How To Secure A Successful Helium Hotspot Placement



Some­times ya just got­ta see it being done to learn it. Here’s the best I can do to bring you on the jour­ney of set­ting up a hotspot. This is the sto­ry of Thank­ful Caramel Quail. The full gear list for this install is here, includ­ing options & alternates.

I’d iden­ti­fied a com­mer­cial build­ing as a poten­tial­ly good loca­tion for plac­ing a hotspot. It was high (40′ or so), near a busy high­way (the 5, an inter­state free­way that con­nects Mex­i­co to Cana­da along the West Coast of the US), and near a busy bor­der. The San Ysidro bor­der cross­ing is the fourth busiest land bor­der cross­ing in the world, and well with­in the cov­er­age range of this setup.

The sur­round­ing area is most­ly flat. To the east there’s a slight rise which would block some RF waves, though they’d have plen­ty of dis­tance to spread out and pos­si­bly bounce around it by the time they got there. I ran an RF sim­u­la­tion on Helium.Vision (pre­ferred choice for pro deploy­ments, learn how to use it here) and it looked pret­ty darn good with a 3 dBi HNten­na.

Near­by was most­ly com­mer­cial and mixed use, not super dense res­i­den­tial. The area in gen­er­al did­n’t have many hotspots in it. That den­si­ty and type of real estate is good for pro­vid­ing need­ed cov­er­age and not get­ting clipped by Trans­mit Reward Scaling.

All of those things (ele­va­tion, den­si­ty, good lines of sight, lots of poten­tial for IoT use) are impor­tant for a durably prof­itable deploy­ment. You can prob­a­bly get high­er earn­ings *now* by going into a denser area, but you’re not real­ly improv­ing the net­work. Con­stant­ly improving/expanding net­work cov­er­age is how we’ll all win. Keep it WUPU, yo.

I approached the build­ing own­er through a ten­ant in the build­ing. I con­tract the ten­ant to do work for me on an ongo­ing basis, so it was a straight­for­ward busi­ness to explain how hav­ing a LoRa gate­way on the prop­er­ty would allow me to mon­i­tor inven­to­ry lev­els on the prod­ucts I store there as well as offer cov­er­age to the oth­er ten­ants and the sur­round­ing area. The build­ing own­er asked for a one pager explain­ing what I was doing so he could run it by his insur­ance com­pa­ny. I gave him a slight­ly mod­i­fied ver­sion my stan­dard tem­plate.

Then I went up on the roof to make sure I could do what I want­ed to do, and we agreed on fair compensation.

I try to keep all my writ­ten agree­ments as sim­ple and clear as pos­si­ble. You may have dif­fer­ent require­ments or a dif­fer­ent goal, and that is def­i­nite­ly NOT a legal document.

Now that I’d iden­ti­fied a loca­tion, con­firmed it was clear for my pre­ferred set­up, and got­ten per­mis­sion, I had to order the parts and put it all togeth­er. For these flat roof installs, it’s a pret­ty straight­for­ward set­up. You order what’s called a “non-pen­e­trat­ing roof mount”, assem­ble it on the roof, tilt it on it’s side, slide in the longest pole you can find, stand the whole thing up and anchor the base with con­crete blocks along with 3 sep­a­rate guy points fas­tened to the pole and anchor those guy lines with con­crete blocks. It’s super sim­ple and very sturdy. 

The pole I used was a 21′ foot tube of 4130 chro­moly with a wall thick­ness of .095″ and a diam­e­ter of 1.75″ that I got from Com­pet­i­tive Met­als over in El Cajon. You can find some­thing like it at any met­al shop near you. This is the same pole used by the old ham guys on top of their tow­ers; it’s light, strong, and tough. You can find cheap­er poles, but I’ve found that cheap­er usu­al­ly is more expen­sive in the long run. 

Of course, before we got to the roof there was some prep work to be done. 

First, I had some LMR400 cable lay­ing around which had the wrong con­nec­tor on one end (from my ear­ly days of push­ing the BUY but­ton before dou­ble check­ing what con­nec­tors I’d need). Before we jump into cables and con­nec­tors, it is WAY eas­i­er & cheap­er to just order the right cables & con­nec­tion and not do it your­self. I rec­om­mend McGill Microwave for that. 

Still, easy ain’t always my game, and I love mak­ing things work.

Step one was to cut off the wrong con­nec­tor. Here we go!

You can do all this stuff with a straight razor blade, but I’m a “right tool for the job” kind of guy. I picked up the prop­er cable cut­ters, strip­pers, prep tool, and crimpers for both this size (LMR400) and LMR240, just in case I need to do that as well.

