Blockchain technology has enabled the decentralization of a number of things, and one that is quite interesting is the decentralization of wireless networks. It’s called the Helium Network, it’s growing fast, and it could be a way to mine cryptocurrency without having to use an expensive, power-hungry server. It also promises to be scalable and affordable, bringing wireless connectivity to millions of devices, sensors, MCUs, and chips for just pennies a year. If all this sounds as fascinating to you as it does to us, let’s see what’s inside the Helium network.
What is the Helium network?
The Helium network is a global, distributed, long-range wireless network that provides coverage for LoRaWAN-enabled IoT devices. The network is made up of access points or hotspots that provide the coverage of the public network and in return are compensated with the native Helium cryptocurrency (HNT). The network is also integrated into the Helium blockchain to incentivize hotspot operation. After less than 2 years of operation, the Helium network and the blockchain already have more than 25,000 global hotspots, making it the largest LoRaWAN network in the world.
What is LoRaWAN?
LoRaWAN is a point-to-multipoint network protocol that uses Semtech’s LoRa modulation scheme. It’s not just about radio waves; it’s about how radio waves communicate with LoRaWAN gateways to do things like encryption and identification. It also includes a cloud component, to which multiple gateways connect.
The Helium Blockchain
The Helium blockchain uses a new consensus algorithm dubbed proof of coverage (PoC). The blockchain mainnet launched on July 29, 2019 and has since grown considerably, most notably in North America and Western Europe. The Helium blockchain is behind the world’s largest LoRaWAN network, providing incentives to hotspots in the form of HNT payments.
The coverage test is the new algorithm created by Helium. Verifies that the hotspots on the network are physically located where they claim to be, and that they correctly represent the wireless coverage the hotspot is creating for their location.
Why a coverage test?
The success of the Helium network depends on it being able to provide reliable wireless network coverage to the connected devices that use it. This required a working algorithm that was created specifically to meet that use case. With proof of coverage, the Helium network and the blockchain are able to take advantage of the unique properties that radio frequency offers to produce proof that is meaningful to the network and those who use it. In particular, the coverage test is based on these three characteristics:
– The radio frequency has a limited physical propagation and, therefore, a distance;
– The strength of a received RF signal is inversely proportional to the square of the distance to the transmitter; and
– Radiofrequency travels at the speed of light and has no latency;
Thanks to these properties, the blockchain always uses the proof-of-coverage challenge mechanism to interrogate hotspots about their location and coverage. This allows the Helium Network to constantly use the data generated to definitively verify the exact wireless coverage provided by the network’s hotspots.
Helium hotspots are a physical device used to mine and stream on the Helium network. Anyone who wants to participate in the network with a hotspot needs to buy one from a third-party manufacturer, such as Bobcat miner. Setting up Helium hotspot devices is easy, not unlike many other IoT devices. Beyond the basic initial setup, keep in mind that for the best possible range, the Hotspot should be installed near a window and certainly not hidden behind walls or metal enclosures. Even better is if you can afford to add an antenna to increase the range of the Hotspot.
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