Is The Helium Bobcat Miner Any Good?



A few months ago, Ann at Bob­cat reached out to see if I’d like a hotspot for review. She’d read the Rough Guide To Hotspot Opti­miza­tion arti­cle and liked it. She thought it might be use­ful to get a Bob­cat hotspot into my hands ahead of the wave of nor­mal pro­duc­tion. I thought so too. I don’t think she expect­ed me to do any­thing oth­er than plug it in and earn HNT and talk about it, but…that’s not what I did.

If you just want to skip to the “Is the Bob­cat OK?”, yes, go here. You’ll miss out on the most impor­tant part of this post, but I get it; you’re impatient.

Now, I’m not a super tech­ni­cal guy. Sure, I’ve built a DIY hotspot and I can read as well as any­one on the plan­et and fig­ure things out enough to build the first giant badass off grid anten­na that cov­ers an entire coun­ty, but to dive in and dis­sect a hotspot at a mas­ter lev­el? Not my game. So, the day after the Bob­cat arrived at my door, I sent it on to some­one who *could* do that. 

@Jerm on Dis­cord has spent more than a few years as a hard­ware guy, crack­ing open dif­fer­ent pieces of hard­ware and break­ing them down to a lev­el that is frankly incom­pre­hen­si­ble to most of us. He’s a com­pe­tent licensed ham radio oper­a­tor as well, so RF is not new for him. Like me, he’s a mod­er­a­tor on the Heli­um Dis­cord (and since this arti­cle was writ­ten has been hired by Helium!) 

We con­nect­ed dur­ing the above men­tioned giant badass off grid anten­na instal­la­tion when I need­ed help dial­ing down the trans­mit and receive pow­er of the anten­na I’d placed. As we worked togeth­er and I saw his capa­bil­i­ties, it became clear that he was the per­fect fit for a Bob­cat crack.

I sent the Bob­cat to Jerm. 

My request was that he use his exper­tise to under­stand how it worked, to find any weak­ness­es and strengths, and to share that jour­ney with oth­er mods on Dis­cord so that we would all have “ground truth” when it came to the Bobcat.

He agreed, I sent it up to him and he start­ed to crack it. His goal was to get so far inside the thing that he could map out its brain in 4k def­i­n­i­tion (my words, not his. He’d prob­a­bly be more technical.) 

He streamed parts of his hack­ing on Twitch so the rest of us mods could fol­low along, but most of it was done solo, with the full focus of 20+ years in com­put­er secu­ri­ty aimed square­ly at the Bob­cat heli­um miner. 

I watched the Twitch, and I’d talk with him most days about it, but almost none of it was com­pre­hen­si­ble to me.

While he spent the next few weeks div­ing deep­er and deep­er into the Bob­cat, I spent more time research­ing Bob­cat and Easylinkin. Easylinkin is the man­u­fac­tur­er that helps Bob­cat make the devices. How are they con­nect­ed? What are their goals? Why are they a good option for meet­ing the (cur­rent­ly insa­tiable) demand for Heli­um Hotspots?

This part goes into how the grand Heli­um exper­i­ment is a case study for how the world is changing. 

Let’s start with Easylinkin, the enor­mous Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny mak­ing the Bob­cats. Here’s how they describe themselves:

Easylinkin is a lead­ing LoRaWAN Gate­way man­u­fac­tur­er and invests heav­i­ly in its own R&D capa­bil­i­ties. In addi­tion to design­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing LoRaWAN gate­ways and mod­ules, Easylinkin owns more than 200 LPWAN relat­ed patents and has so far raised $85 mil­lion in total fund­ing. Easylinkin’s gate­ways and solu­tions have been deployed across 100+ cities in Chi­na and abroad. It has deployed Lora net­works for Aliba­ba in Hangzhou City, 510,000 LoRa water meters in Chi­na, and 55,000 LoRa elec­tric­i­ty meters for Indone­sia and Mongolia.”

