Winning At Helium: The Right Way To Get Started

Ok, so you just found Heli­um and are won­der­ing what to do next? Let’s walk through the whole sys­tem so you’ll know what to do and what NOT to do. We’ll go through the ecosytem of Heli­um, the incen­tive of HNT, explain Heli­um Wal­lets as well as the Burn and Mint equi­lib­ri­um, and make sure you get start­ed the right way the first time.

The Ecosystem

Heli­um is a blockchain that encour­ages you to pro­vide prov­able wire­less cov­er­age for the Inter­net of Things (IoT).

This wire­less cov­er­age is NOT WiFi, and it won’t give you internet*. 

Heli­um allows a wide vari­ety of devices, called sen­sors (door open/close, park­ing lot sen­sor, tem­per­a­ture & humid­i­ty, etc), to trans­fer their data onto the inter­net. Ulti­mate­ly, Heli­um aims to be a ubiq­ui­tous net­work that allows any­one to eas­i­ly install a wire­less sen­sor that con­nects to the inter­net. For exam­ples of how Heli­um is being used today, you can see exam­ples rang­ing from CO2 mon­i­tor­ing to track­ing vehi­cles to activ­i­ty mon­i­tor­ing, and even a bet­ter mouse­trap.

In order to pro­vide cov­er­age, any­one can order and deploy a Heli­um-com­pat­i­ble Hotspot. Hotspots are a com­bi­na­tion of com­put­er and radio and are made by many dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers, from RAK to Bob­cat to Syn­cro­bit, Nebra, Ker­link, and more. 

Inside the Hotspot, the com­put­er runs the blockchain min­ing oper­a­tions and tells the radio what and when to broad­cast. The radio does what the com­put­er tells it, and it reports to the com­put­er what it “hears”.

In return for min­ing, broad­cast­ing, and receiv­ing, each Hotspot earns some por­tion of the 2,500,000 HNT (Heli­um Net­work Token) cur­rent­ly dis­trib­uted every month.

Heli­um is run by VERY smart engi­neers who have built an incred­i­ble sys­tem. If you see some­thing that does­n’t make sense, it may take some time to under­stand it. Know that Heli­um explains every­thing as if you’re an engi­neer who already under­stands what they’re explain­ing. It always makes sense, but it can take a long time and some effort to under­stand. That’s one of the things I try to help you with on this site. 🙂

Cool, I think I get it. So…why is every­one I talk to about Heli­um so bonkers about it?

The Incentive: HNT

Heli­um Net­work Tokens, or HNT, are what dri­ve this whole train. The bet­ter the cov­er­age you pro­vide (pages and pages have been writ­ten on how to pro­vide excel­lent cov­er­age), the more HNT you earn. HNT is a cryp­tocur­ren­cy and can be trad­ed for many oth­er cur­ren­cies, includ­ing US dol­lars. That’s most­ly why peo­ple are going so bonkers for Heli­um. That, and the fact that it’s the lead­ing edge of a wave of tech­nol­o­gy that’s about to change our entire soci­ety, but…let’s leave that for now and focus on the fundamentals.

Hotspots earn HNT for 4 dif­fer­ent actions: 

  • Cre­at­ing a Challenge
  • Bea­con­ing a Chal­lenge (you’re act­ing as a “Chal­lengee” in this case)
  • Wit­ness­ing a Challenge
  • Pass­ing Data on the Network

Need more info on the PoC cycle of Chal­lenges, Bea­cons and Wit­ness­es? Go deep here.

For turn­ing HNT into USD I most­ly use Binance.us, but I’ve also used Bilaxy. In gen­er­al, cryp­to exchanges can be unre­li­able. If you do trade HNT for any­thing, I sug­gest get­ting it on the exchange, mak­ing your trade, and pulling your earn­ings off the exchange in as short a time as possible. 

At the time of this writ­ing, you could buy 1 HNT for about US$20.

Let’s Talk Helium Economics (I Know Most Of You Will Skip This. That’s OK.)

