Protocol Report 2022
What is the Helium Protocol Report?
Hello, Helium community! The Helium Foundation is proud to announce our first Helium Protocol Report. Our goal is to help keep you informed about updates surrounding the buildout and usage of each network, how we measure performance and progress over time, and most importantly the vision that we are all trying to achieve together. Going forward, we will release this report quarterly so you can follow along with the progress we are all making together and learn about the amazing new use cases being built across the Helium ecosystem.
A Refresher on HIP 51
As mentioned in the Helium Chapter 2 blog, Helium’s mission has always been to build open, affordable, and secure global wireless networks that are owned and operated by the people. The first wireless protocol was targeted at the Internet of Things (IoT), but HIP 51 has unleashed an era where the Helium ecosystem can support new users, devices, and wireless protocols.
The MOBILE subDAO has been introduced aimed at providing 5G cellular connectivity, and we believe more subDAOs will follow suit. You could imagine protocols like Wi-Fi, VPN, CDN, and many others using the Helium network.
This report covers the entire array of Helium protocols, and as more networks are added in the future we'll be sure to include them.
This report shares the status and progress on IoT, 5G networks, and includes exciting updates from the Helium Foundation.
- The number of IoT Hotspots onboarded onto the Helium Network has grown to over 975,000.
- Exciting new use cases such as Trackpac, Dronedek, Communityfi, and more joined the network.
- The number of Helium 5G hotspots has grown ~13% to 7,009 over the past month.
- Helium Mobile announced it will be the first service provider joining the Mobile subDAO.
- The MOBILE Proof-of-Coverage roadmap was released to help promote useful, differentiated cellular coverage.
- Helium House NYC on September 20th was jam-packed with exciting news.
- Exciting new grants given out and check ins on past grant progress from the likes of Nibiaa, Uplink Engine, IoT Off-Grid and more.
- HIP 70 passes. Proof-of-Coverage and Data Transfer Accounting moves to Oracles, transactions and accounts from Helium's own Layer 1 migrate to Solana's blockchain.
The Helium IoT Network
The goal from the beginning of the IoT network has been to allow customers to connect devices and send packets at a fraction of the cost of cellular, without the need to deploy and maintain wireless infrastructure. The IoT industry is relatively nascent but continues to grow rapidly; IoT Analytics claims the number of connected IoT devices is expected to grow 18% to 14.4 billion globally in 2022, and expand to 27 billion by the end of 2025.
The Helium IoT network is poised to be an industry accelerator by unlocking use cases that were never before possible due to network economics. Cheaper sensors with better battery life, low-cost data rates, no need for SIM cards, and no ongoing commitments open an entire design space for unlimited experimentation. But, in order to achieve this, meaningful network buildout and network stability are also necessary.
Thanks to the community, there is now wireless coverage for IoT devices in countless regions across the globe that were previously unserved or underserved. Our explosive growth in coverage continues each day with over 975,000 IoT Hotspots onboarded around the world. In tandem, recent architecture changes and the passing of HIP 70 have helped us take meaningful steps to make the network faster, more scalable, and more reliable. It will also create a more open & diverse LNS ecosystem, allowing any LoRaWAN compliant and certified LNS to plug into the Helium Network, and we believe this will have a similar impact on demand (i.e., drive more usage) as decentralizing Hotpsot vendors did for supply with HIP 19. This combined effort by the community and core developers has placed the network at a critical inflection point to realize its full potential.
We believe the end outcome is a world of billions of connected devices revolutionizing various industries. Whether it's detecting forest fires, monitoring air quality, monitoring food & water quality, asset tracking, temperature tracking, or enabling new use cases, the possibilities are endless.
How Do We Define Success?
The success of the IoT network will be defined by enabling a world of billions of globally connected IoT devices, and unlocking businesses and use cases that were never before possible. As part of this journey, we think it's important to share with you what metrics we view as most critical in tracking our progress over time.
- Number of onboarded Hotspots on the network and % growth over the past 3 months.
- Number of countries and cities building out the network with coverage.
- Use case price comparison against alternatives.
- Increasing number of companies and use cases building on the Helium IoT network.
So let's take a look at these numbers...