It’s a pret­ty safe bet from that descrip­tion that Easylinkin will be able to pro­duce Bob­cat min­ers at scale. They’ve been work­ing with Semtech, the com­pa­ny hold­ing the patent for the tech­nol­o­gy we’re all using, since 2018. For those of you in the man­u­fac­tur­ing world, Bob­cat uti­lizes the ELi 49,000 sq meter work­shop space includ­ing 11 SMT lines and 73 auto robot testers. What does that mean for the rest of us? Bob­cat ain’t mak­ing these in their garage, this is a full-on com­mer­cial man­u­fac­tur­ing facility.

Ok Nik, so where’s my Bob­cat? If they’re being man­u­fac­tured in this giant facil­i­ty with robots and all sorts of fan­cy equip­ment, where are MINE? And what the heck is going on with their pay­ment process? Mug­gle­pay? Pay­Pal refunds? USDT? C’mon, why isn’t this easy!?

Great ques­tions, and I had ’em too. So I asked Ann at Bobcat.

Gris­tle King (GK): What are the biggest hur­dles you’re fac­ing right now?
Ann @ Bob­cat (BC): First, 2C (Direct to cus­tomer) mar­ket expe­ri­ence. Like all oth­er IOT man­u­fac­tur­ers, we are ven­tur­ing into a 2C mar­ket for the first time. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, man­u­fac­tur­ers deal with enter­prise lev­el cus­tomers, sys­tem inte­gra­tors, large retail­ers and oth­er 2B cus­tomers. We don’t con­sid­er this a hur­dle but there’s a learn­ing curve involved. 

Sec­ond, the glob­al chip short­age.

GK notes: In case you don’t have time to hit that “glob­al chip short­age” link above, here’s the very short ver­sion: Every­body from Apple to Ford is affect­ed by it. There has been a mas­sive surge in demand in the past year, and indus­try isn’t able to keep up in the short term. Remem­ber how toi­let paper went out of stock at the begin­ning of COVID? This is like that. This isn’t about Heli­um, or Semtech, or Bob­cat. This is a glob­al issue that will take time to solve.

GK: Why is the pay­ment sys­tem so dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate?
BC: In our April news release we men­tioned the strug­gles we’re fac­ing with Pay­pal. We’re work­ing on mov­ing away from Mug­gle­pay and over to Coin­base Com­merce, though that’s not offi­cial yet. 

Tra­di­tion­al pay­ment aggre­ga­tors [GK note: Pay­Pal and oth­ers] con­sid­er the pre-order sales mod­el adopt­ed by Bob­cat and oth­er ven­dors to be high­ly volatile. Thus, in an attempt to pro­tect them­selves from charge­backs, they will hold onto cus­tomer pay­ments for an extend­ed peri­od even after prod­ucts are shipped.”

GK notes: This is a legit­i­mate issue. When I first start­ed tak­ing pay­ments on Pay­Pal, Pay­Pal would hold the pay­ment for up to 30 days. That chokes off a start­ing busi­ness’ cash flow. If Bob­cat can’t take the mon­ey from sales and pay invoic­es for pro­duc­tion, every­thing slows way down until the pro­duc­tion line can get paid. Mug­gle­pay and pay­ing in USDT are respons­es to a cash­flow chal­lenge, they’re not try­ing to make it dif­fi­cult for you to buy a Bob­cat. Trust me, no busi­ness wants to make it dif­fi­cult to receive pay­ment. This is at the core of what is fas­ci­nat­ing about Heli­um, aligned incen­tives, and just-in-time man­u­fac­tur­ing at scale.

GK: Does Bob­cat have any plans for out­door min­ers?
BC: Right now our focus is on mak­ing the one and only prod­uct we have, the Bob­cat Min­er 300, a sol­id qual­i­ty prod­uct. We do have more prod­ucts on our roadmap but we try not to get too ahead of our­selves and will nev­er over promise any­thing if we are not 100% cer­tain [we can] deliv­er. We want to grow and expand as a com­pa­ny, but we under­stand we need to do it one step at a time.

