Much is set to change in the Helium network this year. By being apprised of new developments and proposals, you can understand how the technology moves forward and best prepare to take advantage of new opportunities. Most of Helium’s evangelists are those who already own hotspots and participate in Proof of Coverage (PoC) while earning rewards. Regardless of your position, whether you’re still waiting for your first hotspot or you’re the entrenched “friend” introducing IoT enthusiasts to the technology, the Helium Light Hotspot architecture changes are pretty essential to understand.
The Helium network is expanding and at quite an impressive rate. With more than 70,655 active hotspots, it should come as no surprise that the load on each hotspot is increasing, and the blockchain sync time is increasing for all of these new hotspots. There have been network hiccups, and new hotspot hosts are complaining about days-long sync periods.
You may have heard that the current generation of Helium hotspots are energy efficient. This is absolutely true, but this fact tends to cause users to overlook just how much work each one of these modular boxes is doing. Currently, each hotspot stores and syncs the entire Helium blockchain, creates challenges, provides Proof of Coverage (PoC) to earn HNT, participates in consensus groups, and, most importantly, offers data transfer.
I recently wrote an article about Helium Validators and the path to “mainnet,” or, the acceptance of this change in architecture. The hypothetical rewards of hosting one of these validators are quite enticing. Currently, this consensus group election occurs in active hotspots. The official plan is to move this consensus activity to validators which means that the hotspots will have to do significantly less work. Rather than having anything to do with optical light, a Helium Light Hotspot is simply a lightweight, stripped-down version of what’s currently on the market.
While a light hotspot will still allow PoC HNT earning and the all-important data transfer, they’ll no longer store the blockchain (phew!), issue challenges, or participate in consensus groups. For the host, average earnings will be slightly less, since there won’t be any chance of getting elected to a consensus group, but the hotspot setup will be significantly faster. The network will be more stable and distributed, thanks to the validator mainnet.
The most significant advantage here is how much more quickly the network will be able to scale. These light hotspots will be simpler to manufacture with lower hardware requirements. Future generations will be more fit-for-purpose. They’ll be produced more quickly and more cheaply, and they won’t have to sync to the blockchain once you plug them in.
What Will Happen to Existing Hotspots?
The current generation of hotspots will work just fine with no disadvantages. As the Light Hotspot project moves from beta all the way through to milestone 4, certain features will be disabled. Most notably, in milestone 2, all consensus activities will shift to the validator mainnet.
Hotspots will not become less valuable and, based on the information available, there is no evidence that existing hotspots will be considered inferior to future generations.
Does this mean DIY Hotspots are Returning?
Not explicitly. DIY hotspots are still not allowed. Light Hotspots decrease the barriers to entry for manufacturers, but the proposal does not state that the goal is to allow users to once-again participate in PoC using homemade hotspots. Light Hotspots will be produced and marketed in a way that is identical to current products, in fact some manufacturers are already accepting pre-orders. There are no tricks here--hotspots are just going to be less complex. Hotspots will no longer need to follow the Blockchain, but they’ll still need to be produced by approved manufacturers to eliminate any bad behavior.
Some have speculated that this project will open the door to DIY hotspots which would use DIY concentrators or cheaper hardware solutions that would still establish trust and eliminate abuse on the network. However, this wouldn’t be a feasible short-term goal since it would undermine interest in people currently purchasing approved hotspots. Any suggestion that we’d move away from the approved hotspot architecture would tank sales of approved hotspots. Users would rush to cancel their pre-orders while seeking out the cheapest possible options to start running PoC.
What about Data-Only Hotspots?
With this advancement, we’ll also see data-only hotspots. These hotspots won’t participate in Proof of Coverage at all. They only earn $HNT for data transfer. This is the central part of the Helium technology, so it makes sense to streamline these devices further. Of course, in the early days, the (incentivized) saturation of the network is way more valuable than data transfer. Now that the network coverage is quite good, it makes sense to begin this new phase. Data-only hotspots are positioned to be an even cheaper yet single-purpose addition to the line of products that provide a LoRaWAN gateway.
Does this change what will be considered an Approved Hotspot?
In Helium parlance, an approved hotspot is a hotspot from a Helium-approved manufacturer. The term “approved” usually isn’t used in discussion because it’s irrelevant, there is no such thing as a disapproved hotspot. The current approved hotspots include the original Helium hotspots, RAKwireless hotspots, Nebra hotspots, Syncrob.it, and Bobcat miners. New manufacturers will likely come onto the scene as time goes on and as this proposal moves forward. Once again, there will be no disadvantage to owning a current generation hotspot once certain architecture features become deprecated.
As the Light Hotspot project advances, we’ll see three types of $HNT-earning solutions in the people’s hands: Light Hotspots (current-gen hotspots will be deprecated to being Light Hotspots), Validators, and Data-Only hotspots. In this next stage, which must be carefully planned and executed by the Helium Systems team, there will be a lot of excitement. It will be easier for new manufacturers to produce hardware, prices will become lower, new users can provide Proof of Coverage and Data-transfer more easily, and validators will be in the hands of the people as well.
There are many ways to be compensated for building coverage or consensus within the Helium network. Understanding the Light Hotspot changes is crucial for optimizing your involvement and making the best decisions to reach your goals.