How to take your Helium Hotspot Off Grid

It seems pret­ty straight­for­ward; gen­er­ate pow­er and a con­nec­tion to the inter­net, and you’ve got an off grid Heli­um Hotspot set­up. Still, you’ll have a few minor details to sort out, like what type of enclo­sure, how to mount it, how to make sure it stays weath­er­proof if you use an exter­nal anten­na, and how to vent it.

Actu­al­ly, those aren’t minor, and they’re typ­i­cal­ly not cheap.

For an off-grid install plan on spend­ing US$2–3k and you’ll be pleas­ant­ly sur­prised. If you want to expe­ri­ence the anguish of cheap­ness (as I have), try and spend less than $2k. That may cost you $4k as you real­ize you skimped so you’ll have to dou­ble-buy, and you end up with extra almost-good-enough-for-a-seri­ous-remote-install gear lay­ing around the shop. Your choice. 😉

Let’s start with a draw­ing to give the big picture. 

You may see that and say, “Nik, why don’t you just use an out­door hotspot, like the Nebra?” Well, the out­door Nebra is per­fect for a PoE con­nec­tion when you’ve got access to pow­er & hard­line inter­net, but:

If you’re going to go off grid you’ll need to pro­tect your bat­tery, charge con­troller, and cell modem. You’re going to have to buy an enclo­sure for all that. Might as well put every­thing in one box (enclo­sure) and save a lit­tle on the hotspot.

There is an updat­ed ver­sion of my think­ing on off-grid min­ers, that blog post is here. Much of the below infor­ma­tion is out­dat­ed, but I’m leav­ing it up as a record. Enjoy!

Ok, let’s lay out some numbers:

Ok, so that adds up to 5 watts but when it comes to solar, you should always plan for more. 7.5 watts con­tin­u­ous is pret­ty safe. Let’s use 8 watts just to give our­selves even more cush­ion. As it turns out, that’s what my remote set­up (a DIY, from way back when that pro­gram was open. It’s NOT any­more) is using, as mea­sured via Barkin­Spi­der’s SolarShed direc­tions but using Influx instead of Grafana:

I know that’s a cute pic­ture and pic­tures can be per­sua­sive, so: –> Before you just take my word for it <–

MAKE SURE YOU MEASURE ALL YOUR POWER DRAWS!

Cal­cu­late your pan­el & bat­tery sizes off of YOUR sit­u­a­tion, not mine.

Now you’ll have to fig­ure out 2 things. First, how big a bat­tery will you need? Sec­ond, how much solar wattage will you need? 

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia I can use a 100 watt pan­el and a 50 Ah bat­tery. That’s for a remote install that is 6 miles down a rugged trail wind­ing up (and down, and up, and down, and final­ly up) a moun­tain. While I don’t mind work­ing hard in pur­suit of a wor­thy goal, I don’t real­ly love *extra* work. Over­siz­ing the pan­el & bat­tery makes it less like­ly I’ll need to do extra work.

How do you fig­ure out your bat­tery size?

  • Step 1: Add up all your pow­er draws for a 24 hour cycle
  • Step 2: Fig­ure out how many cloudy/overcast days a year you’ll have.
  • Step 3: Mul­ti­ple the result from Step 1 x Step 2 x at least 1.5. The larg­er you make that last num­ber the more expen­sive you bat­tery will be, but the longer it will last. Do NOT skimp on this.
  • Step 4: Shop for bat­ter­ies. This is my go-to source for bat­ter­ies. I like nice things, and they make ’em.

What about solar pan­els? In con­junc­tion with cal­cu­lat­ing bat­tery require­ments, you’ll need to fig­ure out how much solar wattage you’ll need to keep your bat­ter­ies charged. Use the worst case sce­nar­ios: The longest cloudy weath­er stretch your region encoun­ters in the bit­ter depths of win­ter. You’ll thank me when it comes, even though you may not be psy­ched with the up front cost.

Now that you’ve got all your kit, what will you put it in, and how will you con­nect it? 