The size of the network plays a critical role in Helium's ability to provide ubiquitous coverage and exciting growth of onboarded IoT Hotspots, now totaling ~975,000, has continued. It's incredible to see the community build to this total from only 15,000 hotspots at the start of January 2021. These Hotspots blanket an astonishing 185 countries and 76,044 cities and are built by dozens of manufacturers, proving the power of decentralization.
|Total Hotspots||1 Month Change||2 Month Change||3 Month Change|
|976,827||963,662 (+1.1%)||949,912 (+2.5%)||926,290 (+5.1%)|
The Helium IoT Network
Network Growth in New Areas
As the network has reached full saturation within urban centers, many Hotspot owners are choosing to relocate Hotspots from urban areas that are already covered by the Helium IoT network with high redundancy to less densely covered rural areas with a need for sensor coverage. Under the current incentive design, highly-dense urban areas receive lower transmit reward scales and often split rewards between greater numbers of hotspots. Hotspot owners may optimize their rewards by relocating Hotspots out of these dense urban areas, which allows the network to grow in terms of coverage area. At the time of writing, 730 cities without any previous Helium Hotspots have had Hotspots placed in them over the past 30 days.
Network Usage & Performance
As a reminder, the Helium protocol burns fees from a variety of sources: fees are associated with sending HNT from wallet to wallet, transferring device messages, adding hotspots, asserting new hotspot locations, purchasing a blockchain OUI, and purchasing a blockchain subnet. Over the past 365 days, the Helium network has burned $39.7 million in protocol fees according to TokenTerminal, placing it among the top protocols in the industry.
So how does the Helium IoT network compare to alternatives?
To reiterate, Helium's goal with IoT is to create a low-cost, frictionless network, enabling all sorts of different use cases. This is only possible as a result of people-built coverage, which eliminates cap-ex expenditures that are then passed on to users. Let's take a look at some cost comparisons between Helium and some narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT, a similar IoT network technology) competitors below.
Through our recent community survey (more on that below), we saw that sensor ping rates vary widely by use case. Using rough math to average the answers, we'll use a sensor that pings 20 packets per hour as our example for the cost comparison.
Using the Helium Network, the annual cost per device comes out to just $1.75, along with the added benefits of lower hardware costs, no SIM card required, and longer battery life. To operate at a scale of 100 devices, the annual cost is only $175.
Comparison with NB-IoT Competitors
US Telco 1
Under one nationwide US telecommunications company's lowest cost unlimited NB-IoT plan: This would carry an annual cost of $18 per device, along with a required $1.50 SIM card per device, more expensive hardware, and shorter battery life. Operating at a scale of 100 devices would carry an annual cost of $1,950, 11x more expensive than operating on the Helium IoT network.
US Telco 2
Comparing yet another nationwide US telecommunications company's lowest cost unlimited NB-IoT plan: This would carry an annual cost of $30 per device, along with a required $2 SIM card per device, more expensive hardware, and shorter battery life. Operating at a scale of 100 devices would carry an annual cost of $3,200 18x more expensive than operating on the Helium IoT network.
This theoretical use case demonstrates how Helium has drastically altered the cost structure associated with IoT devices, and why we're optimistic that these changes will result in previously impossible, large-scale use cases.
What Use Cases Are Being Built?
Over the past few months, several new companies began using the network across a variety of use cases like asset tracking, building monitoring, refrigeration, smart agriculture, and even drone deliveries!
Full Spectrum Solutions
Communityfi has IoT solutions across real estate, tracking, food & beverage, and smart agriculture.
Orkney LORA is an IoT platform and service provider/systems integrator based on the remote Orkney Island of North Ronaldsay in Scotland, UK.
Embedded Works offers a full spectrum of wireless products and services to help engineers, marketeers, sales, and executive management succeed in overcoming the challenges of IoT integration.
Trackpac uses the Helium network to track belongings, cars, bikes, pets and more, in real time.
Dronedek is a novel concept working on secure drone package receiving and storage. Their next-gen smart mailboxes accept all types of deliveries and pickups including food, parcel, medical, and traditional mail.
IoT Off-Grid is a hotspot outdoor enclosure manufacturer. IoT Off-Grid launched a platform as an IoT service provider for the Breakneck Ridge Trail managers to keep hikers safe.
Proof of Physical Work
There’s an emerging trend of other proof-of-physical work Web3 applications leveraging Helium to enhance their value propositions. It's really exciting to see like-minded companies working with each other, and we believe this is a vertical to watch as the space continues to expand.