After strip­ping the cable sheath and the inner core, it was ready for sol­der­ing the tip onto the cop­per inner wire. I blew one tip before I got it right. Yep, I ain’t per­fect, not by a long shot.

Here’s what it looked like the sec­ond time. 🙂

From there you just slide on the con­nec­tor, then crimp it. Easy enough with the right tools. Here it is before the crimp connection:

And here’s what it looks like after I crimped it and slid the weath­er resis­tant strain boot over the whole thing. 

Now, I’ve learned the hard way (hav­ing to make extra trips to a moun­tain install) to test every­thing in the garage, so out came the VNA (bet­ter ver­sions exist now) and I test­ed the HNTen­na with the cable. Here’s what a loose con­nec­tion will do to your VSWR (which should be well under 2):

And here’s what it looks like when all your con­nec­tions are tight and your cables are prop­er­ly made. See how the VSWR went from 50 down to less than 2? Under 2 is what you’re aim­ing for. That’s golden.

Now that the cable was made, next up was mak­ing a quick brack­et for the anten­na. This is dead sim­ple, requir­ing just a few holes, a u‑bolt mount, and a vise to twist the alu­minum bar.

Here’s drilling the hole. This is where a drill press comes in super handy. Drilling large holes by hand just isn’t as fun or easy. 🙂 You can see I’ve already drilled the clamp holes on the end and the u‑bolt is mount­ed so I don’t lose it. 

Once I had the holes drilled it was over to the vise to give it a 90 degree twist. Keep it sim­ple, superman!

I also want­ed to test every­thing in the back­yard. As Paul over at Tour­ma­line Wire­less had drilled into me from the Ama­teur Jade Hare install, test it at home first!

In the past I’ve car­ried out my old school drill press and mount­ed it on that euca­lyp­tus stump, but I did­n’t want to fuss with car­ry­ing the 140 lb drill press out this time, so I just went with a cord­ed hand drill and sharp 1/4″ bits. It’s not quite as easy with a hand drill, but hell, it ain’t like it’s impossible.

Now comes the cool part, rivnuts! These are a way to make a super clean install on a pole, or any met­al. They can be a bit fid­dly, but man do they look clean. Here you can see I’ve got one installed and one hole drilled, wait­ing for a rivnut. Once they’re in, I just use ’em as mount­ing points for the enclo­sure. Rivnut kits for this kind of work are pret­ty cheap, usu­al­ly under $50.

From there you just bolt on the enclo­sure and your mount­ing set­up is fin­ished! Those 2 small wires and the lit­tle black box com­ing off the RAK is a PoE split­ter with a USB‑C con­nec­tor. We’ll talk about that next.

My goal for any on-grid hotspot instal­la­tion is to con­nect the hotspot to the router via an eth­er­net cable car­ry­ing PoE, or Pow­er Over Eth­er­net. I don’t trust WiFi to have a sta­ble con­nec­tion and WiFi gen­er­al­ly won’t punch through exte­ri­or walls well, espe­cial­ly when they’re con­crete and/or insu­lat­ed. PoE means you can drop one cable from your require­ments (the pow­er cord), which is one less hole to drill in a wall. That’s a good thing.

In this case, we need­ed a long eth­er­net cord. I think I used 249′ of Direct Bur­ial Cat6. That’s overkill, 5e would be fine. Direct Bur­ial just means you can drop it out­side and it’ll last longer. I buy 500–1,000′ rolls for exact­ly this rea­son, and ter­mi­nat­ing your own eth­er­net cable is super easy. You can see on the enclo­sure pic­ture above that the cables just run in through the bot­tom pro­tect­ed from the weath­er by foam guides. Yep, simple.

This PoE (Pow­er Over Eth­er­net) thing con­fus­es a lot of peo­ple. Thank­ful Caramel Quail is a RAK hotspot. It does­n’t take PoE native­ly, so you need two things, a PoE *injec­tor*, which “injects” pow­er into the eth­er­net cable down by the router, and a PoE *split­ter*, which splits out the pow­er and the eth­er­net in the enclo­sure. Some Heli­um hotspots do PoE native­ly (like the Nebra Out­door), so you don’t need a split­ter. For hotspots that need both, here’s the diagram:

To make that a lit­tle more clear with a video, I shot this for ya:

In any event, with an injec­tor and a split­ter and enclo­sure and all the rest of the tools bought, it was time to get on site and haul up the blocks I’d need to sta­bi­lize the pole. 

