Light Hotspots Explained

What the heck is a Heli­um Light Hotspot, and why does it mat­ter? If you’re not tech savvy, the whole thing can seem con­fus­ing. Let’s clear it up.

We’ll begin with the dif­fer­ent types of Hotspots: Reg­u­lar, Light, and Data Only.

Reg­u­lar (I call ’em “Full Fat”) Hotspots are what Heli­um start­ed out with. They cre­ate chal­lenges, they bea­con, they wit­ness oth­er hotspots, AND they store a copy of the blockchain on ’em. That last part began cre­at­ing prob­lems as the net­work and the blockchain grew.

As the blockchain grew, it took up more and more of the mem­o­ry of those hotspots, caus­ing the blockchain to bog down. With the blockchain bogged down, hotspots had trou­ble get­ting their wit­ness and bea­con receipts record­ed, which caused spiky (and unset­tling) earn­ings as well as blockchain stalls. Nobody likes it when your mon­ey stalls. 

To solve this, the Heli­um com­mu­ni­ty came up with, vot­ed on, and passed the idea to cre­ate a new enti­ty on the net­work called a Val­ida­tor. Val­ida­tors don’t do any­thing except blockchain stuff. They nei­ther bea­con nor wit­ness. They can *cre­ate* a chal­lenge for Light Hotspots, but for now (July 2021) they just val­i­date (hence the name) all the receipts for all the chal­lenges and wit­ness­es and bea­cons that hotspots sub­mit. With those val­i­dat­ed receipts they form a block and add it to the blockchain.

Hav­ing Val­ida­tors allows us (all of the Heli­um net­work) to cre­ate and use what’s called a “Light Hotspot”. Light Hotspots don’t have to keep a copy of the blockchain; Val­ida­tors do that for them. 

Val­ida­tors can also cre­ate Chal­lenges for Light Hotspots to Bea­con. I know, I know, this is get­ting confusing.

To clear it up, here’s a short dia­gram of how the Proof of Cov­er­age Cycle works:

Light Hotspots will only be able to do steps 2 and 3, above. Those earn the lion’s share of PoC HNT.

Light Hotspots won’t do step 1 or 4. You may think that’ll lose you a bunch, but it won’t. A Light Hotspot miss­es out on earn­ing HNT by cre­at­ing Chal­lenges (aka being a PoC Chal­lenger.) That’s not very much; less than 1% of all HNT dis­trib­uted per epoch. An epoch is 30 blocks, and blocks are mined about one every minute.

Light Hotspots will still be able to earn for Bea­con­ing (being a Chal­lengee) and Wit­ness­ing. Here’s how it breaks down:

Now, that leaves one more enti­ty to deal with, a Data Only Hotspot. Data Only Hotspots will ONLY be reward­ed for pro­cess­ing data. They won’t be able to earn for chal­lenges, wit­ness­es or bea­cons. They won’t need to. Data Only Hotspots are what the 5G ver­sion of a hotspot will be; Data Mon­sters, and almost noth­ing else. 🙂 

So, that’s the Proof Of Cov­er­age Cycle, which you need in order to under­stand the next part.

Now, let’s get into what makes a Light Hotspot dif­fer­ent from a Reg­u­lar (Full Fat) Hotspot in slight­ly more tech­ni­cal terms. 

The flow starts with Sen­sors, because that’s what Heli­um is built for.

This intro­duc­tion of “Sen­sors” can be con­fus­ing, because most of what you’ve paid atten­tion to and heard about so far is your hotspot (also known as a “gate­way”) get­ting reward­ed sole­ly for con­nect­ing (Chal­leng­ing, Bea­con­ing, & Wit­ness­ing) to oth­er hotspots. 

Still, sen­sors are the whole rea­son the net­work is being built, so I’m includ­ing them in their right­ful posi­tion at the top of the line.

For now, let’s see what it used to look like, before Val­ida­tors. This is the case for all cur­rent pro­duc­tion hotspots as of July 2021 (OG, RAK, Syn­cro­bit, Nebra, etc.) 

