed up at a great venue and par­tic­i­pat­ed in two sep­a­rate events. 

First, a map­ping game in the morn­ing called Here Be Drag­ons.  Par­tic­i­pants were giv­en map­pers pro­vid­ed by RAK Wire­less or Track­pac and then instruct­ed to map loca­tions through­out Lon­don select­ed by Dave Akers (Heli­um Ana­lyt­ics).  Each loca­tion was assigned points, and the team who col­lect­ed the most points won two Hotspots pro­vid­ed by Linx­dot.

Sec­ond, a series of pre­sen­ta­tions and pan­els on build­ing a IoT busi­ness.  These ranged from Neil talk­ing about Track­pac, Rob talk­ing about the chal­lenges of build­ing a back­end, Dave Akers walk­ing through using Ana­lyt­ics to guide busi­ness deci­sions, a pan­el of Adri­an (Wave­form for Heli­um Foun­da­tion), Adri­an (Linx­dot), and Skye (RAK) dis­cussing the next 6 months to a year of devel­op­ment in their respec­tive sys­tems, and fin­ish­ing up with a pre­sen­ta­tion from a local­ly suc­cess­ful IoT busi­ness own­er (Bill Clee at Novacene) talk­ing about how to save the world and build a busi­ness with LoRaWAN.

This meet­up was gen­er­al­ly well received, and feed­back includ­ed thanks for mak­ing indus­try con­nects for par­tic­i­pants as well as excite­ment for peo­ple who had their first expo­sure to Heli­um here.

Paris — Meetup

We ran a small meet­up with uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents on a finan­cial track who were inter­est­ed in DeFi/CeFi and the inter­sec­tion with Heli­um as well as YouTu­ber SMOKLM.  The stu­dents knew very lit­tle about Heli­um, but were curi­ous about it and very inter­est­ed to learn how it worked and how includ­ing a blockchain aspect into the project made it more use­ful. I had planned a trip down to vis­it with Paul (disk91), but the logis­tics turned out to be too much to be worth the effort. It basi­cal­ly added 2 days of trav­el­ing for about 4 use­able hours with Paul.

Barcelona — Meetup

Marc Pous from Bale­na has a local IoT meet­up group who came out.  Heavy on tele­com engi­neers, we also had folks from Ibiza very inter­est­ed in build­ing a Heli­um based business.

Barcelona — Smart Cities Expo

We attend­ed the Smart Cities Expo and talked with many busi­ness­es about Heli­um.  Sophi Kravitz and Alex Coff­man from Heli­um Foun­da­tion were also there.  Almost all busi­ness­es I talked to were famil­iar with LoRaWAN.  Very few had heard of Helium. 

A good exam­ple of this was busi­ness own­er Ed Robin­son at ParkHelp, a San Fran­cis­co based park­ing man­age­ment com­pa­ny.  They’re using LoRa for their sen­sors but are con­vinced that LoRaWAN isn’t a good solu­tion because good cov­er­age for park­ing lot sen­sors (with a car or truck over them) doesn’t exist.


These were ques­tions I heard over and over, and are worth explor­ing as they give insight into cur­rent opin­ion, under­stand­ing, and perspective.

Is Helium dead?  

This appears to be at the inter­sec­tion of 5 beliefs.  I strong­ly cau­tion against argu­ing whether or not these are actu­al­ly true; these are just per­cep­tions from the gen­er­al public:

1) The pub­lic per­cep­tion that Helium/Nova is aban­don­ing IoT in favor of 5G.

2) The Solana/FTX melt­down and con­nec­tion with Mul­ti­Coin and Heli­um investors

3) The net­work isn’t yet reli­able.  Blockchain halts, data cred­it issues.