Start by mea­sur­ing the dimen­sions of every­thing, then order an enclo­sure. I get mine from Allied Mould­ed. They make pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­ty out­door enclo­sures. They ain’t cheap, but they’re the ones that Heli­um Inc used when run­ning their first off-grid test, way back in April of 2020. You can DEFINITELY find cheap­er ver­sions. My gen­er­al approach is “buy the best stuff you can afford, then you won’t have to wor­ry about it.” When I’ve gone against that, it usu­al­ly costs me even more as I have to replace cheap shit. 

Mea­sure twice, then mea­sure again, then dou­ble check by plac­ing every­thing in the enclo­sure before you drill any holes. Then take a day off to think about it. Make a list of the hole sizes you’ll need, plus the cable glands, exhaust vents, fan mount holes, etc.

You’ll notice in that list and on my shared sheet a call out for a Dragi­no LHT65. By the way, that sheet is out­dat­ed, so use it to give you a *sense* of what you need, but don’t just go buy­ing every­thing on the list.

Back to the Dragi­no! That’s a sen­sor that gives you temp and humid­i­ty, but more impor­tant­ly it’s a way to check if your remote hotspot is actu­al­ly work­ing. On Heli­um Con­sole, you can see what hotspot is pro­cess­ing the pack­ets from that sen­sor. It’s faster and more accu­rate than check­ing Explor­er, at least in my experience. 

Back to set­up. Once you’ve mea­sured and list­ed all your parts and holes, lay it all out. 

DO NOT BE CONFUSED BY THE PICTURES BELOW, this is for a DIY set­up, which is why you’re see­ing a Pi and not a hotspot at the top right. The DIY pro­gram is closed due to secu­ri­ty con­cerns from fuck­ing gamers who ruined it for every­one. Ok, mov­ing on.

I found it super use­ful to just write on the back­plate where I would put every­thing. I still made a few mis­takes, and the final fit was much tighter than I’d like, but it works. This is the guts of Ama­teur Jade Hare.

Here’s what it looks like from the back; you can get an idea of the fit­tings & con­nec­tions to the pole. 

From expe­ri­ence, most peo­ple want to use that same anten­na. Trust me, you don’t. First, they’re a PITA to hump in. Here’s me at 6 miles in after 3,000′ of ver­ti­cal gain. Deep in the well of phys­i­cal misery.

Sec­ond, they’re a PITA to mount. Third, they’re so pow­er­ful you have to ask your geeky tech friends for help to dial back the trans­mis­sion pow­er. Final­ly, they’re huge wind catch­ers, so you need to mount guy wires to keep ’em steady. Fun to set up once, but not so amaz­ing that I can rec­om­mend ’em.

Learn from my expe­ri­ence and stick with a more appro­pri­ate anten­na. You’ll prob­a­bly nev­er thank me because you won’t know the ass-pain you’re miss­ing, but trust me, that’s a hook-up piece of advice.

Ok, that should wrap up both the big pic­ture and a few details on installing a remote Heli­um hotspot. If you want help putting one up and this post isn’t enough, you can hire me for con­sult­ing, more on that here.

Post ques­tions in the com­ments if you have ’em.

RESOURCES

  • Solar calcs sheet This is for a DIY hotspot run­ning a Rasp­ber­ry Pi4 & 2287, not a full fat min­er. This just gives you an idea. DO YOUR OWN CALCS! YPDMV
  • Olivia Wire­less — Easy way to man­age all your SIM cards in one place. 
  • A Rough Guide to Heli­um Hotspot Place­ment — Before you get all hot and both­ered about going remote, see if this’ll help you find an eas­i­er, bet­ter location.
  • Gear List — This’ll give you an idea of what you’ll need to get. It’s def­i­nite­ly NOT the only way to do it.

46 thoughts on “How to take your Helium Hotspot Off Grid”

  1. Derek Coleman

    Amaz­ing arti­cle. Thanks for all the valu­able infor­ma­tion! This is some­thing that I plan on doing with at least 1 hotspot this year and I’d like to know a bit more about your ser­vices — we can dis­cuss via email. 

    One ini­tial ques­tion I have is about the land that you placed the hotspot on. From the pho­to it looks like pub­lic land? Do you also pro­vide con­sult­ing on how to find remote loca­tions and how to legal­ly go about plac­ing a hotspot there?

