There’s evidence of confusion over the potential use cases for Helium, and those contemplating hosting a Helium miner/hotspot are right to want to know what kind of data might be transmitted through the Helium hotspot that shares their home internet connection.
Note: there’s also chatter (and progress) about adapting the Helium network to make it 5G capable, as an alternative to the major Telcos. That all sounds very exciting, but it will be a very long way off for us in Australia – and a VERY different proposition to what this article covers, which is the use case for sensors operating on the Helium LoRaWAN network. 5G will be another blog post for another day!
Small chunks of sensor data and then very slowly
The Helium network is for VERY small amounts of data at a time. The MAXIMUM size of a LoRaWAN payload (the data it can send in one go) is just 241 bytes. We all understand that in normal internet use cases, streaming video uses the most data, followed maybe by online gaming, streaming music and then much smaller uses such as email.
Helium data transactions from the sensors that use it are much smaller still – more akin to small text messages in size.
Data from sensors which transmit over the Helium network transmit at a MAXIMUM rate of around 5kbps – as a point of comparison, streaming Netflix in 4k Ultra HD quality requires 25mbit/s – roughly ~5,000 times faster.
So it’s very slow and the data chunks that get relayed through your internet connection are pretty modest.
While the data from sensors may be low, on average you can anticipate around 120Gb or so of data per month being consumed by the hotspot. This includes data traffic from sensors, witnessing other hotspots, beacon and other network management data, plus syncing of the blockchain from time to time which takes the lion’s share.
What kinds of devices would use the Helium network?
Devices with a need for long-range and low energy data transmission. Think of a weather sensor that reports infrequent temperature or humidity readings, a smart gas/water/electric meter which transmits meter readings back to the utility provider, or maybe GPS location data from a package tracker or a smart dog collar.
The kinds of devices that operate on the Helium network are typically portable, battery operated and have battery life that spans several months. This again attests to the lightweight nature of the data transmission.
Who would use this?
The great thing about the Helium network is that the LoRaWAN equipment needed to build a sensor that works is very inexpensive, and easy to program. This means that everyone from the average hobbyist, through to small businesses, right up to big corporates can purchase or develop equipment that takes advantage of it.
With just a few dollars worth of Data Credits (DC), and $20-30 worth of electronic components from Aliexpress, you can build a sensor that can use the Helium network today.
BTW that’s ~$35 for a LoRaWAN sensor with an OLED screen and built in GPS. It’s cheap!
I’ve got some LoRaWAN hardware on order to build a simple GPS tracker, and will document getting a sensor up and running.
I hope that helps address concerns. Any questions – as always – please post them below. Cheers.