Both the Min­er & the Pack­et For­warder are on the same device. This way the Min­er could keep a copy of the blockchain for itself as well as cre­ate, issue, and record Chal­lenges, Bea­cons, and Witnessing.

The Sen­sor picks up data from the envi­ron­ment and pass­es it to the Sen­sor Node. The Sen­sor Node trans­mits it to the Gate­way (Hotspot). The Hotspot spends most of its time lis­ten­ing for those data pack­ets com­ing from Sen­sor Nodes. Occa­sion­al­ly, a Hotspot will Bea­con out a mes­sage of its own for oth­er Hotspots to hear that essen­tial­ly says, “Here I am, check the strength and bear­ing of my sig­nal just to be sure.” 

Oth­er hotspots Wit­ness that Bea­con, record that trans­ac­tion, and then a group of hotspots (the Con­sen­sus Group) agrees on which trans­ac­tions are valid and which are gam­ing, spoofs, or just mis­takes. They all con­nect via some kind of inter­net con­nec­tion; WiFi, Eth­er­net, Cell Back­haul, etc. 

Any data that actu­al­ly got passed from Sen­sors goes to the LoRa Router (in most cas­es Heli­um Con­sole, although you can run your own.)

Final­ly, that data is turned into a form more read­able by humans on an Inte­gra­tion Serv­er, like MyDe­vices Cayenne, Dat­a­cake, or others.

So, that’s how it worked BEFORE Light Hotspots. Can you see the prob­lem? If a tiny lit­tle com­put­er (basi­cal­ly a Rasp­ber­ry Pi) has to do all of that AND keep a copy of the blockchain on it, even­tu­al­ly it gets over­whelmed. What’s the solu­tion? Don’t make it do so much com­put­ing-heavy work.

Now let’s look at a Light Hotspot, which keeps the radio ele­ment but removes the com­put­ing & data-heavy require­ments of the min­er from the device, and puts that onto the Validators.

Light Hotspots still do the “radio” things; Issue bea­cons and wit­ness oth­er bea­cons. They just don’t have to do the resource inten­sive record­ing any­more; the Val­ida­tors are doing that. 

The flow after Val­ida­tors is the same as before: Through a LoRa Router, then an Inte­gra­tion Server.

It’s impor­tant to note that what’s get­ting “val­i­dat­ed” by val­ida­tors is the pas­sage of data; NOT the data itself. That data “lives” out­side the blockchain and is heav­i­ly encrypted. 

All of this is also laid out over on the Heli­um site, where you can see the mile­stones and dates for when all this gets completed. 

Can you see the dif­fer­ence between Light Hotspots and Full Fat Miners? 

Yep, a Light Hotspot is JUST a pack­et for­warder, which is basi­cal­ly just a radio con­nect­ed to the inter­net. It can trans­mit (bea­con) and receive (wit­ness) oth­er gate­ways, and it can do the same for sen­sor nodes. It leaves all the heavy lift­ing of min­ing and val­i­dat­ing to the Validators.

A Reg­u­lar “Full Fat” Hotspot (every cur­rent pro­duc­tion min­er as of July 2021) has both the Min­er AND the Pack­et For­warder on it. Here’s what the net­work data traf­fic looks like for a group of hotspots. Looks like it most­ly stays below 350 kpbs. You’ll notice a lit­tle yellow/orange line at the bot­tom. That’s the net­work data trans­fer for a pack­et for­warder (aka Light Hotspot.)

That group of Heli­um Hotspots have to send ALL of their min­ing work to oth­er min­ers. That’s any­where from 20–90 GB month! It’s also why the blockchain was bog­ging down before Val­ida­tors came online. At any one time, only 16 full fat min­ers (run­ning on lit­tle Rasp­ber­ry Pi’s!) were pro­cess­ing ALL of the trans­ac­tions sub­mit­ted to the entire blockchain from 90k oth­er Hotspots. Whew!

In com­par­i­son, a Light Hotspot should use less than 100 MB/month. Light Hotspots will still be able to Wit­ness and Bea­con and earn from doing that, along with earn­ing data cred­its for the data they process. Here’s the same graph with just a Light Hotspot on it (the host took it off at 1600 for main­te­nance and fid­dling, so it stopped total­ly then.)