  2. Hi Derek, that place­ment required coor­di­nat­ing with mul­ti­ple agen­cies and enti­ties; it was not a sim­ple or easy process. 🙂 I can def­i­nite­ly help iden­ti­fy opti­mal remote loca­tions and help with guid­ing you through how to legal­ly place a hotspot. Glad the arti­cle was useful!

  3. Hi Nik, Indeed inter­est­ing arti­cle. Sure going to build one of these. (with some mod­i­fi­ca­tions). Thanks for that…
    Ques­tion: such a pool on the top of a moun­tain… How are your thoughts about ligh­n­ing. How do you han­dle that?

  4. Hi Sacha,
    Add in a light­ning arrestor and a ground wire to any deploy­ment and you’ll be as safe as you can. I mean, it’s a pole up high on a moun­tain, so it’s more like­ly to get hit than if you’re down in the val­ley, but that’s the risks you take, right? 🙂

  5. Hey Nik, amaz­ing set­up. I only won­der: does the anten­na have a light­ning arrester? If not, why don’t you think it’s nec­es­sary? Isn’t there a good chance of the hospot get­ting “roast­ed” dur­ing a thun­der­storm? Regards from Berlin!

  6. Hi Math­ias,
    Wie gehts! Good catch, I did­n’t have one on in this pho­to, whoops! You should always add a light­ning arrestor to your anten­nas, although it does­n’t actu­al­ly stop light­ning, it just diverts the charge around the elec­tron­ics and to the ground. I’ve added in the one I’ve used in my installs to the gear list.

  7. Thank you. This is a great resource. I am in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and am seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing using your “Off Grid Heli­um Hotspot Parts List” to build my own remote hotspot. I should be receiv­ing sev­er­al Rak Min­ers in June and would like to have one remote rig ready to go. Is the gear list post­ed still the best equip­ment you rec­om­mend? The remote loca­tion I choose is on the side of a moun­tain, so I will go with the 900 MHz 9 dBi Heavy Duty Flat Pan­el Anten­na you have listed.

  8. Hi Trip,
    Right on, it’s a fun project! That gear list is an excel­lent start. I rec­om­mend going through it and mak­ing sure you under­stand what each thing is for and how con­nects with the oth­ers. You’ll need to fig­ure out how you’re going to mount it. For exam­ple, the gear list assumes a pole mount but does­n’t include a mast or pole. I usu­al­ly draw out what I’m going to do. Does­n’t have to be a work of art, it just helps you under­stand how it’ll all go together.

    Also, you’ll have dif­fer­ent pow­er and data require­ments than this one, as that gear list is for a DIY min­er, a pro­gram that has long since closed. Make sure you fac­tor those in to your calculations.

  9. Ah ok. Appre­ci­ate you’re quick response 🙂 I am still learn­ing what every­thing is for.
    I assumed the gear list sheet was for the Jade Hare loca­tion, using a Rak min­er. Did you place a more pow­er­ful solar unit/battery for that? Also the two anten­nas for the cell modem, in the pic­ture you drew you have those attached to the enclo­sure box. Did you use some kind of enclo­sure anten­na attach­ment to pro­tect those? I fig­ure the rig I need will be very sim­i­lar, with the excep­tion of a direc­tion­al anten­na and I will like­ly attach the com­po­nents to some rocks rather than a pole.

  10. Well, it was built from the ini­tial Jade Hare gear list, but AJH is a DIY. It gets com­pli­cat­ed, but with a DIY you can basi­cal­ly use much less pow­er & data by offload­ing most of the work to a cloud min­er, which I did. You can’t do that with the RAK, so you’ll prob­a­bly need a larg­er bat­tery. I’ve attached the cell anten­nas direct­ly to the box for some installs and for oth­ers ran them up a pole just to give them more ele­va­tion. You’ll need to use a gland to weath­er­proof the seal from inside to out­side the enclo­sure. If you’d like a step-by-step walk­through I’m avail­able for hire, choose the Strat­e­gy & Place­ment option. 🙂

  11. Thanks, I may hire you for that! I would rather get things right the first time than have to rebuy stuff because it’s wrong. I’m still in the ear­ly stages.

