Improving your Helium Hotspot setup is one of the most discussed topics within online communities that focus on “The People’s Network”. Of course, this makes perfect sense. As soon as you activate your hotspot, one of the first questions that always arises is: “how can I earn more HNT with this device?” While outdoor enclosures, coaxial cables, and ethernet connections are all important elements to optimizing your Helium miner, antenna upgrades are usually the center of these conversations.
With JAG’s new online store, future and current hotspot hosts can shop our pre-built kits or individual upgrades to maximize their HNT earnings. Still, the question remains, which upgrades make the most sense for your unique setup? So let’s go ahead and take a closer look at our top-selling Helium hotspot antennas and determine which one is right for you.
Before we dive into the technical specifications and setup requirements for each of these antennas, we should briefly revisit how Helium’s LongFi (LoRaWAN) network functions.
Helium Hotspots (aka miners; aka gateways) are LoRaWAN-enabled devices that communicate to each other and IoT sensors in order to establish the validity of the network and transmit small data packets across geographically wide areas. They rely on antennas to send and receive radio signals as well as the WiFi in your home or building in order to communicate with the Helium blockchain. Helium hotspots use a very small amount of WiFi bandwidth and electricity to accomplish these mesh network tasks.
In exchange for your utilities, your Helium Hotspot is rewarded in HNT each time it either completes a PoC (Proof of Coverage) task or facilitates the transmission of data between IoT sensors and the blockchain. So, in order to “earn” HNT, your hotspot needs to communicate with other nearby hotspots as well as IoT devices. And that’s where the antennas come into play.
In truth, your hotspot can earn HNT by solely completing PoC tasks (aka establishing the validity of the network). However, the HNT reward scale is much higher for transmitting data from IoT sensors. This makes sense because the actual real-world utilization of “The People’s Network” is based around blockchain-enabled IoT device communication. Choosing the right antenna for your situation is all about striking a balance between optimizing for PoC hotspot-to-hotspot communication and IoT device data transmission.
Radiofrequency technology involves the transmission and reception of radio waves. These waves are electromagnetic signals that travel through the air at the speed of light. Electromagnetic radiation has the magical ability to hold and transmit information in the form of electricity. When one antenna transmits this “information” to another, it utilizes vibrating electrons to create radio waves that travel outward toward the receiver. The receiving antenna then converts those radio frequencies back into electricity which can be translated into data. This is how you can hear talk shows and top 40s while driving to and from work.
All radio antennas can function as both a receiver and a transmitter. Manufacturers use dBi as an indicator of their signal strength and reach. The abbreviation dBi stands for “decibels relative to isotropic,” which essentially equates to the antenna’s “gain”. Generally speaking, a higher dBi means that an antenna’s reception and transmission can reach farther but will typically have a narrower breadth. By the same logic, a lower dBi would reduce a signal’s reach, but expand its width.
Omni-directional antennas attempt to combat this dBi conundrum by transmitting and receiving signals in 360-degree radiation patterns. Broadly speaking, these types of antennas can provide a “best of both worlds” situation where you can have a relatively high gain without diminishing the width of your signal. However, omni-directional antennas usually transmit signals on a flat plane and are subsequently less adept at dealing with noise or signal interference than their stronger directional counterparts.
Of course, as with any technology, the actual signal strength and consistency for any antenna are dependent on the quality of manufacturing and installation. A plastic omni-directional antenna with a higher dBi might actually have a weaker signal strength than a fiberglass omni-directional antenna with a lower dBi. And, as we mentioned above, the radiation patterns for omni-directional antennas can make them more subject to interference. Depending on the context, a 5.8dBi omni-directional could likely have a shorter and less consistent reach than a 5.8dBi directional antenna.
Each active hotspot on the Helium network is represented by a semi-precise hexagonal grid (aka hex) on its coverage map spanning an area of roughly 0.3 m². Multiple hotspots can be located within the same hex. These grids are indicators of an area’s saturation, aka the volume of nearby active hotspots. You can use the Helium mobile app or the Helium explorer browser interface to get a better understanding of how saturated your area might be. For reference, about 130 of these hexagons cover the city of San Francisco.
Your hotspot’s “Transmit Scale” (formerly Reward Scale) is a number between 0.1 and 1.0 that indicates your location density and the amount of HNT that you’ll be rewarded. For example, if you have a transmit scale of 1.0, then you’ll basically receive 100% of the HNT that’s generated from your device’s network participation. Typically, the more saturated your area is, the lower your reward scale becomes, and the more your device “shares” its HNT earnings with nearby hotspots. A hex with 3 or more hotspots is usually considered overly saturated and will likely see a reduced “transmit scale. This is meant to disincentivize coverage duplication and to incentivize actual network growth by covering new locations.
With over 500,000 active hotspots around the world, there are very few large metropolitan cities within the U.S. that are not entirely saturated. This doesn’t mean that your hotspot won’t earn a significant amount of HNT even if you’re in a heavily saturated area. Having a high transmit scale doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll earn more HNT than those with a lower scale. For example, you could have a transmit scale of 1.0 but not have enough network activity in your area to generate a large amount of rewards from IoT data transfers or PoC network tasks.