As a casu­al user, you can basi­cal­ly book­mark this whole Eco­nom­ics sec­tion with: HNT is as sta­ble a cryp­tocur­ren­cy as you’ll find and the fun­da­men­tals of val­ue are rea­son­ably sound, at least for crypto.

Heli­um man­ages the sup­ply of HNT in a few ways. The longer ver­sion is here, in HIP 20. The short­er ver­sion is below. 

First, there’s a max­i­mum sup­ply; no more than 223 mil­lion HNT will ever come into exis­tence. Every 2 years, the amount of HNT made avail­able for dis­tri­b­u­tion is cut in half, a process called (wait for it…) the Halving. 

As of late 2021, the Heli­um Net­work has a tar­get pro­duc­tion rate of 2,500,000 HNT/month. That HNT gets dis­trib­uted amongst investors, Hotspot own­ers, Val­ida­tors, and Net­work Data Trans­fer. More on those in a minute.

The sec­ond way Heli­um man­ages the sup­ply is with a Burn & Mint Equi­lib­ri­um. What the heck is that? We’ll have to back­track a bit here. Remem­ber when I said you could use a sen­sor to trans­fer data on the Heli­um net­work? Well, you pay for the data not with HNT, but with Data Cred­its (DC). The only way to get Data Cred­its is by “burn­ing” HNT

When you “burn” and HNT, you “mint” a Data Credit.

The val­ue of a Data Cred­it does­n’t change (it’ll always cost $0.00001 per DC), but the val­ue of HNT can swing wildly. 

As the Net­work starts get­ting more use, more HNT will be burned to cre­ate DC. With less HNT on the mar­ket, the price of HNT will (prob­a­bly) go up. As the price of HNT allows you to buy more Data Cred­its to use the Net­work, you need less and less HNT to do the same amount of work. 

Of course, at some point, you run out of HNT, right? I mean, there IS a cap to how much will be mined.

Nope. There’s one more man­age­ment tool when it comes to HNT, and it’s called Net Emis­sions. Net Emis­sions is one of those eco­nom­ic tools that flum­mox­es most of us and fas­ci­nates economists. 

For the geeki­er types…Net Emis­sions means that every time Data Cred­its are used (and HNT is burned), an equal num­ber of HNT will be mint­ed to replace that. The catch? There’s a cap to the total HNT that can be mint­ed per epoch. What’s an “epoch”? Short ver­sion: About 30 min­utes. Long ver­sion here. With a cap to Net Emis­sions, Burn & Mint can still be a use­ful defla­tion­ary force. 

Tech­ni­cal­ly, we could still run out of HNT, but it’ll take 50 years and my guess is that with­in 20 years the idea of Heli­um will be as anti­quat­ed to us now as pagers cur­rent­ly (2021) seem. 

Ummm, enough about economics…where do I keep my HNT? I heard some­thing about a wallet?

Helium Wallets

A “Wal­let” is real­ly just access to an address on the blockchain. It’s not a phys­i­cal thing. Most peo­ple use the Heli­um app to cre­ate and man­age their wal­let. When you first down­load the Heli­um app on your phone and cre­ate a wal­let, you’ll be instruct­ed to write down 12 words. Those 12 words are the ONLY way to access your wal­let. If you lose those words, you lose access to that wal­let, and any HNT or Hotspots attached to that wal­let. The 12 words are a big deal.

You can sign out of one wal­let and sign into anoth­er wal­let on the same phone; the wal­let is NOT locked to your phone. You can’t have both wal­lets open simul­ta­ne­ous­ly on one phone.

For ease of use, the app also cre­ates a PIN for your wal­let. Once you’ve signed in to your wal­let on the app, you’ll just need the PIN to access it again, instead of typ­ing in the 12 words each time. Every time you sign out and then sign in again, you have the option to change your PIN. Your 12 words nev­er change.

A Wal­let is the con­troller for a Hotspot; every Hotspot that is earn­ing is attached to just one Wal­let. You can have mul­ti­ple Hotspots in your Wal­let, but you can’t have mul­ti­ple Wal­lets that split a Hotspot.