Hivemapper is the world's first crypto-enabled dashcam that mines HONEY token and grows the map while you drive. Hivemapper is using Helium for location verification to add another layer of validation to their mapping, prevent cheaters, and increase customer confidence in mapping.
WeatherXM is a community-powered weather network that rewards weather station owners and provides accurate weather services to Web3 enterprises. Helium allows WeatherXM sensors to be deployed in areas not previously possible.
DIMO lets users connect their vehicles to gain insights into vehicle health and performance, get the best price when they sell, save money on maintenance, and earn rewards for making mobility better for everyone. They are working on a plug-in device that will be able to map the Helium network.
As mentioned above, we also took the opportunity to survey the community and learn more about the types of sensor deployments and use cases leveraging the Helium IoT Network. In future reports, we look forward to comparing trends and how they change over time as new users continue to onboard.
While tech (hardware, software, other) was the most represented vertical, Agriculture and Agribusiness (24%) represented the largest non-tech vertical, followed by Energy, Telcomms, and Consulting.
Asset Tracking (51%) was the primary use case served by respondents, followed by Building Monitoring (46%) and Smart Agriculture (46%).
More than half of respondents said they deploy sensors related to Temperature (76%), Location (62%), and Humidity (60%).
The most common sensor ping rate was 1 packet per hour (45%), followed by 1 packet per minute (34%).
The average size of sensor deployment operations is well distributed, but 11-50 sensor deployments lead the way (27%).
Crowdspot is a self-service tool built by Nova Labs for the community to allow anyone to explore Helium Network Hotspot data to understand atypical Hotspot behavior and identify anomalies. The Helium core developers recently made significant updates to Crowdspot making it far easier and more streamlined to identify and report abnormal Hotspots.
These updates include:
- Streamlined interface - An easier way for users to submit reports to the Denylist. For example, submissions can be made for one or many Hotspots.
- Advanced-trust algorithm - Submissions are assigned a trust score to help determine their legitimacy using a combination of signal information, witness data, and ownership history.
- Secure login - Users can easily login with their wallet credentials, ensuring only network participants can make submissions.
- Easy lookup - Users can see the type, status, and time of submissions at a glance.
We look forward to seeing the results of the community having more tools to police the ecosystem and reward legitimate coverage. To check out more community tools, visit the Helium Ecosystem page.
The Helium 5G Network
The introduction of the Mobile subDAO protocol with HIP 53 allows the community to apply learnings from the IoT network to building the first people-owned Helium 5G network.
How did this become possible? It started with the public release of a band of spectrum that's known as CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service), which the FCC dubbed as the "innovation band." This opened the possibility for unlicensed users and enterprise organizations who want to use 5G or LTE to establish their own mobile networks in the United States.
Combining the new availability of this technology, our existing community, and the reward incentives pioneered by the Helium IoT network buildout presented the opportunity to build out a new type of mobile network. We believe a 5G network for phones and other devices can be built to provide useful coverage at scale with a superior economic model.
How Do We Define Success?
The Helium 5G network will be successful if it creates useful and differentiated coverage from traditional wireless networks at scale. Doing so will complement existing wireless coverage and unlock new 5G business models never before possible. Going forward, we'll focus on and share the following metrics to monitor success.
- Number of units providing coverage on the 5G network and percentage growth over the past 1, 3, and 12 months.
- Number of US cities building out the network with 5G coverage.
The Helium network's first mobile carrier is expected to start providing service utilizing the Helium 5G network early next year. Once live, we expect to track:
- Percentage of overall subscriber data transferred by people-built coverage.
- Messages purchased by service providers.
So how does building out 5G coverage differ from building an IoT network? It’s similar in many ways (i.e. the bigger the network the better) but very different in others. For example, 5G hotspots can transfer much more data than LoRaWAN hotspots, but with far less range. High throughput and low latency are also crucial to how useful a 5G network is. This creates a different set of challenges in terms of incentivizing a network that grows in a healthy way.
So how are things going? As you can see below, there are an incredible 7,009 5G hotspots on the network at the time of writing, with a blend of 3,677 indoor hotspots and 3,333 outdoor hotspots. That's growth of ~13% over just a month ago. Even more impressive is that these are spread out across 49 states and 1,470 cities across the US. As a reminder, the Helium 5G network is initially being built in the US because it leverages the unlicensed CBRS spectrum available to the public.
