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Frequently Asked Questions

Helium Logo

Who is Helium?

Helium was founded in 2013 with a mission to make it easier to build connected products. We are backed by Khosla Ventures, GV (formerly Google Ventures), FirstMark Capital, and other top VCs.

What is Helium building?

Helium is building a decentralized wireless network which simplifies connecting anything to the internet through a new, unique combination of physical blockchain, wireless network, and open-source software.

Why is it important for the network to be decentralized?

To build this network in a decentralized manner, we use blockchain to create a two-sided marketplace made up of a community of builders on one side and users of the network on the other. The network can reward anyone who deploys hotspots and provides wireless network coverage. Users benefit from a secure, reliable, low cost network they can use to connect machines (IoT devices) to the internet.

We believe a decentralized approach is needed to democratize connectivity, expand coverage, and keep costs affordable when connecting machines to the internet.

How can I participate in building the network?

Anyone with a hotspot can provide wireless coverage and earn rewards. In terms of coverage, unlike enterprises who may decide an area is unfavorable, residents can plug in hotspots and immediately offer wireless connectivity for neighbors and local businesses anywhere they choose. The cost of connectivity is set by individual hotspot owners, but is heavily influenced by market forces including competition and demand of users for connectivity in an area.

Anyone can provide wireless coverage for connected machines and get rewarded by simply deploying hotspots. Hotspots can earn tokens for its owners in a several ways: mine blocks to verify provided wireless network coverage; and receive fees from machines to send data to a public or private cloud.

What's a Hotspot?

A hotspot is a physical hardware device (size of small home router) that mine tokens while creating network coverage.

How much electricity does it take to power a Helium Hotspot?

We expect the hotspot to use as much electricity as an LED light bulb and for that energy use to remain constant. By comparison, the network of Bitcoin miners currently consume massive amounts of energy - by some estimates, enough to power a small country. We think there is a better way.

How do I buy a Hotspot?

Online pre-orders for customers will be announced in the near future. Hotspots will be offered at $495.

How do I earn tokens?

Tokens can be earned in a number of ways. Hotspot owners earn tokens by mining new blocks and being paid by machines. Machines pay hotspots for access to and from the internet. Mining is automatic; leaving your hotspot on and providing network coverage gives you a chance to earn tokens.

How will tokens be distributed? How can I buy tokens?

There will be additional info regarding tokens in the coming months. To be among the first to know, sign up on our Hotspot interest form or join our Telegram Group.

Will Helium be proprietary?

We believe proprietary protocols and technologies stifle innovation. This is why we use commodity hardware components, open modulation schemes, and will be releasing all of the network components as open source software with permissive licensing. Visit our Github to see more.

How do users of the network benefit?

Users of the network can take physical assets and easily connect them to the internet using a radio module compatible with WHIP, our wireless protocol. Using wireless coverage provided by hotspots, connected machines can send their data to the internet over long ranges at a low cost in a way that’s not available today.

I want to use the Helium network to connect my devices. How do I learn more?

Thanks for your interest! Email sales@helium.com to get in touch with our business development team.

What’s your roadmap?

May 2018 — The future of blockchain and the Helium Network announced.

September — Launch private testnet in San Francisco.

Q4 2018 — Alpha Testnet Launch.

Q2 2019 — Mainnet Launch.

How does blockchain help this project?

The blockchain has many features, but arguably the most important is that it is used to incent anyone to help build the network in a decentralized manner.

Blockchain and a new 'Proof of Coverage' protocol is used to verify network coverage provided by hotspot owners and reward them with tokens.

Why did Helium create a new blockchain? Don't we have enough already?

This is a reasonable question. We tried, very hard, to use existing blockchain technology for this task (namely Bitcoin's and Ethereum's). But the more we designed the system and thought about actual real-world applications that would use it, the more we realized something new was required.

For the use cases we are targeting, we needed new proof mechanisms. In the Helium Blockchain, we call this set of proofs 'Proof of Coverage'. The Helium decentralized wireless network is built on distributed wireless coverage providers called Hotspots. Using Proof of Coverage, the Helium Blockchain enables us to verify hotspots are actually providing real coverage for machines; and allows machines connected to these hotspots to geolocate themselves in a physical space without needing typical mechanisms like GPS.

Is the Helium Blockchain based on existing blockchains like Bitcoin's or Ethereum's?

The Helium Blockchain is fundamentally new technology. While it borrows major ideas and best practices from the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains, the Helium Blockchain is purpose-built to enable distributed applications that operate in the real world; and require what we call 'Proof of Coverage'.

How does Proof of Coverage help to create your network?

Proof-of-Coverage uses WHIP and the internet to verify that hotspots are providing network coverage for machines. Without this verification, malicious actors could add false hotspots to a network in an attempt to earn token rewards without actually providing coverage.

What behavior is being incentivized?