4) PoC & data cred­its “tem­porar­i­ly” not earn­ing enough.  While those of us who under­stand it know that PoC & DC will nev­er again pay our mort­gage (or any­thing close), there’s still a hope that one day we’ll rewind the earn­ing clock to, say, Jan­u­ary of 2021.  If Hotspots don’t earn mon­ey, most peo­ple don’t see how the net­work can sur­vive.  They don’t care about build­ing an IoT busi­ness; they just want free mon­ey.  A com­mon ques­tion they ask is, “If PoC and Data Cred­its don’t make mon­ey, why will peo­ple leave their min­ers plugged in?”

5) HF/N isn’t doing enough to fix gam­ing, and most HNT on the net­work is going to gamers.

How do I make money on Helium?

Answer­ing this got the most pos­i­tive response, though for many it’s not what they want to do.  Fair­ly obvi­ous­ly, a large per­cent­age of the Heli­um Net­work was built by peo­ple who want­ed to plug, play, and earn.  They don’t want to build a business.

Nur­tur­ing those who do want to build a busi­ness and/or sup­port the com­mu­ni­ty is crit­i­cal to long term success.


Manage Information Flow

HF and Nova are not yet doing a good enough job of keep­ing the com­mu­ni­ty informed on what is hap­pen­ing in the space.  This needs to be a con­cert­ed, long term effort that will frankly seem to smart engi­neers like “dumb­ed down repet­i­tive overkill”.  It’s not.  Not every­one is search­ing hard for all the infor­ma­tion avail­able.  Most peo­ple look at what shows up in their feeds and don’t go beyond that.  Pro­vid­ing both a con­sis­tent data flow as well as a coher­ent and eas­i­ly fol­low­able sto­ry line is impor­tant for the long term health of the community.

This should come from insid­ers and out­side influ­encers on all chan­nels; Dis­cord, Twit­ter, YouTube, email, Face­book, etc.

Message to Specific Audiences

Peo­ple fair­ly neat­ly matched up into four groups.  Address­ing each group specif­i­cal­ly will help either min­i­mize dam­age con­trol or max­i­mize opportunities.

Busi­ness­es — Sup­port & Promote 

Run by tech-savvy peo­ple who see the oppor­tu­ni­ty in a glob­al per­mis­sion­less LoRaWAN net­work, these were 1–10 per­son oper­a­tions deploy­ing any­where from 100 to 1,200 sen­sors.  They include Heli­otics based out of Slo­va­kia, CM7 Group based out of Lebanon, Track­pac, based out of the UK, and a WISP with cov­er­age through­out Ibiza.

Ear­ly Adopters — Invite to help

Peo­ple who bought min­ers ear­ly on and rough­ly under­stand that prof­itabil­i­ty of PoC/DC will nev­er be what it was.  They are curi­ous about IoT busi­ness and love meet­ing up. Gen­er­al­ly not moti­vat­ed to start their own busi­ness in Heli­um, but open to learn­ing about oth­er projects that will deliv­er “pas­sive income”. For this, I’d rec­om­mend using the HF/NOVA mar­ket­ing chan­nels to make sure any­one who has a Hotspot knows about DIMO, Hivemap­per, React Net­work, and pos­si­bly GEODNET. All of those are TIPIN/blockchain + meatspace/PoPW projects that are or will prob­a­bly use the Heli­um LoRaWAN.

Recent Adopters — Man­age infor­ma­tion flow.

Peo­ple who bought min­ers recent­ly.  They are gen­er­al­ly oper­at­ing on the belief that PoC/DC will pay off their min­ers with­in a few months to a year and are dis­heart­ened to hear that they’ve missed the “pas­sive income” opportunity.

Skep­tics — Pro­vide clear onboard path and “Heli­um 101” resources.

These are peo­ple who are curi­ous but skep­ti­cal about Heli­um and haven’t yet bought a min­er. This is a large and untapped mar­ket, and a “Heli­um 101” effort could help bring in many more Hotspot own­ers and sen­sor users into the Heli­um ecosystem.

