Helium, “the People’s Network,” Rises Among Low-power IoT Protocols
Scalable, long-range, and blockchain-integrated, Helium is attracting attention in the world of low-power IoT protocols.
Helium, a network aiming to put the power of coverage into the hands of its users, is gaining traction as a low-power yet high-range IoT protocol. Helium, nicknamed “the people’s network,” is a distributed public wireless network without any central authority. The network offers a scalable method for connecting IoT devices over vast distances without requiring custom solutions from designers or reliance on third-party service providers.
Helium coverage map as of Oct. 2, 2022. Image used courtesy of Helium Explorer
The network relies on Helium's blockchain to incentivize the creation of Helium access points with reliable coverage. This article will assess the functional principles driving Helium's network and provide an overview of its advantages as a ubiquitous public wireless network.
Crafting a Scalable, Ubiquitous Network
Home and offices include many wireless signals such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, making internet connection a well-trodden path. Outside this coverage range, numerous connection options exist, like cellular or LoRa, but these protocols may require additional setup and cost.
Helium coverage example using three connected devices and a single hotspot. All connections are maintained across distances that Wi-Fi or Bluetooth would not reach on its own. Image used courtesy of Helium
The Helium network provides long-range coverage for developers looking to move the IoT outside the home. Helium’s coverage starts with a hotspot responsible for creating a long-range wireless area network (LoRaWAN) with a range of over a mile. As a reward for reliable coverage, a proof-of-coverage algorithm provides these hotspots with the blockchain’s native token HNT.
LongFi: Sub-GHz Communication for Wide-range Coverage
To provide the long-range coverage required for a ubiquitous network, Helium uses "LongFi," a protocol with over 200x greater range compared to traditional Wi-Fi. LongFi is optimized for range and battery life, both of which are extremely important for distributed IoT networks. LongFi uses the LoRaWAN wireless protocol for long-distance communication in conjunction with its own software, allowing the Helium network to reach out over vast distances using pre-allocated frequencies.
Bosch parking lot sensor used to detect and monitor spot occupancy using Helium network. Image used courtesy of Helium and Bosch
Developers looking to leverage the Helium network are not required to incorporate any new hardware or wireless protocols into their solutions; the Helium network is compatible with any LoRaWAN device meeting the v1.0.2-4 specifications. Onboarding and maintaining a connection to the blockchain is priced at an average of $1.05 a year for a sensor sending data every five minutes. Connection to the blockchain is paid for using data credits, which can be produced by “burning” HNT.
The Advantages of IoT and Blockchain
Despite the inherent bandwidth limitations of sub-GHz communications, LongFi's wide-area reach combined with the Helium blockchain may enable significant IoT developments. Namely, Helium's offerings will allow devices to transfer location and environmental data in real time without being near a traditional network router. This feature adds considerable security for domestic and enterprise use cases because the proof-of-work blockchain prevents data manipulation from third parties.
The Helium network may also extend connectivity in sparsely-populated areas. The network not only provides better coverage for existing systems but also allows designers to focus on a single wireless protocol for all IoT applications, regardless of their deployment location.