GK: Where else might we see Bob­cat expand­ing into?
BC: We’re very expe­ri­enced in pro­vid­ing proven, real-life IoT solu­tions that have been deployed on a mass scale (such as meter­ing) and used by real cus­tomers on a dai­ly basis to solve a real prob­lem. Pro­vid­ing sen­sors and IoT solu­tions as well as more hard­ware for the decen­tral­ized net­work is a direc­tion we’re like­ly to explore. Bobcat’s mis­sion is to pro­vide high qual­i­ty hard­ware for decen­tral­ized net­works, and the company’s pres­ence, espe­cial­ly in the US will con­tin­ue to grow in 2021 and beyond.

So that’s the inter­view, or at least the parts that you’ll find use­ful. I spoke more with Ann about the con­nec­tion between Bob­cat and Easylinkin. She made it very clear that they aren’t the same com­pa­ny, and they have dif­fer­ent mis­sions. Bob­cat’s mis­sion is to sell hard­ware for decen­tral­ized net­works. Easylinkin is a more gen­er­al device manufacturer.

With that said, we get to the most inter­est­ing piece of the whole Bob­cat expe­ri­ence (and by exten­sion, every oth­er man­u­fac­tur­er, since all of them I know about are made in China). 

We’ve all heard about glob­al­iza­tion, but this is one of the first times many of us are direct­ly expe­ri­enc­ing it. Bob­cat, and Bob­cat’s con­nec­tion to both Easylinkin and to YOU, a Bob­cat cus­tomer, are an exam­ple of what hap­pens when you get rid of most of the “mid­dle­men” in a man­u­fac­tur­ing process. As a West­ern­er (what an odd con­cept in a round world, right?) your inter­ac­tion will not be as smooth as you’re used to. You are deal­ing with a dif­fer­ent civ­i­liza­tion, and you’re deal­ing with them direct­ly. I think that’s awe­some, but for many of you it’s jarring.

You’re used to Ama­zon deliv­er­ing prod­ucts in 2 days or less with the push of one but­ton. A 12–20 week wait time and a 5 step pay­ment process is freak­ing you out. When your heart starts to pit­ter-pat­ter at this new­ness, remem­ber that an entire busi­ness has been stood up with­in just a few months to meet an insa­tiable glob­al demand for a new, com­pli­cat­ed prod­uct at a scale most of us have no expe­ri­ence with, with mate­ri­als (chips) that are in extreme­ly short sup­ply across many indus­tries. It’s incred­i­ble that it has such a short lead time for all the com­plex­i­ties required. 

The big take­away for me is that we get to live in a time where damn near any­thing you want can be cre­at­ed and deliv­ered to your door, no mat­ter how tech­ni­cal­ly com­plex, in under a few months. That has nev­er been pos­si­ble before in the his­to­ry of human­i­ty, and it’s only going to get bet­ter. Bob­cat is a superb exam­ple of pro­gres­sion on that line, and I’m psy­ched they’re involved with Helium.

Is the Bobcat OK?

Yes, it’s fine. Order one here if you’re inter­est­ed.

From @Jerm’s notes, with some slight mod­i­fi­ca­tions from Nik:

It’s a very light unit (263 grams for the one I received) that you can eas­i­ly mount any­where, and it’ll per­form just like any oth­er hotspot as far as earnings. 

The LoRa radio appears to be based on the SX1301 radio, which takes more ener­gy than the SX1302 and is slight­ly worse at hear­ing pack­ets, but for any giv­en place­ment out­side of some reeeeeeal­l­ly far out off-grid ones that should­n’t be an issue. 

Bob­cat has done a great job with stuff you’ll nev­er real­ize you needed. 

The pow­er sup­ply sec­tion is great. I can see that a lot of care has been tak­en to make sure that con­sumers won’t acci­den­tal­ly fry the hotspot with the wrong pow­er sup­ply.

The eMMC flash chip should prove a lot more durable than the SD-card stor­age used in the orig­i­nal Heli­um hotspots.

Bob­cat ships a batch every Tues­day, and they are deter­mined to only promise what they can deliv­er. As of this writ­ing (ear­ly June 2021), they have met every promised deliv­ery date.