Build Local — The problem

Sup­port­ing local points of con­tact to build their com­mu­ni­ty isn’t being done well enough yet.  The ear­ly Dis­cord chan­nels for cities was a good start, but even­tu­al­ly was outgrown. 

Build­ing a strat­e­gy to tar­get local/regional audi­ences and help them con­nect at phys­i­cal events is impor­tant.  Email lists are prob­a­bly the eas­i­est way to do this. 

I asked Bob­cat, Nebra, Linx­dot, Hotspot­ty, Par­ley Labs, and the Heli­um Foun­da­tion to send to their email lists regard­ing the Lon­don event and we still only had 35-ish peo­ple show up.  I don’t think any­one yet has fig­ured out how to identify/activate/manage a strong local com­mu­ni­ty, though there is def­i­nite hunger for it.

In Lon­don we had orga­ni­za­tion­al help from the Track­pac team (Neil, Rob, and George) Dave Akers, Adri­an (Wave­form), Liam (Fish), and AP, as well as sup­port from Hotspot­ty for the Here Be Drag­ons map­ping event.  This was a good start, but def­i­nite­ly still short of the mark. There are 6,000 assert­ed Hotspots in Lon­don, of which 2,700 have been active late­ly (data from Dave at Heli­um Ana­lyt­ics). Those 2700 Hotspots belong to 2183 wal­lets. 35 show­ing up out of 2,100 wal­lets means there’s room for improve­ment. Lots of room.

In Paris we had anoth­er YouTube, SMOKLM, help iden­ti­fy a place to meet, but due to date restric­tions and a lack of mar­ket penetration/language ksills on my side, only had 4 peo­ple show up. 

In Lis­bon we man­aged to ral­ly a few more peo­ple, includ­ing 2 of the most suc­cess­ful busi­ness­es build­ing on Heli­um, but again, coor­di­na­tion, lack of resources, and lack of a local orga­niz­er made the meet­up small.

In Barcelona we were helped by Marc Pous from Bale­na.  He’s been run­ning local IoT mee­tups there for 10 years but said that late­ly inter­est has been way down.  We had per­haps 10 peo­ple attend that.

Build Local — Proposed Solution

A repeat­able pack­age for local­ly based Heli­um Ambas­sadors to orga­nize and sup­port ongo­ing net­work health should be built and implemented. 

An exam­ple of this pack­age could include:

-Iden­ti­fy poten­tial local Heli­um ambas­sadors, ide­al­ly through inbound requests.

-Devel­op a struc­ture for how to build and acti­vate a local net­work (enthu­si­asts, schools, businesses)

-Demon­strate and guide ambas­sadors on how to struc­ture a month­ly meet­up (updates, biz opps, Map­ping or oth­er games, networking)

-Teach ambas­sadors as part of the onboard­ing process how and when to reach out to HF for assistance.

-Instruct ambas­sadors on how to find and acti­vate local experts who under­stand LoRaWAN AND can teach oth­ers how to use it. 

By putting all this togeth­er and fund­ing a robust Heli­um Ambas­sador pro­gram, the Heli­um Foun­da­tion can help decen­tral­ize efforts to teach the world about Heli­um and sup­port those who are will­ing to learn, use, and build with it.

What’s Next?

The Heli­um In The Wild tour was a suc­cess in terms of goals set and achieved. Much remains to be done. Explain­ing Heli­um to a larg­er audi­ence, reas­sur­ing the cur­rent com­mu­ni­ty regard­ing the longevi­ty and sta­bil­i­ty of the ecosys­tem, and con­stant­ly ampli­fy­ing the efforts of those who are build­ing on the net­work are all long term works, not one time trips. 

Final­ly, an enor­mous thanks to my wife & busi­ness part­ner, Lee Sel­man, who ran cam­eras, recorders, micro­phones, took care of hotels, tick­ets, trains, and bag­gage, and man­aged to shoot some of the best footage on the trip. With­out her, none of this would have been possible.


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