  12. Hi Nik, great arti­cle and thank you for all that you do. I had a quick ques­tion about the bat­tery an the charge con­troller — did you plug the charge cable from the bat­tery into any­where or does the charge con­troller allow charg­ing and dis­charge through the dis­charge port of the bat­tery? Thank you!

  13. That bat­tery has two cables. One is a giant grey one that I don’t use, the oth­er is a small­er black/red Ander­son pow­er­pole that you use to con­nect to the solar charge controller.

  14. Hey Nik — This is real­ly awe­some! Thank you for being such a great resource to the com­mu­ni­ty. Quick ques­tion on the cel­lu­lar side — What kind of month­ly data costs do you incur using the Cradle­point and Olivia Wireless?

  15. Thanks Ryan! My costs won’t be your costs; I’m just run­ning a pack­et for­warder as part of the DIY, so my data require­ments are under 200MB/miner. Cradle­point has some 3 year plan that’s includ­ed with the $500 pur­chase, so that’s basi­cal­ly a $0 cost. Olivia for mine is under $10/month for 2 active min­ers. Look at the Ultra­Mo­bile plans for a full fat min­er, they have unlim­it­ed for around $50 and they’re always run­ning “sales”. 😉

  16. Thanks, Nik! I’m still learn­ing about all of this. I have some min­ers on order and I’m read­ing and research­ing as much as I can. I fig­ured since the min­er is going to use 20–30gb of data a month I should con­sid­er that as part of my plans if deploy­ment makes sense in an off-grid situation.

  17. Nik,
    I’m in Orange Coun­ty so my non-sun days would be sim­i­lar to yours. So would a 200 wt. — 12 v solar pan­el be sufficient?
    I’ve got access to three com­mer­cial build­ings but I think the own­er would be more con­vinced if I did­n’t have to pen­e­trate the roof.

  18. Hmmm. I guess I mis­read your Excel Spread­sheet. I want to take your advice and not go bare min­i­mum, but I also don’t want to over­spend for obvi­ous rea­sons. Any­way, thanks for the reply. I believe I will have the abil­i­ty to put one on a cell tow­er next to the build­ing (tow­er came with the build­ing). So I’m pret­ty sure I’ll be engag­ing your paid ser­vices to con­sult. Hope­ful­ly by the end of July or ear­ly August.

  19. So my build­ing own­er said I can use the out­let on the roof. But the cable is in the under­ground park­ing clos­et so that’s a lot of cable to reach the min­er. I was think­ing of using a Cradle­point in an off-grid for­mat but using the out­let instead of solar. This would seem to be bet­ter than tap­ping into the build­ing wi-fi which I sus­pect may kick me off a lot and which occa­sion­al­ly needs a reboot on the week­end with me hav­ing no access to the modem. Thoughts?

  20. Inter­est­ing. May be time to use the RUT240 there, espe­cial­ly if it’s easy to check up on. Last I saw the Cradle­point was out of stock 🙂

  21. You men­tioned a ground wire in an ear­li­er com­ment. Would you (did you) add a ground rod as well? I could­n’t tell from that pre­vi­ous answer answer whether you just risked it or took those extra steps.

  22. Even though you don’t rec­om­mend it, I still would like to know which anten­na is that in the pic­ture, the one that looks like a big rec­tan­gu­lar panel. 

    Great Job!

    Thank you.

  23. Get­ting close to putting up my enclo­sure and about to order a few LHT65 for each deployment.
    I see you were main­ly using it to assess con­nec­tiv­i­ty but how do we get temp and humid­i­ty info about it? Is there any resource you could point to that talks more about using these sen­sors? Do we pay for data trans­fer from the sen­sor or did the man­u­fac­tur­er? It all just seems like pages of code. thank you so much for every­thing you do!

  24. Marcus Makabenta

    Hey Nik I am con­fused and need help about how to set­up the 4g modem from cra­dle point. Basi­cal­ly I already bought all the list except for the inter­net por­tion. I hope you get back to me. Thank you

  25. I don’t like solar pow­ered sys­tems because they suck. Not just they cost you tons of mon­ey (way more than you would spend over the years for grid elec­tric­i­ty), but you need to over­size them waaaaaaaaaaay more than the actu­al usage is.

