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It’s been an exciting few weeks here with Helium. Yesterday, Nebra announced that they aren’t allowing new orders for miners. At a certain point, continuing to accept pre-orders for an unknown delivery date would have been seen as greedy. I really respect Nebra for making the decisive move here.
The primary supplier for those still looking to pre-order miners at a fair price is Cal-Chip.
Today, I’ll be providing my thoughts on maximizing the earnings once you do get your hands on a Helium hotspot. This will not be a post dedicated to the technical aspects of antennas or recommendations for super antennas. I’m working on another antenna post, and I’ll share it once I feel I am providing real value. If this is your first time visiting my blog, check out some of my previous Helium articles:
Hotspot Selection & Procurement
There are 3 suppliers of indoor hotspots: Nebra, Cal-Chip, and Bobcat. They’re all essentially the same. Some have better stock antennas, some suppliers might ship earlier, whatever. If you haven’t ordered your miner yet and plan on ordering a miner, when it’ll actually show up is bit of a gamble. We need to accept that.
What other decisions can you make? You can choose between an indoor or an outdoor miner. Indoor antennas are going to have more impedance than those placed outside. That said, there’s nothing stopping an indoor miner from having an antenna outdoors, though the performance may be slightly worse than a pure outdoor antenna due to the length of the antenna cable (see below).
There’s also nothing preventing you from customizing a DIY enclosure to place an “indoor” hotspot outside amongst the elements.
Are there any shortcuts you can take to procure a hotspot? Yes. You can hop on eBay and pay whatever the prevailing price is. People probably laugh at the “low” prices ($2200) that I included in my original blog post in February. If you have a larger scheme, you can also negotiate a large order with one of the suppliers. Willingness to buy 50 miners seems to be the point at which these horrifically understaffed support teams will respond to you.
Single Hotspot Placement
This is the big one and I’m working on a standalone blog post. Your hotspot/antenna placement makes a huge difference. For a lot of reasons that most people who aren’t RF enthusiasts probably haven’t thought about. You want an antenna mounted outside of your home that has as clear of a line of sight as possible. If you’re in a dense location, an antenna with higher gain might be worse. This said, for how much HNT you’re probably earning, it’s probably worth buying just to try.
Hotspot Group Placement
You should strive to place hotspots 300-500m away from each other, according to the Helium guide. I have a few words on the situations in which you might want to place them closer below.
There is an additional incentive to spread them out throughout a city. Seeing decent coverage will help encourage others to buy hotspots as opposed to being lone wolves.
Hotspot WiFi vs Wired
There’s been no evidence to suggest that this matters. If your hotspot is placed really far away from wifi or if there is interference, there could be some dropped packets. I don’t think you should give this further thought.
Does Internet Speed Matter?
No. However, internet connectivity does. If you have satellite internet or a flaky provider that cuts in and out, this can cause you to fall behind the blockchain which could necessitate a re-sync.
Can You Use an RF Amplifier?
Antennas don’t amplify signals, they transmit them (and pick them up) over larger distances. Radio Frequency (RF) signals are regulated. The signals produced by existing hotspots are laboratory certified and government approved. It’s not a good idea to boost them, as this can be an FCC violation and there might not be any benefit to realize. To my knowledge, this would require modifying the hardware.
Antenna Cable Length
Any increase in cable length will decrease signal strength. This is known as attenuation. Without reading more into this, it’s entirely possible that a super-long cable leading to an $180 antenna will result in a worse signal than if you were to just use the default antenna. It’s not like the built-in antenna is bad!
If you don’t feel like reading my original antenna post, the 5.8dBi antenna from Rak might be the most cost-effective option since it includes a cable.
The decrease in performance is linear as the cable length increases. If a 15-foot cable is bad, a 30-foot cable is awful. If you use an RG 58 cable like the one I recommended in my antenna post, the loss doesn’t seem to be that bad. If the attenuation is 14.5dB/100ft, going over 20ft is going to be noticed. Be careful.
Two Hotspots in the same place?
Is there any scenario in which it might be worth it to run two hotspots in the same-ish location? Yes, actually.
If you’re the only game in town, the two hotspots will certainly cannibalize each other. You might actually be worse off than if you just had one. That provides a strong incentive to spread out.
However, there is one scenario in which it might be worth it to run 2+ hotspots close to each other–a scenario in which you want to test things out. Specifically, if you want to test the performance of different antennas, it could be really helpful to run one hotspot as a control while you experiment with the other one. One hotspot has a super antenna. One doesn’t. Try it out.
The other scenario is where you are in an extremely dense area. For example, if there are 6 hotspots in my building, I might want to get an extra hotspot. This serves two purposes. The first is that my share of 2(-penalty)/7 is likely to be larger than 1/6. The next is that all of my competitors will get a penalty as well. This is an offensive play.
If I can set up hotspots so as to “block bust” and encourage my competitors to place their hotspots elsewhere, or simply sell them because their ROI has gone down, that’s a win. That’s how some people are approaching this now.
Is Electricity Cost a Factor?
No. The power draw of Helium miners is tiny at 5W. Even if you run it 24/7 for a year, the cost will be around $10. This depends on your energy cost, but it’s trivial.
Monitor Your Helium Hotspot
Using Sitebot, a third-party hotspot monitoring site, you can set up email alerts to inform you of hotspots being down. This is really useful and beats constantly checking things on the Helium coverage map. The motivation here is quite simple. If your hotspot is down or out of sync, you want to fix it as quickly as possible. You also don’t want to have to refresh some page 40 times a day. Sitebot helps with this, and there are likely other 3rd-party tools as well.
Getting More People Interested in Helium
Here’s the double-edged sword. In an ideal world, you want as many people as possible to adopt Helium. You want people hosting hotspots, you want people speculating on the value of the token, you also want people using the network. Indirectly, it pays to be an evangelist for Helium.
But… if your next-door neighbor gets a hotspot, and then your upstairs neighbor gets a hotspot, your mining rewards will probably be worse. So, there’s this weird incentive to make friends who live at least 300m away from you and to discourage anyone who lives closer from setting up a miner. Saturation is disincentivized, partially because the network must discourage people from setting multiple miners up in their 700sqft apartments.
As we’ve already seen, there’s been a huge push to share hotspots. Ship them off to other locations, loan them to friends. As the value of the hotspots approaches… $10,000(?)… this is becoming more treacherous. We’re seeing all types of weird strategies emerge as Helium continues to fluctuate in price. It’s been really fun to be involved in what many will consider the early days of Helium.
Thanks for reading.