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Update: This is a popular blog post. The price of Helium has almost tripled since I first published it. It was written when the USD/HNT exchange rate was $4. I will not be updating the figures in this article, I recommend checking the current price here and performing your own adjustments!
Three weeks ago, I wrote a post about the antenna I bought for my Helium hotspot. My blog serves as a repository for semi-structured brain dumps so I rarely check page views and never perform any of those optimizations people talk about. I noticed a huge uptick in people subscribing to my mailing list at which point I decided to check my analytics. It was shocking to see that article was receiving more weekly views than anything else I’ve written, almost by a factor of five!
The more pressing question I’ve been getting from friends and readers of my blog isn’t about these after-market antennas. People just want to know how to set up a hotspot and start earning HNT! What are the options for getting started?
The Mania that Accompanies Waiting
Helium is in an unprecedented spot in the cryptocurrency world. There is a serious buzz around the technology and even more excitement accompanying the insane ROI that many people are claiming to get from mining HNT. There’s a problem, though. Each person who wants to shell out hundreds of dollars for a miner isn’t able to get one, especially if he wants the miner anytime soon.
The technology is a victim of its own success during this rollout phase. The technology underpinning these miners, the centrum of the whole Helium–LongFi–IoT thing, is proven but doesn’t enjoy widespread mainstream use. There isn’t a super-enticing, paradigm-shifting use case–yet.
There is a supply bottleneck for miners. They’re only produced by approved vendors and it’s safe to say that these vendors didn’t forecast the extent to which demand would explode. Shipments have been delayed for months and months.
Folks are sitting on the sidelines willing to do anything to get a miner. The hotspots which retail for ~$350 are being sold for over $2000 on eBay. I’m not talking about a few anomalies–the going rate seems to be right around $2000. Those not wanting to shell out such a massive sum have expressed willingness to set up other people’s hotspots. In those cases, the owners still have control over the wallet and only share a small sum with the end-user desperate to enter the market.
It doesn’t help that there will be a “halving” of rewards in August 2021.
Further, those looking for general exposure to the token will be disappointed to learn that Binance.us‘s identity verification process which can be used for USD transfers has a significant backlog. It took me about two months to finally get approved after 3 separate rejections. (It’s free to sign up so you might as well start the process now!)
People are going crazy for miners while others are losing interest in the technology. They feel like they’ve been left out. In this post, I will outline all of your options for obtaining a Helium hotspot or otherwise gaining exposure to the People’s Network.
Option 1: Pay Market Price
If you’re dying to get your hands on a Helium miner because other hotspots near you are making a killing, this is a reasonable option. If you use a platform like eBay, you get protection against malfunctioning or stolen hardware. The current market price for a “new” miner on eBay seems to be $2000, based on completed sales.
The price of HNT at the time of writing this article is $4.18 and that’s the price I’ll be using (check current price here). If you mine 100 tokens per month, or, roughly, 3 per day, that’s over $400 per month. You’d have your miner paid for in less than half a year, not to mention that the miner itself will still retain some value.
This is one of the most expensive ways to dive in. If you can make the numbers work, it’s not a bad idea. However, you’ll probably agree with me that something about this feels inherently wrong, since it will encourage future hoarding and scalping.
The main risk here isn’t that the hotspot shows up broken. The risk is that your rewards won’t match your projections. Don’t forget that all future rewards with be 50% of what they are today, starting in August of this year. So, every extra day when it comes to shipping and setting up the hotspot can be assigned a dollar value.
Also, you have no control over your neighbors’ behavior. You might live next to a Chad who is ready to set up three miners of his own. That will destroy your earnings. Such a thing could happen at any time. There’s no way to gain immunity from foolish neighbors who encroach on your 300m radius. There’s no first-hotspot advantage.
There’s also the long-term market risk if Helium doesn’t really take off. Such a built-for-purpose piece of hardware might be worthless in five years. As supply gradually increases and sentiment shifts, the hardware probably won’t sell for MSRP, nevermind $2000.
Option 2: Get on a Waiting List
Nobody wants to spend three hundred dollars just to sit around and wait while early adopters get rich. However, this is the most sane option for the masses. I’m on the waiting list for two hotspots myself and I am not ashamed to admit it.
1. The first choice and, until recently, the only choice here was the RAK Hotspot Miner v2 distributed by Cal-Chip. It costs $345 after the recent price increase. Many orders from 2020 have still not been delivered, and the current lead time appears to be a very optimistic 3 months. However, batches of the miners continue to ship out–it’s not like this is some type of scam.
Use my coupon code “TIMO” for 3% off your order at Cal-Chip!
2. [Now sold-out] The new choice is the pre-order of the Nebra miners. There are both indoor and outdoor miners in this batch at prices comparable to RAK. I have ordered both the indoor and outdoor miners so I’m in the Nebra camp. The initial batches were estimated to ship in April and May, however, the delivery schedule below has been delayed by a few weeks:
I’ve created an additional article where I discuss delays and shipping updates in more detail. Though some devices might have slightly better features, you can expect the same rewards rate. You’re still going to be waiting for months and it’s not worth trying some pre-order alchemy in order to save a few weeks.
