The People’s Network: What Is Helium and How Do I Mine HNT?

The People’s Network: What Is Helium and How Do I Mine HNT?

Are you looking forward to the sci-fi vision of smart cities and homes, where for instance, trash cans practically empty themselves? Here’s how Helium and the $HNT cryptocurrency will power the IoT devices of tomorrow. 

The People’s Network: What Is Helium and How Do I Mine HNT?
Darry Port

Updated Jun 22, 2022

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The internet of things (IoT) is a $478 billion market that’s projected to grow to $2.46 trillion by 2029. And it’s easy to understand why. 

Today, Helium (also called “The People’s Network”) is the largest public decentralized LoRaWAN (long range wide area network) in the world.

Wireless internet put information at our fingertips and made long-distance communication accessible from almost anywhere. Building on top of that, IoT links all our physical devices, like thermostats, light bulbs, home security systems, medical devices, and vehicles to computer networks like the internet. That gets us cool sci-fi use cases like public trash cans with sensors that automatically notify sanitation authorities when they’re full.

But the sheer cost of implementing this kind of smart city infrastructure has made it unfeasible—until now. The Helium blockchain network radically reduces the costs of deploying and managing wireless networks. Here's what that could mean for blockchain enthusiasts, crypto investors, and city-dwellers alike.

What is Helium?

The problem with current IoT data plans is that they’re just too expensive for companies to deploy these networks at scale. Legacy telecom companies that offer this service have huge overheads like expensive equipment, land leases, and large payrolls and marketing budgets, and those costs add up.

In comes Helium, a project founded in 2013 by Shawn Fanning (of Napster fame), Amir Haleen, and Sean Carey.  It all started as a simple idea to create a sci-fi future where devices could connect to the internet easily and affordably. Today, Helium (also called “The People’s Network”) is the largest public decentralized LoRaWAN (long range wide area network) in the world. 

And the company behind it, Nova Labs, has become a $1.2 billion company with over 100 employees. It's backed by the likes of Multicon Capital, GV (Google Ventures), Andreessen Horowitz, Tiger Global Management and FTX Ventures and a slew of other prestigious investors.

Even given how large they’ve become, Helium is still able to deploy IoT networks at practically $0 in operational costs through blockchain technology and economic incentives. Consumers just buy non-proprietary Helium miners and deploy hotspots in their homes and businesses.

In theory, that makes Helium nearly impossible to compete with. The technology offers companies cheap, global internet access for all their IoT devices. And over time, even the cost of the miners will be driven down, making it even more accessible.

How Helium works

Helium is a global, open-source, decentralized wireless network that rewards participants with its $HNT token. The main actors in the Helium network are hotspots and validators.

Hotspots

Hotspots are coverage providers that enable IoT devices (e.g. GPS trackers) to connect to the internet using LongFi, a low-frequency and energy-efficient radio communication technology. 

Hotspots don’t actually replace internet or cellular service. Rather, they leverage the owners’ existing Internet (i.e. WiFi or Ethernet) to deliver the data packets sent by devices. What this does replace is the need for IoT devices to subscribe to cellular carriers like AT&T and Vodafone. 

You can buy the Helium miners necessary to deploy hotspots from a list of community-approved vendors (i.e. Makers) like Nebra, SyncroB.it and Kerlink for anywhere from $500-$1K. Once you have a miner, you simply connect it to your local network via an iOS or Android app. And boom, your Helium Hotspot will provide network coverage within a radius of several miles. 

Validators

Validators confirm that transactions are valid. In return for securing the blockchain, validators earn 6% in $HNT rewards. But in order to become a validator, users need to stake 10K $HNT—worth about $88,300 as of May 2022. Not only that, but validators also need to lock up their $HNT for about 5 months. Optionally, validators can delegate less than 10K $HNT in stake to independent staking providers, who either charge a flat or commission fee on earnings.

The $HNT token

  • Ticker: $HNT
  • Price: $8.58
  • Circulating Supply: 118.807 million
  • Maximum Supply: 223 million
  • Market Cap: $1.019 billion
  • Total staked: 36.17 million $HNT ($355.91 million)
  • Markets: Binance, KuCoin, FTX, Crypto.com

Data accurate as of 5/11/2022

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Coinbase

4.4

Crypto

$HNT is the native cryptocurrency of the Helium blockchain. You can buy $HNT on a number of crypto exchanges, and it has quite a bit of utility. The $HNT token is awarded to miners and stakers for providing wireless coverage. It's also used by the community to vote on governance proposals.

Additionally, actions like adding hotspots and sending data on the Helium blockchain incur fees. And these fees can only be paid by burning $HNT for non-fungible tokens called Data Credits.