Since they’re trans­fer­ring so lit­tle data, this means that Light Hotspots can use tiny lit­tle com­put­ers (like a Pi Zero or small­er) that don’t get bogged down try­ing to process the trans­ac­tions of 90k+ full fat hotspots. 

That should help with under­stand­ing Light Hotspots and why they’re impor­tant. Hit me up with ques­tions in the com­ments, and if you’d like to go deep­er in the Heli­um net­work, con­sid­er hir­ing me to help with your next project.

Oh, and in case you want a quick vocab rehash:

Sen­sor — A device that col­lects envi­ron­men­tal data. This could be tem­per­a­ture, wind speed, the num­ber of cars parked in a park­ing lot, etc.

Sen­sor Node — This trans­mits the sen­sor data to the gate­way. Many times a Sen­sor (like the LHT65) con­sists of both a Sen­sor and a Sen­sor Node.

Gate­way — This is what you prob­a­bly think of as a Heli­um Hotspot. A Gate­way is the thing that receives data from a Sen­sor Node, then pass­es it on to the net­work. Gate­ways ALSO receive and trans­mit data with oth­er gate­ways, a process called Wit­ness­ing and Bea­con­ing. That’s cov­ered in depth, here.

Min­er — A min­er is what records the pas­sage of infor­ma­tion (NOT the infor­ma­tion itself) and adds it to the blockchain, so any­one can see the infor­ma­tion flow. Again, they CAN’T see the data (it’s encrypt­ed), but they can see that data was passed.

Pack­et For­warder — This is the radio part of a cur­rent pro­duc­tion hotspot. It trans­mits (bea­cons) out, most­ly to prove it is where it says it is. It also lis­tens for incom­ing pack­ets of infor­ma­tion from Sen­sor Nodes.

Val­ida­tor — The Val­ida­tors do what the Min­ers used to do, and they’ll even­tu­al­ly take over all min­ing oper­a­tions. Val­ida­tors con­firm, or val­i­date, the trans­ac­tions sub­mit­ted by the min­ers (and in the future, pack­et for­warders) to the blockchain. Val­ida­tors are what make the infor­ma­tion on the blockchain trustworthy.

Net­work Con­nec­tion - You need to con­nect your Hotspot or soon, Light Gate­way, to the inter­net some­how. This can hap­pen via WiFi, and Eth­er­net cord, by cell con­nec­tion (also known as “cell back­haul”) or satel­lite connection.

LoRa RouterHeli­um Con­sole is an exam­ple of a this. A LoRa router is the thing that takes the infor­ma­tion sub­mit­ted from the min­er through the blockchain and begins to get it into read­able form.

Inte­gra­tion Serv­er — This is what allows you to actu­al­ly “see” the data and use it, as a nor­mal human and not a machine or high wiz­ard of tech. You can use MyDe­vices Cayenne, or Dat­a­cake, or any one of a num­ber of ser­vices like those. 

This post was writ­ten with tech­ni­cal help from @jerm on Dis­cord. All mis­takes are mine, all right­eous accu­ra­cy is his. 

25 thoughts on “Light Hotspots Explained”

  1. Thanks for the expla­na­tion. When the Heli­um cloud Val­ida­tor will be avail­able to sup­port the light Hotspot or Gate­ways? Has it been tested ?

  2. Pingback: Block 27: $HNT Halving, #HeliumBirthday, 112K+ Hotspots, Console 2.0, and More! – Helium 5G

  3. Hi Nik,
    Thanks for the great and very infor­ma­tive post!
    In read­ing the doc­u­men­ta­tion from heli­um’ offi­cial page (link below) I found this para­graph a bit con­cern­ing for peo­ple (like myself) who are in process to procur­ing a reg­u­lar heli­um gate­way (aka “Full Fat”).
    How should this “INFO” be tak­en in the con­text of all the cur­rent heli­um gate­ways doing both data for­ward­ing and HNT min­ing? Will they be even­tu­al­ly dis­con­tin­ued and phys­i­cal­ly replaced by light hotspots? or will the tran­si­tion to light hotspots will sim­ply require dis­abling the min­ing func­tion of the stan­dard hotspot? 