There’s really no downside to taking this route, except that you’ll have to sit on the sidelines for months after already having spent money on the preorder.
Option 3: Use a Shared Hotspot
Shared hotspots get a lot of flak. The first reason is simple: it’s counter-productive to have whales making bulk miner orders. If they know the demand is there, it’s tempting for some titan of industry to buy many miners with the intention of renting them out. In turn, this decreases available supply for people like me and you. If you’re new to Helium, this is necessary because placing the hotspots too close to each other will typically decrease rewards.
I get the argument that this isn’t a fair model. I don’t think it will last particularly long, because eventually, we’ll get to the point where miner supply has normalized and rewards have dropped to a point that some late-adopters are willing to sell their used minors for discounted prices.
Many people see using a shared hotspot as a way to dip their toes in and bridge the gap before their shipment arrives.Tim O’Hearn (that’s me!)
The benefit of using a shared miner is that there is no risk or cost to you. You just sign up, enter your information, and, if your application is approved, you get a miner! Then, on a regular basis, your share of the rewards is sent to your wallet. Note that the miner will be locked to the owner’s wallet, so if you try to hack or re-sell the miner, you’ll be in big trouble.
I wasn’t explicit in my last post, but my hotspot is a shared hotspot.
A friend told me about the website Hotspotshare.com. I applied on the website and, within a week, I had the hotspot set up and mining HNT.
In all honesty, my suspicion was that this was too good to be true. However, setup was seamless and they even shipped the thing (a RAK miner) express mail. There was no weird contract for me to sign and I didn’t have to post collateral. I’d highly recommend applying for Hotspot share as it’s a risk-free way to start earning HNT. If you do, think of me and use my referral code “BALLOON.”
The only real risk for shared hotspots is that they’re usually only paying out rewards once per month. A lot can happen in one month as far as crypto prices are concerned. Imagine you mine 300 HNT and the price shoots up to $10 USD per coin. A shared hotspot provider might be motivated to delay or obstruct payment even at the cost of losing the miner that they bought. $1500, in that case, might be worth screwing over a customer.
Update: Many readers have reported that Hotspotshare appears to have run out of hotspots. It’s definitely still worth applying.
Option 4: Build Your Own DIY Hotspot
Just kidding. It isn’t possible to build your own hot spot. Only hotspots distributed by approved manufacturers can mine HNT. This comes up quite frequently in the community and I thought it’d be helpful to state this in a blog post that might serve as an introduction to Helium for some people.
Option 5: Run a Validator (pre-production!)
Note that this is a new aspect of Helium and it is not yet possible to run a validator in production.
If you can collect 10,000 HNT, you can set up a Helium validator. This is a cloud-based application that helps secure the network. Rather than needing custom hardware, anyone can do this. Of course, you need some technical abilities and you need a whole hell of a lot of HNT. At the current market value, that’s over $41,000 USD!
If you host a validator, you get rewards. This is for people who are both well-capitalized and strongly believe in the technology. You can leapfrog over the people waiting in line for miners and can earn HNT in a unique way. Of course, if too many people start doing this, the rewards for running a validator will decrease.
Option 6: Start Trading Helium
Whether you want to run your own validator, sell the HNT you mine, or just speculate on the future value of the currency, you need to find an exchange where you can buy, sell, and trade Helium!
The primary (only?) major platform in the US is Binance.us. I recommend setting up an account here and starting the account verification process as soon as possible. It’s a really popular platform and it can take many weeks to get fully verified. There are several required verification steps in order to deposit USD or to execute large trades. So, even if your miner is back-ordered, you should probably get set up on Binance as soon as you can. You never know how long it will take to get verified for the level of access you seek.
However, you can always use another site like Coinbase for easier USD-BTC exchange, then transfer to Binance. From there, you can exchange BTC–>USDT–>HNT. Meaning you won’t have to wait for slow Binance verification in order to purchase.
Signing up for Binance allows you to speculate on the price of HNT. Whether you own a miner or not, you are free to trade HNT and profit that way. You can store any HNT you purchase on your wallet on your phone or use it toward a validator if you accumulate significant holdings.
I hope this guide can help people better navigate entry to Helium. Whether you want to make some money or just want to learn more about the technology, obtaining a miner is a logical first step. If you have deep pockets and the hotspots near you on the Helium explorer are making a lot of money, it might make sense to pay market price on eBay.
If you have a passive interest and are fine with waiting many months, it’s reasonable to place an order with Cal-Chip or Nebra. You’ll save a lot of money, in absolute, upfront terms, by going this route.
If you want to get involved with a shared miner at no cost or risk to you, you can use Hotspot Share. I use a miner provided by this service and I’ve been surprised by how seamless it’s been. Use code “BALLOON” at checkout to help support my blog.
If you have deep pockets, a long-term mindset, and strongly believe in the technology, you can host a validator. The will probably require buying a lot of HNT on Binance.
Though Helium may seem inaccessible right now, there are options for people at every price point literally ranging from $0 to over $150,000 USD. Thanks for reading, happy mining, and let me know what you think below!