In general, having a higher dBi omni-directional antenna that’s placed high above ground level will allow your device more opportunities to connect to IoT sensors as well as other nearby hotspots. Still, there are some circumstances in which you’d be better off with a directional antenna that’s pointed towards a large shipping hub or urban area with numerous Helium-enabled IoT devices. And, there are several instances where a lower dBi antenna might perform better depending on your location’s context.
For this reason, it’s difficult to endorse exact antenna upgrades to truly optimize your hotspot earnings. However, we can provide more generalized suggestions based on the data we have access to within the JAG host network. Before you make any decisions, we recommend taking a look at your location’s hexagonal saturation using either the Helium app or the Helium explorer in the browser. Also, consider your surrounding area and whether or not your device would have the opportunity to reach places with lots of IoT sensor activity.
In order for this to be successful, you’ll need WiFi connectivity wherever the hotspot will be placed. You’ll also need a consistent power source to ensure the hotspot stays on and active. Lastly, you’ll need a weatherproof enclosure to protect the hotspot from wind, rain, heat, or other forms of environmental damage. You can shop our entire collection of ethernet cables, coaxial cables, and weatherproof enclosures here.
If yes, then you need to consider how far you want your signal to reach. In most instances, upgrading to our Rokland 5.8 dBi omni-directional fiberglass antenna that’s placed high on your building will provide more opportunities to connect with IoT devices and communicate with other hotspots that are not within your immediate hex on the Helium coverage map. However, upgrading to our L-com 8dBi Omni-Directional Antenna could provide even more network activity for your hotspot. At the very least, our Plastic Waterproof Omni-Directional Antenna should give you enough of a signal expansion to significantly boost your HNT earnings.
If this is the case, then you might want to consider going with our L-com 9dBi Al Yagi directional antenna. This would allow your hotspot to more precisely communicate with relatively close “IoT hubs”, yet would reduce the width of your signal and make it less likely to receive data from devices in your immediate vicinity. This type of antenna would also work well for hotspots that are in less saturated locations with the goal of communicating to more densely populated areas (i.e. sending/receiving signals from a remote suburb to and from a city center).
Now that we’ve covered the basic questions regarding your Helium hotspot setup, let’s take a closer look at the top-selling antennas from the JAG store to determine the right choice for you.
Our 5.4 dBi Indoor stick-on antenna is highly recommended for anyone with any type of indoor hotspot placement. The benefits of this upgrade are twofold: 1. It has a higher dBi than the out-of-the-box antennas for most Helium hotspots. 2. It allows you to place your actual hotspot inside of a cabinet or otherwise out of sight without degrading the signal. This is usually preferable for aesthetic and organizational reasons.
Our Bronze-level outdoor omni-directional antenna has a dBi range of 10-12. That’s actually a larger gain than most of our higher-tier outdoor antennas. However, given that this antenna is made of plastic rather than the preferred fiberglass, you do run the risk of potentially lower signal strength and consistency despite its technically higher dBi specifications.
We recommend this antenna for any of our hosts that want to expand their signal with an outdoor placement while saving on the overall cost of your upgrades.
Our Silver-level outdoor omni-directional antenna has a dBi range of 5.8. This is roughly double the gain of the out-of-the-box antennas that come with your Helium Hotspot devices. Its fiberglass construction makes it suitable for most weather conditions and generally provides a higher-quality and more consistent signal.
We recommend this antenna for our hosts that hope to upgrade their outdoor hotspot setup signal without potentially degrading their signal quality.
Our gold-tier outdoor antenna is equipped with an 8dBi signal strength and fiberglass construction. This antenna will provide a signal reach and performance that goes above and beyond the other omni-directional options in our catalog.
We recommend this antenna for anyone hoping to maximize their hotspot coverage without the desire for more precise, directional communication to specific areas.
The L-com 9dBi Al Yagi antenna is designed for specific use-cases where a far-reaching, strong, and directional signal is preferable to a wider and potentially more obstructed omni-directional option. This antenna is great for communicating with distant hubs of network activity while avoiding nearby hotspot signals.
We recommend this antenna for hosts hoping to boost their IoT data transmission by directing their hotspot signal towards a specific location rather than casting a wider net within a more immediate vicinity.
As you can probably tell by now, there aren’t any uniform or exact upgrade recommendations or hotspot setup solutions that we can offer for each individual JAG host. In the vast majority of cases, having an outdoor setup with a higher dBi omni-directional antenna that’s made from fiberglass will likely result in the biggest boost to your HNT earnings. Still, we can’t guarantee any positive impacts for any specific hotspot upgrades. What we can do, however, is work directly with you to better understand your location’s context within the Helium Network and identify the most appropriate solution for your unique needs.
For current JAG Network hosts, feel free to get in touch with our dedicated support team to determine the best possible upgrade for your device.
If you’re not currently a member of the JAG Network, you can join for FREE today by adding Browan MerryIoT Helium Hotspot to your cart and completing the checkout.