Wal­lets are pub­lic; any­one can see your wal­let address, how many HNT are in that wal­let, and how many Hotspots are attached to your wal­let. Since you can have more than one wal­let, it’s not a bad idea to have mul­ti­ple wal­lets just for a lit­tle bit of pri­va­cy. Use one to man­age your hotspots, and anoth­er wal­let with no hotspots attached to it as a “sav­ings” account where you rou­tine­ly trans­fer your HNT to. It’s not a fool­proof sys­tem, but it does make it a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult for any­one to see just how much HNT you’ve earned.

Ok, cool, so I’ve got a wal­let and a hotspot. What do I do now?

Managing Your Hotspots

You man­age your hotspots from your wal­let. When you’re signed into your wal­let on the Heli­um app, you can change, or “re-assert” their loca­tion. You can change the stat­ed ele­va­tion of the anten­na. You can change the stat­ed gain of the anten­na. As of ear­ly Sept 2021, none of those report­ed stats mat­ter, but they all even­tu­al­ly will feed into the earn­ings algo­rithm, so it’s a good idea to accu­rate­ly state your ele­va­tion and anten­na gain. 

Speak­ing of chang­ing loca­tion, I think it’s rea­son­able to “assert”, or place your hotspot with­in about 150 meters of where it actu­al­ly is. You don’t have to be any more accu­rate than that. This will give you (or your hosts, if you’ve placed your hotspot at some­one else’s loca­tion) privacy. 

Cur­rent­ly and for the fore­see­able future, while the Heli­um App and Explor­er will only show you the loca­tion of a hotspot down to a res 8 hexa­gon (a res 8 hex is about 1,000 meters across). Still, the Heli­um API allows any­one with an under­stand­ing of the code to see more or less exact­ly where you’ve assert­ed your hotspot. For my clients, I usu­al­ly sug­gest assert­ing it at the clos­est street inter­sec­tion with­in 150 meters.

Wait, did you say “anten­nas”? Aren’t those the sin­gle most impor­tant thing ever in Helium?

Antennas

Anten­nas are one of those things that seem like they’re real­ly impor­tant, but they’re not. They’re kind of sim­i­lar to how you looked in high school; zero rela­tion to what you end­ed up earn­ing in real life. I’ve writ­ten a bunch about anten­nas to help dis­pel the notion that they have a huge impact on earn­ings. They don’t. 

If you want the best anten­na out there for most sit­u­a­tions it’ll cost $150 plus ship­ping. It usu­al­ly won’t make more than a 15% dif­fer­ence over a cheap piece of sh*t. I like nice things, so that’s what I use, but most of the time it won’t be magic.

The sin­gle biggest mis­take peo­ple make when buy­ing an anten­na that can have a neg­a­tive impact on earn­ings is to think that high­er gain = bet­ter anten­na. It does­n’t. A high­er gain does­n’t get you any­thing except a nar­row­er radi­a­tion pat­tern and usu­al­ly more invalid (non-earn­ing) wit­ness­es. Occa­sion­al­ly, if you’re try­ing to punch through one or two dense strips of trees, a high­er gain can help. Most­ly, they just hurt.

But, but, but, Wit­ness­ing makes me the major­i­ty of my HNT, and I have to have a great anten­na to Wit­ness, right?

Nope. I wrote about that in Can I Get A Witness?

Ok Nik, so what actu­al­ly makes a difference?

Location

The loca­tion of your hotspot is the num­ber one deter­min­er of your HNT earn­ings. If you’re in a place with opti­mal den­si­ty and vol­ume of hotspots you’ll earn more. If you’re in a place with too few hotspots that your hotspot can “see” you won’t have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to Wit­ness Bea­cons. If you’re in a place where it’s too dense you’ll Wit­ness plen­ty of Bea­cons, but they’ll be low value. 

The den­si­ty lim­its are cov­ered by HIP 15 and 17, which is described in the “opti­mal den­si­ty and vol­ume” link, above.

