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. You are amaz­ing my broth­er. Hats off for the hard work and many thanks for shar­ing so we can learn too!

  2. This is great.

  3. Mark Beat Avatar
    Mark Beat

    YOU” are a great help! Present­ly, I have three res­i­den­tial loca­tions to do the ini­tial set up, some­time in Jan­u­ary 2022. I hope you are still avail­able for hire to advise me on set­up, etc. Thanks for tak­ing your time to share with all of us! Have a Mer­ry Christmas!

  4. Right on Mark, thanks a ton! Rock ‘n roll into 2022, here we go!

  5. For the guy wires, where they meet the blocks, are they on a sled or some­thing, or do you just loop the cable thru the blocks? Do you feel the rivnuts are not strong enough to use for the eye­lets or just eas­i­er with nuts…?

  6. I just looped anoth­er wire through the blocks and then attached the guy wire to that loop via a carabiner.

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