    INFO: Gate­ways run­ning a Pack­et For­warder and Min­er is not con­sid­ered a Light Hotspot and will nev­er earn HNT.”


  4. So at some point will there be a firmware update that will turn full fat hotspots into light hotspots? Or will this be a sper­ate product?

  5. Stephen Refsnes

    This is amaz­ing! Also love that off-grid setups will need much less cel­lu­lar data a month! 100mb is nothing!??

  6. Thanks Nik. One thing I’m sure many of us are won­der­ing is “With this new infor­ma­tion, what will be the best way to earn HNT going for­ward?” I have 8 more min­ers that are still delayed (was sup­posed to be August deliv­ery; now look­ing at Decem­ber or some­time in 2022) Will they be obso­lete when they arrive?

  7. It’s a good ques­tion, and I don’t know the answer. If I had 8 on order I *might* can­cel ’em and put the mon­ey into get­ting one or two off of eBay so I can earn right now, BUT that’s ONLY if I had 2 very good spots. Loca­tion is key for earn­ing; only buy as many as you can place in excel­lent loca­tions. Even then (as always), earn­ings are not a guarantee.

  8. Nik, Abso­lut­ly bril­liant Infomation,
    As a new­bie to Heli­um this info has been invalu­able. I’ll refer to this again and again i’m sure.

    One thing i could­nt find an answer too, apolo­gies if ive missed it, is when my syn­cro­bit hotspot final­ly arrives, 

    Can i place it in a dif­fer­ent prop­er­ty / loca­tion linked to the router in that loca­tion rather than the router at my home address? and still earn and con­tribute of course.

    Thanks again

  9. Hi Gra­ham, yep, you can “assert” your min­er wher­ev­er you want. As long as your radio sig­nals match up to where you say the min­er is, you’re fine. Does that make sense?

  10. Nik, first let me say your posts and resources have been awe­some – thanks for shar­ing so much exper­tise and analysis!

    I am work­ing with over a dozen min­ers in flat Flori­da. All except one are on 20′+ 5.6 dBi anten­na’s care­ful­ly placed. Most all of them are aver­ag­ing 1.5 HNT / Day since the halv­ing. Most of them are con­nect­ing to 6 or more wit­ness­es. Except the one at my house… Curly Ging­ham Vul­ture https://explorer.helium.com/hotspots/112daaAvArU2gh8epH9uFrgBCs3ExiED6PmzE9Xu39EeybvLcT4h

    Curly is con­nect­ed by eth­er­net (POE to base of anten­na cable) I have spec­i­fied port for­ward­ing for inbound and out­bound (although I did­n’t have rules set up to block it), and it has remained con­nect­ed, synced, pow­ered, and below 103? F in a weath­er­proof box under­neath the eave. 25 foot low loss cable with light­ning adapter. About a month ago it con­tin­ued to wit­ness oth­er bea­cons and has earned decent Heli­um (as much or more than my oth­ers) but has gone 2 weeks at a time with­out being chal­lenged or send­ing a beacon.

    Got any ideas what I could try next?

  11. Hi Nik, great post and thank you for the information!

    id like to get your opin­ion on some­thing. i have 11 min­ers com­ing, 3 ordered 16 June 2021 (bob­cat), 7 ordered 24th June 2021 (bob­cat), and 1 ordered 12th August 2021 (Linx­dot).

    all of the min­ers have loca­tions pre-arranged for instal­la­tion. all indoor min­er on eth­er­net cable, with 8 dbi out­door anten­na’s aver­age heights will be 6M-12M high.