Their anten­na being 4 dBi is fine. It has a mag­net­ic base, which can form a ground plane and improve the radi­a­tion pat­tern. Any of the stock anten­nas from any man­u­fac­tur­er will send a bea­con as far as you need to go in order to earn HNT. See my post on anten­nas for more on that. 

That wraps the Bob­cat. Buy one if you want a Heli­um hotspot, and expect them to deliv­er when they say they will.

If you want to join a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple seri­ous about Heli­um, I’d love to invite you to check out the Gris­tle Crüe!


20 responses to “Is The Helium Bobcat Miner Any Good?”

  1. Andrew Gaspar Avatar
    Andrew Gaspar

    Dear Nik,

    First let me thank you for your hard work that you put into this web­site and also for mak­ing the abun­dance of infor­ma­tion avail­able for all of us. I am a soon-to-be hotspot own­er in Europe, and your web­site helped me to gain a lot of knowl­edge while I’ve been wait­ing for my pre-order. 

    I antic­i­pate receiv­ing my first bob­cat hotspots some­time this month and I have a dilem­ma. I plan on plac­ing them safe­ly in the attic and run a 5‑meter coax­i­al exten­sion cable to the anten­na which will be secure­ly attached to the chim­ney. I will be the pio­neer in my city, there are no heli­um hotspots any­where near. The five hotspots will be wit­ness­ing each oth­er about 500 meters to 2 kilo­me­ters apart, with a clear LOS. The only prob­lem I am hav­ing is that I just can­not buy LMR-400 cables that you rec­om­mend. (I can only order it from over­seas, but it will not arrive before the hotspots.) If I go with a read­i­ly avail­able LMR-240 for the 5 meter (15 feet) coax­i­al exten­sion cable instead of the LMR-400, I will have about 2dB of cable assem­bly inser­tion loss per unit. 

    Do you think it will adverse­ly affect the above described set­up? I can­not wrap my head around the con­cept of the dBi, dBm and dB val­ues. I know that 2dB loss will not mean that my 4dBi anten­na will be dumb­ed down to a 2dBi one, but I thought it’s bet­ter to ask you, since you are a heli­um vet­er­an with an immense amount of experience.

    Thank you in advance for your valu­able input!

  2. Hi Andrew, you don’t *have* to have LMR400, you can find an equiv­a­lent. Was McGill not able to sup­ply it? If not, I’ll hunt around for anoth­er Euro sup­pli­er. Get­ting the anten­nas up high is impor­tant. For now you could use the 240, order the 400 or 400 equiv­a­lent, and replace the cables when they come in. The oth­er option is to get some high­er gain anten­nas (up to 6) and not wor­ry about 2 dB of loss.

  3. To fol­low up on that- if you are less wor­ried about gain loss and accept­ed long cable loss, would a high­er gain (6dbi+) anten­na be “more light­bulb” and “less laser” with a long cable?

    For exam­ple, if I was antic­i­pat­ing a long cable run but only require a 4dbi antenna.

  4. Non tech­ni­cal (engi­neers, don’t come after me!) –>The cable length will just sap RF ener­gy, it won’t change the pat­tern that ener­gy is radi­at­ed out as. You want to be push­ing out as much as pos­si­ble from the anten­na, so long cable runs call for high­er gain anten­nas to off­set that loss, but with a cor­re­spond­ing restric­tion of pattern.

  5. Why is bob­cat writ­ing that pay­ment done by cryp­to­coins in this case usdc is not refund­able and no any guar­an­tee is given
    etcetera? They only give you this option (usdc pay­ment) to pay with. Does not give any trust and seems bob­cat does not want to take any lia­bil­i­ty? Seems they have not learned what cus­tomers real­ly wants and need. Ful­ly cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion since there are EU rules for pro­tec­tion of cus­tomers buy­ing a product.

  6. Hi Raka, you should def. reach out to Bob­cat about that. My guess would be they’re pro­tect­ing their down­side. I know a lot of this seems straight­for­ward and should be sim­pler, but inter­na­tion­al busi­ness direct­ly between a man­u­fac­tur­er and the end-user (you) can be pret­ty darn complicated.