You need 15 of these blocks to sta­bi­lize a 20–25′ pole. 6 for the stand, then 3 each for the 3 guy anchor points. All of ’em have to go up. I’ve done this by myself with a lad­der, but it’s way eas­i­er with two peo­ple. Me & @coaxialtasko switched out so we’d both get some work in; here’s me prac­tic­ing my long unused bow­line tying skills.

With the kit hauled up and the cable ran (from the router inside through the build­ing, out a hole where pipes were already punch­ing through, then up onto the roof), all that was left was assem­bling the base, tilt­ing it up, and wiring the guy lines.

These bases only go togeth­er one way, and it’s not always obvi­ous what way that is. Still, you’ll end up with a nice look­ing and stur­dy base using only a cres­cent wrench and a sock­et set. Love me some sim­ple tool action.

I should’ve got video of the tilt up but we were busy GSD (Get­tin’ Shit Done), so here’s the fin­ished prod­uct. Yep, that’s my $6k hair­cut by the artist Manrab­bit, with all of Tijua­na in clear Line of Sight to the south. You can’t see it from here, but there’s a Prox­i­cast light­ning arrestor with ground­ing lug attached to the anten­na. Relax, ground­ing gods. Sheesh.

That’s it. The hotspot isn’t being relayed, so I’m not focus­ing (for now) on open­ing up port 44158. I’ll watch it for a while to see how it does, then I may test dif­fer­ent antennas.

My hope with this deploy­ment (and all deploy­ments) is to use­ful­ly expand cov­er­age of the Heli­um net­work while earn­ing a steady and reli­able flow of HNT. If that’s your goal as well and you’d like help doing it, I’m avail­able for hire. Here’s to the healthy and awe­some growth of The Peo­ple’s Network!


56 responses to “How To Secure A Successful Helium Hotspot Placement”

  1. Great post and sig­nif­i­cant effort put into mak­ing it one of the best SD hotspots (96+ wit­ness­es). Hope­ful­ly HNT earn­ings will increase from the cur­rent lev­el, hard to judge with­out base­line with the stock anten­na. My only sug­ges­tion (too late now) is to make cable from RAK to anten­na short­er, as short as possible.

  2. Thanks Mike, it’s only about 5′ of LMR400. I don’t think mak­ing it short­er would make a dif­fer­ence. Am I miss­ing something?

  3. Stanley Lawton Mead Avatar
    Stanley Lawton Mead

    Is a 20 mast on a one sto­ry house using a 5,8 dbi make sense? Flat terrain.

  4. Prob­a­bly, though it depends on den­si­ty as well.

  5. Sebastian Avatar

    Did­n’t see any men­tion of ground­ing the set­up. Any wor­ries about light­en­ing strikes?

  6. Keishon Avatar

    Love the con­tent and effort put into doc­u­men­ta­tion. As you began this busi­ness how did you come up with your busi­ness mod­el of com­pen­sat­ing build­ing owners?

  7. Right on Keis­hon, thanks. Noth­ing fan­cy, just looked at what an attrac­tive rental fee might look like and pro­posed it. 🙂

  8. Hi Sebas­t­ian, you should always ground your setups, I’ll get pic­tures of it next time I’m there. Stan­dard light­ning arrestor with ground­ing lug, find the build­ing ground and lead to it. Noth­ing fancy.

  9. Charlie Avatar

    Is the light­ning arrestor nec­es­sary? I would think only sta­t­ic elec­tric­i­ty is the only real poten­tial prob­lem. Just ground­ing the mast will prob­a­bly be suf­fi­cient? Agree?

  10. Tech­ni­cal­ly you’ll use both. A good arrestor is $50–75 and can save all your elec­tron­ics. Def­i­nite­ly would­n’t want to lose a hotspot at this point in the game due to sta­t­ic build up and discharge. 🙂

  11. Amaz­ing job!
    Shoot me a quote to set a cou­ple up (already have in hand) in Phoenix.

  12. Hi Rich,
    Thanks for reach­ing out, Tony B called me tonight about you! I can help with place­ment con­sult­ing and opti­miza­tion to make sure you get the best result pos­si­ble, but I don’t do paid set ups (or I do, but not at a rate any­one would want to pay.) 😉 If place­ment strat­e­gy is inter­est­ing head on over to the Con­sult­ing page.