    The area they are all going to be locat­ed where they will earn 1.00 rewards (that could change by the time my min­ers arrive). and there is a very good spread of oth­er peo­ples min­ers about 50–100 with­in a 5–8 mile radius, uk based. so they should get some good coverage.

    with all of this in mind would you say that its still worth me doing/ going ahead? i have read your com­ment above men­tion­ing about poten­tial­ly can­celling orders and buy­ing min­ers on ebay to start sooner?

    the way i have approached HNT min­ing is, if all min­ers i set up make 1 HNT per day each that’s 11 HNT @ £10 per coin… lets say the price remains around £10 for 1 year (even though its going up quite nice­ly at the moment) that is £40k per year before fee’s or shar­ing with the others..

    would you say with that set up it’s possible/realistic? am i miss­ing any­thing i should need know about HNT? I’ve been research­ing pret­ty much every oth­er day since I heard about heli­um but as I’m still new to all this it can be over­whelm­ing at times. after read­ing your page here, it has me sec­ond guess­ing if there’s a bet­ter way to make HNT rather than using the min­ers, or poten­tial­ly soon the light hotspots will be bet­ter to use rather than the ones i’ve ordered. 

    its been 8 and 9 weeks since i placed my bob­cat min­er orders and bob­cat are only on on order #170k EU… my order num­bers are #1.2M EU, that leaves them the next 12 weeks to fol­low through with their 12–20 week deliv­ery guide.. with 1M+ EU orders to go before mine (not includ­ing US orders) they’ve man­aged to ship rough­ly 40k orders in the last 8 weeks? I don’t think I’m get­ting my min­ers until 2030 at this rate lol. unsure on what to do next.

    thanks again!

  12. Hi Ben,
    Bob­cat’s been pret­ty good so far about meet­ing their dead­lines. I’d be care­ful bet­ting on *any­thing* long term. The CEO at Heli­um has said min­ers will prob­a­bly set­tle at 1 HNT/month even­tu­al­ly. As long as your min­ers have clear line of sight to each oth­er, and you’ve got 11 total, you *should* earn more than that, at least as of mid-August 2021.

  13. Pingback: Gateways, Validators, Miner ... - Erklärung Helium Begriffe - Nodle, Helium und MXC Mining Deutschland [LoRa-Projekt.de]

  14. So glad I stum­ble onto this. Thanks for this. The info on here is invaluable.

    Ques­tion: will the light Hotspots be sig­nif­i­cant­ly cheap­er to pur­chase and will man­afac­tures be able to keep up with orders if it con­tains less com­po­nents and is eas­i­er to make?

  15. Hi Glenn, they’ll prob­a­bly be sig­nif­i­cant­ly cheap­er. As far as less com­po­nents, they’ll still need the radio com­po­nents, which is part of the prob­lem. I’d expect that’ll be the bot­tle­neck, if there is one.

  16. Amaz­ing con­tent as ever, Nik, thanks! 

    Any idea when we might see the light hotspots on sale? Debat­ing putting in anoth­er order now with Ker­link, but if light hotspots will be avail­able soon, and will be much cheap­er, then could make sense to wait.….tough call!

  17. Thanks Leo! Hmm, they were sup­posed to be ship­ping in Sept, so it’s any­one’s guess. Maybe end of year?

  18. I’m con­fused. Are my bob­cat and rak min­ers now obso­lete? Can they be switched to light hot spots?

  19. No, your min­ers are not obso­lete. They work now and will con­tin­ue to work when we make the switch to light hotspots.

  20. Thanks for the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed, that was very useful! 

    Here my ques­tion: I plan­ning to buy a dragi­no LPS8. This is a data-only hot­pot). I would like to con­vert it to a light-hotspot Do you think that’s pos­si­ble? This dragi­no LPS8 con­tains a Semtech CI SX1308 Lora con­cen­tra­tor, 2x1257 LoRa Trans­ceivers and a Lin­ux OS run­ning on a 400Mhz AR9331 with 64MB of RAM and 16MB of flash. Do you know what hard­ware is miss­ing in order to be able to per­form the PoC? Thanks in advance!

  21. Nope. Data-only and Light Hotspots are 2 dif­fer­ent things with 2 dif­fer­ent secu­ri­ty require­ments. You’re miss­ing the secu­ri­ty ele­ment on the LPS8.

  22. Well, by the time light hotspots come online, earn­ings will be down from where they are. You’ll miss out on earn­ing for Chal­lenges, but those are only about 5% of PoC earn­ings anyway.

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