I’ve got a HIP 17 explain­er video, as does Heli­um, and just about every YouTu­ber on the plan­et. It’s com­plex, but not impos­si­ble. You got this!

A good rule of thumb for min­i­mum vol­ume (num­ber of hotspots your hotspot can “see”) to earn max­i­mal­ly is around .05% of the network. 

[Num­ber of Hotspots on the Net­work] x [.0005] = Min­i­mum num­ber of hotspots your Hotspot should be able to reli­ably see in order to rou­tine­ly wit­ness beacons.

That’s neat, although I don’t do math. Is there anoth­er way to think about earn­ing more?

Optimizing

Opti­miz­ing your Heli­um Hotspot con­sists of pick­ing the best loca­tion, get­ting up to the min­i­mum ele­va­tion required for that loca­tion, and then using the right gear. Each one of those steps is pro­gres­sive­ly less impor­tant. If you want a rough guide for this, start here.

The right gear has very lit­tle to do with your earn­ings, where­as loca­tion & ele­va­tion are crit­i­cal. If you’d like help with under­stand­ing how to opti­mize your Hotspot (and make sure you know how and where to move it if need­ed), I’m avail­able for hire. For about the price of one extra hotspot you’ll know every­thing you need to know in order to earn the most out of your deployments.

Thanks Nik! Just a few more things. WTF is a relay? Is it bad? Can I fix it?

Relay

Hav­ing a hotspot be “relayed” means, in short, that instead of your hotspot report­ing direct­ly to the blockchain, all of its report­ing infor­ma­tion gets passed through, or relayed, by anoth­er hotspot. This hap­pens because your fire­wall blocks your hotspots from talk­ing to the inter­we­bz. Your hotspot then has to “relay” all its infor­ma­tion through near­by hotspots.

This means the infor­ma­tion flow is slow­er, and you’re less like­ly to earn HNT because oth­er hotspots will “beat you to the punch” of report­ing Wit­ness­es or receiv­ing Bea­cons. Being relayed does not always mean you’ll earn less, although it usu­al­ly does. If you’re relayed, it’s a good idea to go through @Jason from Dis­cord’s fan­tas­tic “Solv­ing the Relay Prob­lem” flow.

Hey, I bought a [insert Hotspot man­u­fac­ter here] is it the best one?

Miners

Min­ers, (also called “Hotspots” or “Gate­ways”) are made by many dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers. They’re all about the same, though in the rush to meet the demand some man­u­fac­tur­ers have had more prob­lems than others. 

In gen­er­al, I’ve found the RAK V2s to be the best of the lot, most­ly because they’ve had the most time to work on their prod­uct. Bob­cats are also good, although they’re sen­si­tive to heat. Nebras are con­sid­ered the worst of the bunch, though there were high hopes for them ear­ly on. With a lit­tle fid­dling, all hotspots can be improved upon as far as being sta­ble and per­form­ing well in the heat. 

No hotspot is faster or high­er earn­ing than any oth­er hotspot as far as com­par­ing brand/model to anoth­er brand/model. When choos­ing what hotspot to buy, make sure you fol­low the links from Heli­um’s Approved Man­u­fac­tur­er page as a ton of scam­mers have popped up to take advan­tage of, well, greedy suck­ers. I mean, I’ll just call it like it is. 🙂

One very impor­tant thing to note when it comes to Heli­um Hotspots is that Heli­um itself does­n’t have any con­trol over the man­u­fac­tur­er.

In gen­er­al, the process is that a man­u­fac­tur­er applies to the DeWi alliance (a neu­tral third par­ty enti­ty with no dogs in the fight) for a license to make hotspots. The man­u­fac­tur­er pro­vides a sam­ple prod­uct to the DeWi Alliance and makes a bunch of promis­es about how great its prod­uct will be.

Heli­um is NOT the enti­ty that assess Heli­um-com­pat­i­ble Hotspots. The DeWi Alliance con­sid­ers each appli­ca­tion and does its best to assess whether or not a man­u­fac­tur­er can do what it claims it can do. 