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Source: Helium.com

$HNT tokens are issued when Hotspots both mine and provide coverage for IoT devices. Much like Bitcoin, the Helium Network has an issuance schedule that halves the amount of monthly $HNT issued every two years. At the moment, $HNT’s inflation is sky-high, at 20% per year. The network is currently issuing 2.5 million $HNT per month (or 30 million per year) until August 2023, when those numbers will be halved again—which should bring down inflation. 

Mining $HNT

The Helium blockchain produces a block every 58.45 seconds. In each block, Hotspots perform various types of work and are rewarded accordingly.

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Source: Helium.com

At the end of each epoch (every 30 minutes), mining rewards are divided across different actors in the ecosystem, including: Hotspots, Validators (i.e. Consensus Group), Nova Labs, and Helium investors (i.e. Security Tokens). The split is as follows:

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Source: Helium.com

Now, the whole purpose behind mining is to reach consensus. Helium does this through a mechanism called Proof-of-Coverage (PoC) that verifies that Hotspots are located where they claim they are. PoC identifies the unique properties of a radio frequency (RF) signal and interrogates Hotspots for this proof through so-called PoC Challenges.

Here’s what a PoC challenge looks like after the fact.

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Source: Helium.com

It’s also worth mentioning that since $HNT mining is done via radio technology, it doesn’t require expensive or energy-intensive GPUs like Bitcoin’s Proof of Work.

Depending on their location and coverage quality, some users have been able to make hundreds of dollars per month in passive income mining $HNT. However, the average user makes more along the lines of $30 per month. 

Governance

The Helium Community uses Helium Improvement Proposals (HIPs) to introduce, debate, and approve/reject new changes to the Network. To approve or deny proposals, The Helium Network leverages on-chain voting through the website helium.vote.

For most votes, a user’s voting power is proportional to the size of their$HNT balance. However, the community is currently introducing proposals (via HIP41) to create more inclusive voting mechanisms.

The hype around Helium

  • Hotspots: 799,141
  • 30 day trend: +81,940
  • % online: 73%
  • Makers: 33
  • Cities: 60,386
  • Countries: 172

Data accurate as of 5/11/2022

Helium is one of the fastest-growing and most engaged communities in crypto today. According to SEMRush, the Helium website generates 22,713,650 monthly visits. Helium also has hundreds of thousands of engaged community members across Discord, Twitter, Reddit who geek out about their mining setups and tips for providing better coverage to maximize rewards. 

But the Helium community wasn’t satisfied with simply being the largest decentralized LoRaWAN network. As of early 2022, the community voted to pass HIP 27 and start rolling out 5G coverage on the Helium blockchain.

To pull this off, Helium has partnered with a variety of big names in the communications industry, including DISH, Senet, Actility, Microsoft and FreedomFi. Soon, you’ll be able to connect your smartphone to a 5G network powered by everyday people on Helium. At first, the Helium 5G Network will only be available in select US cities, but they are looking to expand to other countries by 2023.

Helium and $HNT challenges & risks

Helium has, without a doubt, disrupted the wireless network industry. But as impressive as the number of hotspots are, Helium coverage is still pretty small and concentrated in select regions if you zoom out and look at the world map.

The project faces some challenges and risks along the path to higher adoption. One such challenge is competition from new-age internet providers like Starlink and OneWeb. Of course, they are centralized companies, so Helium’s permissionless design and censorship resistance have value nonetheless. As another plus, Helium doesn’t have any true competitors in the crypto space. 

Now in terms of risks with crypto, $HNT is a volatile cryptocurrency at the end of the day. In a bear market, this volatility lowers the profitability of hotspots. Staking $HNT is yet another risk. Though there isn’t any slashing (burning your stake) on the network, poorly performing validator nodes that go offline or have weak connections get penalized and earn fewer rewards. This sucks considering that unstaking your $HNT takes 5 months, during which you don't even earn any rewards.

Proof of Coverage hacker rings have also been a problem lately, where hackers falsely assert their locations and claim rewards without actually offering coverage. The Helium community has enacted some measures to make this more difficult, but some users don’t think they’re doing enough to crack down on this. 

Finally, there’s always the possibility that Helium could become a target for regulators like The Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In countries like China, Helium hotspots could even be banned so as to keep their domestic internet censored. 

But if these risks don’t deter you, go cop yourself a Helium miner and become your own internet service provider (ISP). Just be aware that buying one will take some time to pay off, with miners costing $500-$1K and average users earning about $30 per month mining $HNT. Plus, you have to be a serious coverage provider with high uptime if you want to maximize your earning potential.

Are you a crackpot for crab pots?

Imagine this.  You’re a Silicon Valley tech exec that loves to catch crabs off the California coast in your spare time.  Only thing is, your $300 crab pots are often lost in the deep blue sea. Quite the expensive hobby.

How should you go about tracking your crab pots to stop them from getting lost?

Are you a crackpot for crab pots?

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