The next question is how does our community create coverage that is useful? MOBILE Proof-of-Coverage (PoC) is a novel work algorithm that leverages the properties of radio frequency to incentivize the buildout of the Helium 5G Network faster, and at significantly lower cost than a traditional mobile network. MOBILE PoC creates a higher density of useful coverage in targeted areas by taking into account factors like coverage location, and coverage quality.
The Mobile subDAO kickstarted Helium 5G radio growth by rewarding owners exclusively on data provided by the Spectrum Access System (SAS), and radios have not been penalized for intermittent outages. Initially, MOBILE rewards were allocated on a daily basis and distributed to any 5G radio owner who met the following requirements:
- Has connected a Helium 5G radio.
- Their Helium 5G radio is properly and fully installed.
- Their 5G radio broadcasts at least 1 "heartbeat" per 24 hour reward period.
Community coverage, however, has to be useful to build a successful network. 5G radios that only prove they are online once per reward period is not nearly sufficient for guaranteeing quality coverage over time. As a result, the core development team is taking continuous steps to enhance the MOBILE Proof-of-Coverage (PoC) algorithm and make this novel network buildout a reality.
Most recently, backhaul speed tests were added that bucket 5G radios into one of four tiers based on a combination of download speed, upload speed, and latency scores.
This is the first step to help ensure Helium 5G radio owners are providing useful coverage. 5G radio performance can be viewed on the Helium Block Explorer.
Over the next 12 months, the Foundation will communicate changes far in advance to help ensure builders can optimize their radio setups, their rewards, and the value they provide to the network.
The near-term roadmap for PoC changes is shown below:
To learn more about the changes coming, check the MOBILE PoC blog here.
Future reports will include updates on the development progress for the MOBILE PoC and how it benefits the 5G network as it continues to scale.
Network Usage & Performance
As part of the HIP 53, the Mobile subDAO requires service providers as economic actors to drive subscribers to use the network, receive payments from those subscribers, and settle data usage with 5G radio hosts.
At Helium House NYC, Helium Mobile announced it intends to be the first participating service provider via its new People's Carrier. Helium Mobile will be powered by The People's Network, meaning that if a subscriber's phone is within sufficient range of a Helium 5G radio it will leverage that Hotspot for connectivity. Helium Mobile's new agreement with a leading traditional carrier gives their subscribers seamless nationwide 5G coverage.
Helium Mobile believes the mechanics described below fundamentally change the cost structure of running a mobile carrier, while improving subscriber benefits.
In the future, we believe more service providers will leverage the Helium 5G Network as an innovative approach to deliver superior economics. By eliminating coordination inefficiencies that plague traditional carriers, more benefits can be passed on to end subscribers.
Last but not least, the Helium Foundation is continuing to take an active role as stewards of ecosystem development via exciting events, grants, and network governance via HIPs. Let's see what's happened in the past several months...
Helium House NYC Recap
Following up the Helium House in Austin earlier this year, there was another incredible event at Helium House NYC on September 20th. We recommend watching the entire event here as it was jam-packed with news.
Most notably there were sessions around:
- The past, present and future of The People's Network
- Introduction to Helium Mobile
- Interviews with other companies leveraging crypto incentive models in the "real world"
- Preview of the Spot MOBILE PoC mapper
- Helium Foundation grant use cases
- Senet & Helium keeping NYC connected
- HIP 70 interview between Nova Labs CEO Amir Haleem and Solana co-founder Anatoly Yakovenko
- Deutsche Telekom discussing TradWi meeting DeWi
- And much more!
Recent Grants Awarded
As an open-source ecosystem and through the Grants program, the Foundation can accelerate development by accepting code contributions from a broad community of talented programmers.
Over the past several months, the Foundation has awarded several exciting grants to Helium builders from the community that continue to push the ecosystem forward:
- R4K Field Mapper. This project is designed to give people insight into the actual coverage of the Helium network and also provides real-time data while in the field. You can see info from responding Helium Hotspots almost instantaneously on the OLED display.
- CLI Wallet QR Code Export. This project implemented a secure QR code export for the CLI wallet so that users can easily import their CLI wallets into the new mobile wallet app. This grant was a great example of an independent developer contributing to the Helium codebase to solve a very specific problem.