If a man­u­fac­tur­er makes a mis­take, or does­n’t do some­thing well, there isn’t a rea­son­able for Heli­um to some­how pun­ish that man­u­fac­tur­er; that’s left up to the mar­ket. It’s the fairest way pos­si­ble to admin­is­ter a decen­tral­ized net­work, though it can be bloody frus­trat­ing if you’re the one who bought a unit that nev­er arrives.

That sounds like most of what I need to, thanks for writ­ing this up! Hey, can you tell me about any oth­er weird lit­tle details I might need to know?

Connections

Con­nec­tions between hotspots and anten­nas can be con­fus­ing. There are RP-SMA, and some­times SMA, and some­times N‑type con­nec­tors. The best way to fig­ure out what you need is to fig­ure out what the con­nec­tor is on what­ev­er you’re con­nect­ing, then get a cable with the oppo­site gen­der con­nec­tor. Yes, it’s that sim­ple. Yes, it also feels risky and frus­trat­ing. You got this! If you’d like a table of what con­nec­tor your hotspot prob­a­bly needs along with pic­tures of what it all looks like, go here. 

That’s it, most of Heli­um in a nut­shell. Now you know enough to get start­ed on deploy­ing your Heli­um Hot­pots, using your wal­let, and con­tribut­ing to the Net­work. Let’s do this!

*Tech­ni­cal­ly, the cov­er­age is called Long­Fi. You don’t need a SIM card to access Long­Fi, there’s no min­i­mum fee to use the net­work, and ranges are up to 100 times that of WiFi. It’s very dif­fer­ent than WiFi, even though they both trans­fer infor­ma­tion wirelessly.

4 thoughts on “Winning At Helium: The Right Way To Get Started”

  1. Hi Nik ~ Need your 4 dig­it code on Dis­cord so I can send an invite, I reside in So Cal­i­for­nia and have an issue my RT240 reg­is­tra­tion port for­ward­ing. Thank you!
    Alex

  2. Hi Alex,
    Start here. I’m 0634, though I try not to do any trou­bleshoot­ing over DM in Dis­cord; that way every­body can learn togeth­er rather than just 1 at a time.

  3. I just spent an hour or so look­ing at a selec­tion of 50 hotspots includ­ing mine, and man­u­al­ly count­ed up the amount of “Sent Bea­con” sig­nals shown in explor­er over the last 30 days — came back with some inter­est­ing read­ing! for the relayed hotspots, in my total­ly unsci­en­tif­ic study the aver­age sent bea­con fig­ure was 0.66 a day, for non-relayed the aver­age was 1.7 a day, near­ly 3 times more! just shows how impor­tant relay­ing is to earn­ings, (and worth men­tion­ing DHCP bind­ing in there as part of the port for­ward process too, as peo­ple dont under­stand that part) and shows how much less HNT you’re earn­ing if you’re main­ly wit­ness­ing relayed hotspots — peo­ple miss­ing out on a for­tune in HNT because oth­ers don’t both­er to set up port for­ward­ing. I wish Heli­um would give out and offi­cial fig­ure for bea­cons sent for relayed vs non relayed, as peo­ple on dis­cord not real­is­ing this and still think­ing being relayed isn’t real­ly a problem.

  4. Nik!

    The OG him­self. Mr. Gris­tle King.

    This is with­out a doubt the best, most sim­ple and most effec­tive expla­na­tion of Heli­um I’ve yet to come across. You, sir, have a gift of explain­ing the com­plex to a fifth grad­er. Bravo.

    I’ve been doing the Heli­um thing for about a year now, and have learned a lot. But I con­tin­ue to learn more and share the Heli­um oppor­tu­ni­ty with friends and fam­i­ly. I’ll be shar­ing this post with them, just as I tweet­ed it out to the world. BTW, why aren’t you on Twitter…???

    https://twitter.com/themarcus/status/1444326905021358086

    Thanks for all of your great con­tent and will­ing­ness to edu­cate, inform and lead the com­mu­ni­ty. Appre­ci­ate you!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Exit mobile version