  13. Oliver Avatar

    Awe­some con­tent on this blog. Plan­ning to set up a few ones but on the top of the high­est build­ings in a very flat coun­try with much more wind and rain so I have to fig­ure out some bet­ter then the bricks to fix­ture that anten­na’s base.
    I real­ly just want­ed to put near the oth­er anten­nas. I thought it is enough if it’s on the top of a build­ing but yeah.… the anoth­er anten­nas are reciev­ing not send­ing so I should real­ly eval­u­ate this one… I hope they let me do still if it will be more visible 😀

  14. Right on, keep me post­ed with the mount­ing solu­tion you come up with. Those bases with blocks are pret­ty darn stur­dy, and if you put the guy-line mount points up high and move the guy anchors far away it’ll take a hur­ri­cane to move ’em.

  15. shawn Avatar

    What is the that black/white cone-look­ing enclo­sure around the anten­na called? Is it for bet­ter recep­tion, weath­er proof­ing, etc? there’s a 5.8 inside that? great info, I’m in SD, and now seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing doing one of these on my roof.

  16. The cone-look­ing thing is a “radome”, and all it does is pro­tect the anten­na inside from the weath­er, which is a 4.1 dBi.

  17. andre Avatar

    Hey Nik, what is that “radome” made out of, or can u buy it ready-made some­where? thanks and great post!

  18. I believe plas­tic. It came with the anten­na, I’m sure you could shop around and pick up some­thing like it.

  19. Awe­some post Nik, much appre­ci­at­ed for shar­ing, I’ve just dis­cov­ered HNT and Peo­ple’s net­work and love it! I might need your con­sult when get my hands on one of miners.
    QUESTION: (if u know ofcourse) How sim­ple is it to change min­er’s fre­quen­cy from US(915MHz) to EU(868MHz)? Is it a mat­ter of just replac­ing dif­fer­ent anten­na and pow­er volt­age adapter, or there’s also some chips inside the machine that need to be replaced to match that anten­na? (I have some­body here local­ly in UK offer­ing me buy brand new min­er, but it’s a US version(915Mhz) and he’s afraid he might run into prob­lems with authorities

    thanks for your help, cheers

  20. Right on. I’d say that’s too dif­fi­cult to be worth it. Far more involved than replac­ing anten­na and pow­er adapter. If they have brand new US min­ers for sale they should just ship ’em to the US. Send ’em my way if they want to sell.

  21. Caleb Shuler Avatar
    Caleb Shuler

    Thanks for all the help­ful stuff Nik! I have been read­ing and shar­ing around dis­cord for a cou­ple weeks now. You real­ly help take this stuff to the next lev­el. Can’t wait to hear you on the uplink! I’m on dis­cord @skidog12 I might hit you up for con­sult­ing someday!

  22. Right on, stand­ing by to help when you want to get deep & awesome. 🙂

  23. martin Avatar

    I am about to do my first one sim­i­lar to this on top of my roof at home with a rak min­er and and out­door enclo­sure. I am con­fused about the ground­ing and the light­ning arrestor. Where do you attach the ground­ing wires on a set­up like this?
    Thank you

  24. Mar­tin, ground­ing wires from from the light­ning arrestor to the met­al mast, then from the base of the mast to the build­ing ground.

  25. Hel­lo Nik, so I was won­der­ing if you know how much Datavol­ume these Hotspots need. Because I was think­ing about mount­ing it on the roof of a busi­ness and they obvi­ous­ly want­ed it to use my own WiFi. I was think­ing about get­ting an out­door router with 4G Sim-Card since this would be cheap­er and way sim­pler since we already have an elec­tric plug on the roof and I could direct­ly plug every­thing in from there and obvi­ous­ly I would need a way short­er cable.
    You think this would work out?
    Best from Berlin, Germany.

  26. 20–30 GB/month. Check out the ELI5 arti­cle for more info on hotspots.

  27. If I want­ed to build some­thing like this at my house and instead did not pur­chase a sep­a­rate enclo­sure for my Bob­cat and my router (which are inside my house), do I have weath­er­proof the LMR cable?

  28. LMR400 is weath­er­proof, just make sure you use a drip loop before bring­ing it inside. 🙂

  29. Alisha Avatar

    What is the box/ enclo­sure called?
    Try­ing to find it on Ama­zon, just not sure what words to use to look it up.

  30. Hi Alisha, I think I used a Qilip­su enclo­sure for that install.

  31. Hi Nik! Thanks for shar­ing so much knowl­edge on Heli­um, anten­nas and the works. I have found sev­er­al types of non pen­e­trat­ing mast mounts online like the one you have in this arti­cle, but what did you use for the guy wire anchor points? Was look­ing at putting a 10′ mast on a flat roof and want­ed to emu­late what you’ve done here.