  7. Andrew Gaspar Avatar
    Andrew Gaspar

    Hel­lo Nik,

    Thank you very much for your prompt reply. I did not know about McGill until now, but it appears that they have (almost) every­thing a “new-kid-on-the-block” such as myself would need in order to get start­ed with Heli­um. I have ordered my LMR-400 cables, and hats off to you sir — it seems that you are an expert dom­i­nat­ing inter­na­tion­al arenas… 

    I would hate to over­stay your wel­come, but I’d real­ly like to ask your opin­ion con­cern­ing anoth­er inter­est­ing issue. As I have pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned, the five hotspots that I am plan­ning to put out are 500 meters to 2 kilo­me­ters apart with a clear line of sight of each oth­er. How­ev­er, the topog­ra­phy around here is some­what chal­leng­ing, due to the fact that ours is a mod­er­ate­ly hill-val­ley town. 

    I plan on imple­ment­ing two hotspots in the low­er (val­ley) region, and the remain­ing three units up on the hill­side. The ele­va­tion dif­fer­ence between the two areas are about 100 meters, and the dis­tance is approx­i­mate­ly 1000 meters. Despite the clear line of sight, the sig­nal from the low­er hotspots would need to trav­el some­what uphill to reach the high­er witnesses. 

    In your opin­ion, can a 4dBi anten­na push a sig­nal ver­ti­cal­ly high enough (~100–150 m) from the val­ley area before expand­ing side­ways to reach the hotspots on the hill?

    Yours tru­ly,

  8. Andrew, yes, it’ll trav­el up high. Keep me post­ed on how your deploy­ment goes!

  9. Francisco Canha Avatar
    Francisco Canha

    I bought my first Bob­cat 300, 05-06-2021, I’m from Por­tu­gal, i like to know when will arrived… My order n°11896xx..
    Thank you

  10. Hi Fran­cis­co, I’m not sure when it’ll ship, you’ll have to check with them.

  11. Hi,
    I want to place my Bob­cat in my loft/attic, would the 4dBi anten­na be able to work well enough inside my loft?

  12. Should be fine, though I’d con­sid­er upgrad­ing to the HNTen­na indoor; that thing is test­ing out REALLY well right now. Not the cheap­est anten­na you’ll find, but one of the very best.

  13. Would you rec­om­mend the RAK BOBCAT EXTERNAL ENCLOSURE to lim­it cable length (under a few ft)? Like I see in your Installs you always try and put the box as close to the router as pos­si­ble, also it’s rel­a­tive­ly easy to run one Eth­er­net cable out­side. This kit Also includes every­thing need­ed for POE. I already have HNTen­nas on order for 868. This box looks sol­id. Do you think their anten­na adapter is going to kill the gain?

  14. Hi Nik,
    Thank you very much for answer­ing my ques­tion, much appreciated.
    That anten­na looks just like what I need, just need to find a UK ver­sion now 868MHz.
    Kind Regards,

  15. Sure, you can try it out. I like to build stuff myself, but pre-made options are way eas­i­er. I doubt their anten­na adap­tor will kill gain any more than a nor­mal con­nec­tor; I would­n’t wor­ry about it.

  16. Arunas Pleckaitis Avatar
    Arunas Pleckaitis

    Hel­lo Nik,
    sim­ple ques­tion — because anten­na cable “eat­ing” sig­nal, so maybe its wis­er to use longer eth­er­net (cat6 or qual­i­ty cat5) cabling ? And if need­ed, put PoE and splitter ?
    My Sen­saCap M1 on the way to me 🙂

  17. Def­i­nite­ly bet­ter to use eth­er­net (cat5 is fine) to get your min­er clos­er to your anten­na. More on PoE over here.

  18. Hi,
    I have bro­ken the pig­tail inside my Bob­cat min­er. There seems to be 2 options when buy­ing a new one; M.2 (NGFF) or Mini PCI‑E inter­face? Do you know which one I need?

  19. Hi Dan, thanks for writ­ing in. I’m not sure which will work, def. check in with Bob­cat on this one.

  20. thank you very much ‚it cana help me

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