- LoRaWAN signal-based positioning for Helium. This project aims to provide an open source component which allows indoor- and outdoor-positioning for IoT solutions based on Helium - without the need for GPS built into devices. It will use metrics like Received Signal Strength Indication (RSSI), Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR), and Time of Arrival (TOA) with regression models and machine-learning algorithms. The component allows community members to build cheaper, smaller, and ultra-low-power devices.
Past Grant Highlights
We also want to share progress related to past grants the Foundation has awarded and see the cool things being built for the community to leverage!
- Paul Soucy (aka Dinocore on Discord) wrote a really informative blog post about his grant project to build an open source secure concentrator. This is critical for the security of the network and we specifically asked Paul to write with the wider community in mind. Check it out here!
- Dinesh Gurupur from Nibiaa, Nick Hough from Uplink Engine, and Thanuka Udumulla from IoT Off-Grid shared their progress at Helium House NYC. You can see the full talk at the 3:30:00 mark on Youtube.
- Steve Ditto received one of our earliest grants to build and document using Helium for environmental sensing down in Texas. His work is focused on using sensors to detect early signs of drought and wildfire conditions.
- The team building Helium Growth hit an exciting milestone for their grant project to visualize historical coverage and growth of the Helium network.
- Shout out to the HNT Scan team for completing their grant project to build HNTScan. HNTScan is an open-source, lightweight helium explorer focused on providing value to the community without having to load any slow/heavy map information.
Top News in HIPs
The Helium community passed HIP 70 in September, which set several milestones in terms of community engagement. The HIP passed with 6,177 individual wallets voting, the most "For" votes on any HIP in the community's history, and over 12,088,902 HNT represented in favor of change. We hope to see more and more engagement like this in votes going forward. Aside from the benefits of joining the Solana ecosystem (Solana Saga mobile phone, a larger developer community, real world NFT applications, lending and borrowing marketplaces, and much more), HIP 70 will massively benefit network stability.
Why the need for the change?
As a refresher, HIP 70 was a proposal to move Proof-of-Coverage and Data Transfer Accounting to Oracles, in addition to migrating transactions and accounts from Helium's own Layer 1 to Solana's blockchain. Community members and core developers have spent a significant amount of time trying to keep up with network growth, specifically related to reliable Proof-of-Coverage activity and reliable data transfer. But this has started to prove difficult for users with issues related to reduced PoC activity due to heavy blockchain/Validator load, and unnecessary data flow management. In the graphic below, you can see exactly what changes are taking place to scale the network more seamlessly going forward.
Preparing for HIP 70
As HIP 70 is implemented, we want to make sure all ecosystem parties are clear on how they are impacted and any changes they need to make. We've taken the time to outline what this means for all of our stakeholders, whether you're a Hotspot owner, Helium Validator, or Helium network user, in our HIP 70 blog here.
While development work is already underway, the migration is estimated to start in January 2023. At the Solana Breakpoint 2022 developer conference, the Helium Foundation ran a preview demo of how the Helium Network would run on Solana, which you can view a recording of here. We're also seeing increasing interest from Solana teams looking to build on Helium, such as Baxus, who uses Helium to track real world assets on the blockchain.
We're committed to helping ensure that the transition is as seamless and easy as possible for everyone and will provide transition guides as well as ensure that the Helium apps are ready for Solana as the time gets closer. Keep up to date on the latest news on the Solana migration through our usual communication channels like Discord and Twitter.
Overall, the transition to Solana will not change the underlying fundamentals of the Helium network, while providing better user experiences and opportunities to the Helium community.
As we move forward through the end of the year, we look forward to keeping you up to date on the newest happenings in the Helium ecosystem.
Above all else, expect updates on the following:
- Continued iterations on MOBILE Proof-of-Coverage as well as information on what you can do to optimize your hotspot placement, and why the changes bring the 5G network closer to providing useful coverage.
- More information around mappers and how they will support Proof-of-Coverage.
- Continued updates on Nova Labs as the first Mobile subDAO service provider via Helium Mobile.
- Updates around the move to Solana's L1 and bringing other architecture off-chain for network stability. Follow us on Twitter at @HeliumFndn to catch the live Solana Transition AMA Twitter Spaces for updates and discussions every two weeks - or catch the recordings if you missed them!
And of course we'll be back with another Helium Protocol Report next quarter to highlight all that's changed!