Helium Hotspots challenge each other to prove whether or not they are behaving honestly using Proof-of-Coverage, which is part of our Helium Consensus Protocol. Hotspots proven to be acting honestly and in the best interest of the network (for example, providing legitimate coverage and validating transactions) have a greater chance of mining blocks and earning block rewards.

What information do you store on the blockchain?

Every time machines connect to hotspots transactional data including time and location are stored on the blockchain. As far actual machine payload data, we only store a digest of the packet on the blockchain.

The data is encrypted all the way from the machine to your application. Specific data collected by machines is not stored on the blockchain. All a hotspot would know is that some data was sent, but has no knowledge of what was contained. Data sent from machines ends up at a router that you control. It's almost like a big VPN for all your devices that can use any hotspot to get home.

What about the end nodes themselves? Don't they have to validate the transaction?

No, the transactions are handled by the Helium Control Center which enterprises use to provision and manage machines and hotspots. That way we can keep the machines extremely simple and cheap. We don't believe much is gained by having machines be blockchain clients themselves. They use the blockchain without participating in it, imagine a laptop using DNS or BGP, but without running them.

How do you access information on the blockchain for things like auditing?

The Console and Wallet provide the interface to the blockchain. These applications provide many capabilities including: displaying hotspot location, mining progress, setting minimum/maximum bids for transmission and geolocation services, and monitoring transactions.

Do I have to use your blockchain?

The blockchain used to run decentralized wireless networks is open source and while you could instantiate your own blockchain you will lose access to the larger network and any future updates or innovations.

Do you need multiple hotspots in range to earn rewards?

A hotspot’s score determines whether it can participate in block mining and earn rewards. While it helps to have multiple hotspots (the range of hotspots using WHIP is on the order of miles), even a single hotspot can increase its score by acting as a “challenger” to verify whether a different region is acting honestly or not.

Can I use the Helium Blockchain for other applications?

Definitely. We believe the set of primitives we're building into the Helium Blockchain will be applicable to a wide variety of high value use cases that require the ability to cryptographically prove the location of a physical asset in real time.

What if you want the data sent on the network not to be visible to others?

Machine data is encrypted end-to-end and therefore, is not visible to anyone. In addition, this end-to-end encryption helps prevent 'man in the middle' attacks.

Does the Helium Token have its own wallet?

Yes. The Helium Wallet will be available for most major platforms.

How is trust established in an area?

Although hotspots can be placed anywhere and network coverage created, there are nuances with establishing trust in a new area. This is to prevent what the whitepaper calls “alternate reality attacks”. A trust “anchor” (hotspot) that provides coverage needs to initially be verified whether it’s through voting, trusted deployments, etc. Once a known good anchor has been established the network can grow from there.

Having said that, any hotspot can still participate in routing data from machines, but if you are in a geographical region without any trust anchors you would be excluded from participating in the consensus group. You still gain in score for helping to verify others, but it’s unlikely you’d be one of the highest scoring miners on the network.

What is WHIP (Wireless Helium Internet Protocol)?

WHIP is a new open-source Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) protocol designed for a specific purpose in a decentralized wireless network: long-range, ultra low-power wireless connectivity for machines. WHIP is used to connect machines to hotspots, and hotspots to hotspots to verify coverage. WHIP is highly secure, bi-directional and compatible with a wide range of existing radio transceivers operating in the sub-GHz unlicensed frequency spectrum.

WHIP creates several channels within the unlicensed spectrum and employs frequency hopping to switch between channels. Typically frequency hopping requires a complex time-synchronized system that is limited in capacity. However, machines using WHIP do not need to coordinate with hotspots on channel selection as hotspots are capable of hearing all channels within the available spectrum at any time.

How do hotspots connect to the internet?

Hotspots connect to the internet using Ethernet, Wi-Fi or cellular. All machine-to-hotspot communication uses WHIP.

What is the relationship between Hotspots and WHIP?

Hotspots are physical devices, have internet backhaul (Ethernet, cellular or Wi-Fi), and create WHIP coverage for machine connectivity. Think of the hotspots as access points that use the internet on one end and create WHIP coverage on the other. Machines then use a compatible radio chip to communicate using WHIP to the nearest hotspot.

Do I have to use your hotspots? Can I build my own hotspot?

No and Yes. We believe an open-source approach is consistent with building decentralized wireless networks and plan to make the software, firmware, and schematics open and publicly available. Any person or manufacturer is welcome to build hotspots according to the open designs and standards.

How do you define machines?

“Machine” describes IoT devices that have been integrated with a Helium Module and are able to send and receive sensor data to and from a hotspot that’s part of the decentralized wireless network.

Can my machines connect with other people’s hotspots?

Yes. One of the key benefits of a decentralized wireless network is that machines can automatically connect with any hotspot.

Who do I work with if I experience network coverage issues?