  32. 3 CMUs (cin­der blocks) con­nect­ed via a loop of wire rope, swaged the ends together.

  33. Hi Nik.
    How are anchor­ing your guy wires to the roof?

  34. Hi John, I just anchor ’em to a cou­ple CMUs (con­crete blocks). Zero pen­e­tra­tions that way.

  35. Hi Nik,

    Curi­ous, when you go to change anten­nas, how do you ensure that the mast does not fall in wrong direction?
    How taught do the guy wires to cin­der blocks need to be?

  36. One more ques­tion. Are you con­cerned water is going to fill that mast tube? Or is it open on the bottom.

  37. It’s open on the bottom. 🙂

  38. The mast isn’t that heavy, two peo­ple can eas­i­ly bring it down under con­trol. The guy wires need to be taut enough to keep the mast sta­ble; it’s a “feel” thing.

  39. […] dou­ble tap this range thing with an exam­ple of a hotspot I run, which has a 3 dBi HNTen­na on top of a 20? pole on top of a ~30? build­ing. It […]

  40. Hey Nick thank you for the great Guide!!
    From do you get the tri­pod for the mast? I’m strug­gling to find a high qual­i­ty one ?

  41. Hi Leo, should be a parts list link on this page. If not, look for a “non-pen­e­trat­ing roof mount”.

  42. Hi Nik, thanks for all the knowl­edge-shar­ing. Kudos!
    When plac­ing the small gold­en tip on, did you sol­dier it or just press-crimp­ing it enough?
    With­out the PS100 ana­lyz­er (cuz I just saw it for the first time and have to fig­ure out how to get it fast) does see­ing more wit­ness­es prove that the LMR cable was well-made? Ask­ing because we put our first bob­cat out­side on top of a build­ing in Croa­t­ia (24m total with pole) 2 days ago and it went from 11 to 87 wit­ness­es, but no change to the HNT earn­ings or con­sis­ten­cy-of-earn­ings. Look­ing at the dai­ly, it only received rewards at 5 hours of the max 24 so look­ing very “thin”… If it helps: Slow Hot­pink Camel.

  43. Hi Mario,
    I order the sol­der tips and sol­der ’em. There are two kinds; crimp & solder. 

    See­ing (any) wit­ness­es proves that the cable works. Hav­ing more wit­ness­es isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly going to increase you earn­ings, as only 10 Wit­ness­es are ran­dom­ly select­ed to split the pot.

  44. Thank you Nik!
    So far we crimped ours that we ordered from (and now hop­ing they are the crimp­ing ones). Will def­i­nite­ly con­tin­ue to read all the posts for improve­ment and trou­bleshoot­ing and will prob­a­bly reach out when we put all the setups out­side and need fur­ther assis­tance. If I may ask one more ques­tion that is a part of the last one… how come the top 10 in my city have an aver­age of 19–20 hourly rewards and, well, our two ones have 5–6: that’s a huge dif­fer­ence! (I know there is a bunch of fac­tors, but if we have clear field of view with 360 vision with no hills around… there is room for the sig­nal to spread and bounce… a sta­ble cat.5 inter­net con­nec­tion… a 5.8 dBi RAK anten­na… not too long LMR400 cable. It just bog­gles me!? I think we need the PS100 ana­lyz­er, but what can I say, the bob­cats were 2 months late and putting every effort to catch up…

  45. Hi Mario, earn­ings is most­ly a func­tion of place­ment and line of sight to oth­er Hotspots that are not scaled and on sta­ble con­nec­tions. There are many per­mu­ta­tions that look good at first glance but that don’t work well. ~75% of your earn­ings come from wit­ness­ing, so if you’re wit­ness­ing lots of low scale Hotspots that’s one rea­son your rewards could be low­er than oth­er Hotspots.

  46. Hey Nik,

    As always, incred­i­ble infor­ma­tion! Any thoughts on how to prop­er­ly ‘ground’ a hotspot in a high-rise bal­cony 20 sto­ries high?

  47. There was recent talk on Dis­cord about this, with one sug­ges­tion being to just ground the thing to a large piece of met­al, which will at least help dis­si­pate that sta­t­ic buildup.

  48. […] your hotspot. Remem­ber Thank­ful Caramel Quail? You can read about its set­up over in the Anato­my of a Hotspot post. When you hit the Search but­ton, it’ll bring up a bunch of options. Choose yours, and this […]

  49. Did you have to cal­i­brate your new RF Analyser?
    Or you just used it out of the box?

  50. Yep, I bought a cal­i­bra­tion kit and used it before attach­ing the ana­lyz­er to any antennas.

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