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 (March 2022) 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 (the number of hotspots has now dropped from 25 to 14)

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 because it won’t create Challenges (aka being a PoC Challenger.) Creating Challenges doesn’t earn 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 was the case for all current production hotspots as of July 2021 (OG, RAK, Sensecap, 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 uses around 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.

60 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.”

    https://docs.helium.com/use-the-network/light-hotspots/#what-is-a-light-hotspot

  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
    Graham

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

  18. 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, 2×1257 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!

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

  20. 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.

  21. Hi Nik, from the ROI point of view, which will make more sense? a Full Hotspot which cost $1k+ or a data only hotspot which cost around $150. Does it mean that the full hotspot will have to setup as a light hotspot in the future? Wouldn’t the earning be reduced or lower that will affect the ROI? Similarly for data only hotspot, I was wonder would anyone even bother with will data only hotspot? Pardon me for all the questions.

  22. Unless you have an area with an incredible amount of data, the Full Hotspot will make more sense for now. Remember, a “Data Only” hotspot is NOT the same as a Light Hotspot. Once Light Hotspots become available, they’ll be the way to go.

  23. Pingback: A Rough Guide To Helium Hotspot Placement - Gristle King - A Guide to Helium

  24. Awesome explanation Nik.

    Two things that I did not seen are GPS and computation processor. If the case light hotspot like that then it does not require SBC, ST micro is one of MCU which is ready to utilize Semtech license I guess..
    GPS data is required data when the hotspot is located alone or island hotspot. What do you think NIK?

  25. Hi Didi, I’m not sure on the comp-processor side. GPS is so easy to spoof that Helium doesn’t even bother with it.

  26. Pingback: Helium Light Hotspots & Data Only Hotspots? Transitie Helium Miners uitgelegd - Helium Miners Nederland

  27. Pingback: Helium Light Hotspots & Data Only Hotspots? Transitie Helium Miners uitgelegd - Helium Miner Venlo

  28. Hello, thank you for detailed explanation.. Now i start to worry , i have ordered some hotspots and waiting in que.. Should i just as for refunds.. Because price is really high till 1000 euros with taxes.. Light hotspots will be around 100 eu.. So why should i pay 5-7 times more for stuff wich will be same as 100 eu value.. Please assist me, im confused now …

  29. Hi Elena,
    Tough question. No one knows what the price on Light Hotspots will be, or when they’ll actually ship. There’s not a downside to having a “full fat” hotspot, so keeping your place in line might be your best option. Sorry I couldn’t help more!

  30. I have a question.
    Will the existing non-light hotspots remain with the challenging functionality or will the be ported to light hotspots?
    Will there be any option or who is deciding for it?

  31. Hi Michail, they’ll lose the challenge ability but keep the Witness & Beacon rewards. We (the entire Helium community) decide that.

  32. Pingback: Helium Light Hotspots & Data Only Hotspots? Transition Helium Miners Explained - Welcome to HNT-Helium.com

  33. I don’t think so; they’re both providing the same service, so you’d be duplicating coverage and not adding value to the Network.

  34. Does anyone have an actual number of earnings for a dragino lps8 over a month? I don’t need another explanation of the differences in theory after the fine job this fellow did in the post above. I’m just looking for any verified number that equates toa month of ear ings on a dragino lps8

  35. Hello

    Will hip 54 and 55 greatly effect my earnings? I am running four Milesight UG65 hotspots.

    Thank you for the great info!

  36. Hi Nick, thank you for this great info! Does the fact that full fat hotspots will be converted to light hotspots now that HIP 54 and 55 has passed mean that all the headaches with port forwarding will become a thing of the past since the won’t be receiving inbound connections as challengers? Would it also become easier to set up off grids using cellular without having to have a static IP or setting up VPNs? That would be awesome.

  37. Yep, Light Hotspots solve all those problems. They’ll be a real step up for off-grid deployments.

  38. I missed the fact that fat hotspots will be converted to Light… makes more sense now.

    1. From my understanding, Validators are already online and running.
    2. Hip 54/55 passed, but not yet implemented as of today?
    Is the actual code already written, and tested?
    3. I would assume this will be a update to current fat hotspots firmware. i.e. delete local copy of blockchain, and now point to a validator for this info.
    Also update to helium apps, to show what is relivant now.
    4. Is there a firm date for this rollout?
    5. Assume rollout would be staggered vs. 700k-800K fat hotspots attempting to update to Light all at the same time? Any ideas specifically how this will be rolled out globally?
    6. Is there any estimate for how long it will take to be fully implemented?
    7. Will light hotspots be allowed to get info from “any” validator? Assuming light hotspots would keep a copy of all current Validators to contact.

  39. Great questions Dennis. Up to date info can be found on the Helium Discord. In general terms, I’d expect to have a transition to Light Hotspots complete with bugs worked out by the end of May. Official timelines predict sooner than that, and the Helium/Nova team is capable enough to nail it, but I’d guess on the conservative side.
    1. yes
    2. Yes
    3. Yes
    4. No
    5. Staggered, not sure of details.
    6. Probably an official one somewhere, see my comment above.
    7. I believe so.

  40. Since port forwarding is no longer required, does that mean hotspots can share same public IP?

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