Network issues related to lack of coverage are addressed in the “What can I do to increase coverage?” question. If it’s an issue related to the availability of coverage, we will be working with partners to support SLAs.

What can I do to increase coverage (e.g., if I live in a rural area)?

The strength of a decentralized wireless network is the cost and speed that additional coverage can be provided. Additional hotspots can easily be deployed to areas that lack coverage.

Can I prevent machines from connecting to my hotspots?

Yes. The hotspot will provide a number of configuration options including the capability to prevent machines from connecting.

Can other machines connect to a decentralized wireless network not running on WHIP?

No. Any machine connecting to the decentralized wireless network must use the Helium wireless protocol (WHIP). WHIP is an open-source, royalty-free protocol built for machines to connect to hotspots over long range using very little power.

Do you offer global coverage?

We are focusing initial roll out of hotspots to build the network in the US and then plan on phasing further deployment to other countries.

Does Helium provide typical cloud integrations?

Yes, Helium provides out-of-the box integrations for market-leading cloud players including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and others.

What type of range is available?

With line of site from a connected machine to a hotspot, we’ve tested over to 26 KM (16 miles). We still expect hotspots in densely populated areas to perform extremely well. WHIP uses quite narrow channels and each hotspot is capable of listening to almost the entire unlicensed sub-ghz spectrum.

Can machines connecting to same hotspot talk to each other without an internet connection?

No. Every hotspot needs an internet connection in order to interact with the blockchain, access authentication data, provide geolocation, etc.

How will you drive adoption to ensure wide coverage?

We plan to solve the cold start problem by completing the following: 1) Building a consensus and incentive model using blockchain and a utility token that creates rewards independent of machines using the system. 2) Many partnerships, lots of integrations, and copious business development work. We plan to work with everyone from end users to carriers to hotspot OEMs and much more. Because of the range and capacity of each hotspot, the network can grow fairly large without needing to rely on centralized entities.

What radio protocol do machines on the Helium decentralized wireless network use?

WHIP, the Helium wireless protocol, is the combination of various open, proven frequency demodulation techniques. Specifically, hardware modules that implement WHIP use a combination of Frequency Shift Keying (FSK) and Gaussian Frequency Shift Keying (GFSK) in the ISM unlicensed bands to communicate with hotspots. All wireless communication between machines and hotspots takes place in the sub-GHz portion of the unlicensed spectrum (commonly referred to as the ISM Band). For more information about WHIP read the whitepaper.

If there is an open, royalty-free Wireless Specification, does that mean I can make my own modules that can use the Network?

Indeed it does. We believe in the promise of Helium so much that we're open sourcing many of its components - from Module firmware to the Helium Wireless Specification to the Helium Control Center. This means you can manufacture your own modules and hotspots and operate your own Helium Control Center.

How many machines can connect to one Helium Hotspot?

There is effectively no limit to the number of machines that can connect to a Helium Hotspot. Theoretically, it's in the 10,000s, but since every machine connection uses such a small frequency channel for communications and the hotspot is able to monitor all applicable frequencies at once, it's unlikely a message from a machine is lost.

What is the bitrate range for machines on the network? Is communication bi-directional?

Data rates for machines that connect to hotspots using WHIP range from 0.3 Kbps to 250 Kbps. A lot of factors will dictate the effective throughput rate for a device.

The Helium Network's wireless link is completely bi-directional. The downlink is available to users to send firmware updates (to both the MCU driving the sensor's application logic as well as the sensor's radio/crypto stack) and control commands to, say, close a valve on a water pipe when a leak is detected.

Regarding the Hotspots, will there be a future opportunity for other OEMs to sell hotspots or users to build their own?

Absolutely. All the components will be open sourced, and we are working with OEMs who are interested in building their own versions of the hotspot devices based on our schematics.

If I’m using your network can you manage the network payment processes?

Yes. We know certain organizations would rather not handle payment transactions and we will make sure that’s not an obstacle to deployment.

How much does it cost to connect machines to a network?

Since hotspot owners have the flexibility to define connectivity transaction fees, the cost will be defined by them. However, we believe the market and, more importantly, competition will ultimately drive connection costs down consistently. There should always be incentive for hotspot owners to charge what machines are willing to pay, as the incremental cost for them to relay data to the internet is very low.

How do you future proof the decentralized wireless network?

We made a decision to release software, firmware, and schematics under open-source licensing, royalty free. We welcome other manufacturers to take our designs, use our schematics, and build their own compatible hardware.

Do you plan to offer SLAs?

Yes. We plan to work with partners to offer SLAs. Stay tuned for further details.

When do you plan on launching?

There are a number of phases to our launch. See Roadmap question.

What do I need to buy? Where can I buy?

To get started prototyping now we have Helium 2017 product available for purchase with participating distributors. Visit here for additional information: Helium Store.

We are planning a pre-sale for hotspots in Q1 2019, and launch of our new gear running on blockchain is anticipated for Q2 2019.