    You can run an RPI4 from 2x12Ah bat­terys in par­al­lel for about 6 hours on idle at new age. You may say does the PI drain 4A con­stant­ly? Nope bat­tery man­u­fac­tur­ers always lie about the site of these crap­py lead acid bat­ter­ies and this is at new age of the bat­tery. Give it a year or more and it’s about 4 hours. So in his case he used 50Ah batt which is going to pro­vide enough for approx 8 hours of dark­ness, now that is nice except… if your cir­cuit drain­ing them down to 100% where the batt volt­age is approx 13.60V (con­sid­ered deplet­ed) these bat­ter­ies need about 48 hours to ful­ly charge so you may nev­er want to go down that much.
    Then you have to also cal­cu­late that on the win­ters there can be as less as 1–2 hours of sun­light or cloudy all day long. 

    I don’t know whats the date of this arti­cle but I doubt his run­ning it since 1 year. I sim­ply think that this sys­tem is way under designed, I would rec­om­mend at least 100Ah in bat­ter­ies unless that loca­tion is some real sun­ny all day long and even then bat­ter­ies will always degrade. You will even­tu­al­ly have to replace them after 4–5 years.

  26. Hi Gekko, that unit has been run­ning since, oh, Novem­ber of 2020. It’s made it through the win­ter months and a cloudy streak. I don’t think you’re get­ting your math right on the “approx enough for 8 hours of dark­ness”, I’ve designed the sys­tem to last for over 3 days with­out sig­nif­i­cant ener­gy input (cloudy win­ter days.)

  27. I’m not sure this is the right place to ask but… when you install a hotspot off-grid, do you need to pay for that land? If so, how does some­one go about doing that?

  28. Depends on the landown­er. I’ve seen 90/10 splits, I’ve seen ones where the land own­er does­n’t care, and ones where they want $500/month or a 50/50 split. Total­ly depen­dent on what they want.

  29. Hel­lo Nik, 

    A cou­ple months ago I set up my hotspot on the flat roof of an apart­ment build­ing. The inter­net is through AT&T pre­paid using an LTE modem. How­ev­er, port 44158 is closed and I am “relayed” since day one, because AT&T (as a cgnat) does not pro­vide a pub­lic IP address. I checked Ver­i­zon and T‑Mobile and they also use cgnat… Can you please tell me what car­ri­er you are using and how you man­aged to get a pub­lic IP address? 

    Thank you!!!

  30. Hi Paul, I’m using Olivia Wire­less, which is fine for pack­et for­warders (future Light Hotspots) but not set up for “full fat” min­ers. T‑Mobile was offer­ing a plan of 100GB for $55/month, but they’ve since closed that down. Have you checked in on the Dis­cord #off-grid-and-enclo­sures thread?

  31. Hel­lo Paul,
    If you are in the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia area I may be able to help you fig­ure out the con­nec­tiv­i­ty issue.

  32. Hey Adri­an, if you’ve got a good solu­tion please let me know, would love to share that info with the Heli­um community!

  33. Any sug­ges­tions how to make sure it works dur­ing cold and snowy win­ter? It gets to — 25 — 30 some­times in my region…

  34. To mit­i­gate snow you’ve got some options; larg­er bat­ter­ies, larg­er pan­els, or snow removal. It’s not all com­pli­cat­ed (like auto­mat­ed snow removal) but it will prob­a­bly get expen­sive. I’ve heard of folks insu­lat­ing their enclo­sures for win­ter, but I haven’t done that myself.

  35. Hi Nik! If you’re using a out­door heli­um min­er, ex. Ker­link out­door min­er, how you will go for the pow­er sup­ply? Thanks

  36. Pingback: Packable Off Grid Helium Miners - Gristle King - A Guide to Helium

  37. Hi Nik and com­mu­ni­ty — Has any­one found an LTE modem/carrier option for full fat min­ers that allows port for­ward­ing? I’m also con­cerned about most unlim­it­ed plans that throt­tle speeds down to 128kbps after 40–60GB of data as my min­ers are already using close to 150GB of data per month which will just con­tin­ue to go up as the net­work grows and usage increas­es. And I don’t know how min­ing per­for­mance will behave at the throt­tled speeds as I see my min­ers using up to 600kbps or more mul­ti­ple times a day. Please share any ideas or sug­ges­tions, thanks!

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