Last Updated: September 2021
I’ve been interested in cryptocurrency for years, and I was excited when I learned about a US company called Helium and their proprietary crypto, also called Helium, or HNT for short.
Unlike bitcoin, mining Helium (HNT) doesn’t need an expensive, electricity-sucking rig or even coding knowledge. You just need a Helium Hotspot, a smartphone and ideally, a good location.
Does it make money? Yes, it does! Mine paid for itself in ten days. Is getting a Helium hotspot worth it? At the moment, I think it definitely is – and I’m planning on buying more of them.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to get a Helium Hotspot set up in the UK, what it costs, and what you can expect to earn.
Obviously, this does not constitute financial advice (or advice of any kind). Crypto is still an immature and very volatile market, and you get involved at your own risk. This article is for information purposes only.
Helium Hotspots Explained
If you already know what Helium is and just want to know how to install a Hotspot and earn money (and I don’t blame you), then skip this bit and scroll down.
For everyone else new to Helium – they have a fun Youtube three minute video that explains it far better than I can:
Note that the hotspots featured in the video were originally Helium’s own devices and are no longer made. Helium now allows a small number of third-party companies to manufacture and sell hotspots. I’ll list these later.
Helium Hotspot Locations in the UK
If you’re interested in getting a hotspot, you ought to bear in mind that you’ll earn a lot more if other hotspots are nearby. By ‘nearby’ I mean within a mile or two, ideally in direct line of sight.
You’ll also earn more if you’re at a high elevation, overlooking other areas or hotspot locations. For example, a hotspot in the window of a top-floor flat with no obstructions around it has a better chance than a bungalow at the base of a valley.
Location and placing are important if you’re just going to use the antenna it comes with since it’s not very powerful. You can also upgrade the antenna (which I cover below) to try and reach hotspots further away.
You can check how many hotspots are ‘live’ near you in the UK on Helium’s Coverage Explorer. Each green dot is a live hotspot, and red ones are offline for whatever reason. Here’s what the UK looks like at the moment:
As you’d expect, the bigger cities like London, Manchester and Cardiff have quite a few. However, I don’t think it’s anywhere near saturation.
Helium says each city needs 50-100 hotspots in it for full coverage. Smaller towns and cities have even more opportunities.
So what do you do if there are no hotspots near you yet? You have a few options:
1 – Set it up anyway (it’ll still earn bits of HNT, probably enough to pay for itself in a few months) and you’ll be well-placed when it gets more popular and someone near you eventually has one up and running.
2 – Alternatively, you can install two hotspots in two different places where they can ‘witness’ each other, which I’ll explain shortly. You can’t put two in the same house (or rather, you can, but you won’t benefit much) because that’s too close together.
Helium has stipulated that hotspots work best when they are at least 330 metres apart. So the best solution is if you have family, friends, or access to another building nearby where another hotspot can be set up- ideally within a mile or two.
3 – The third option is to wait until there’s one or more near you – but there’s a big backlog of hotspot orders worldwide, and shipping can take 8-12 weeks, by which time there may have been some pop up near you anyway.
How Much Can I Earn Mining Helium?
Rather than one of those annoying “it depends” answers I’ll try to break this down depending on different scenarios.
A hotspot with none nearby (or no ‘witnesses’) may earn about 10-20 HNT per month
A hotspot that can witness 1-4 other hotspots around it – about 150-200 HNT a month or more. I’ve seen some far higher than this, too.
The widget below displays the current price of one HNT in pounds (as of today) on Coingecko, which should give you an indication of what you can expect to earn.
Note that earnings fluctuate a LOT, as does the price of HNT tokens.
You can also check how much any hotspot is earning on Helium’s Explorer (which also gives the current price of one HNT/Helium token). All you need is the three-word name of the hotspot, which you find on the map. Some of these are pretty amusing, and it’s a good way to identify each hotspot.
Note that Helium also have a ‘reward scale’ from 0 to 1, where zero is in a congested/crowded area with lots of hotspots, and 1 is where there are hardly any. There are only a handful of hotspots in my city, so my ‘reward scale’ is 1, which is nice – as it rewards early adopters with more HNT.
Helium Hotspot Costs – and Antenna Info
At the time of writing, there are only three companies selling legitimate Helium Hotspots, and all for a similar price of around £300-£350 each for an indoor hotspot, or about £450 for an outdoor one (if available).
Important: You need one operating at 868MhZ for the UK. The other frequencies won’t work.
Note: There are people on Ebay and social media pre-selling these at a crazy markup. All they’re doing is ordering from the suppliers listed below – so don’t be fooled into thinking people have them in stock. Always read the small print.
Bobcat Miner 300 – This company ships directly from China, and their unique selling point is that the hotspot will come with an antenna that is more powerful (4dbi) than any others.
Shipping time is currently given as “8-12 weeks”, and they have been one of the more successful companies in getting their hotspots out on schedule. Click here to view their order page. Please note you can only pay in cryptocurrency. You can get crypto to pay for the miner from Binance and other exchanges, and then follow the instructions in Bobcat’s Youtube video to pay.
Nebra – I initially ordered some extra hotspots from Nebra, but they’ve had a lot of delays – at the moment it seems to be about 4-6 months before shipping. They are sold via UK Company Pi Supply, based in Tunbridge Wells, and you pay in pounds. You can also get compatible antennas. The antenna it comes with is 2dbi, or you can buy bigger ones. Click here to view the Nebra hotspots for sale.
Note: Nebra were ‘sold out’ for ages but say they are coming back in stock soon.
RAK Miners via Calchip – I bought my first hotspot from these guys, though they’ve recently put their prices up, and I had to pay in US Dollars since they’re based in Pennsylvania, USA. In early 2021 they were the only ones you could order from (so I did), but I’ve since switched to Bobcat and Nebra, above. They did a good job of keeping people updated with the shipping (which took almost six months last year) and the hotspot is well built, and comes with a 2dbi antenna. Click here to view their hotspots.
What about a second-hand hotspot?
If you’re buying a second-hand hotspot (they’re rare, but sometimes people do sell them) then you MUST have an agreement to have the ownership transferred to you, via the app.
This means that you need to take control of both the hotspot AND its 12-word password. Otherwise you’ll be happily mining HNT that goes into someone else’s account!
If it were me, I’d make sure I was buying a new one, or one that belonged to someone, but that was still in its box/unused and never set up. Otherwise, make sure the handover is legit.
Getting an Antenna for Further Reach
I live in a high flat overlooking many houses, so I wanted an antenna better than the 2dbi one my hotspot came with.
Nebra have a selection of antennas compatible with their hotspot – view them here. These will be shipped at the same time as the hotspots, though.
If you want the antenna sooner (like I did, since I already had the hotspot) then I also recommend Connex Tech, based in Buckingham. They sell the Nebra compatible antennas and a few others. They were very helpful when I chose mine. Antennas are about £30-50 and are well worth it if it means your hotspot can ‘witness’ another one and earn more HNT!
Is Bigger Better When it comes to Antennas?
I’ll be the first to admit I’m clueless about antennas, so did a bit of research. Apparently the higher the dbi, the longer the range, but the narrower the signal. Therefore if you’re in a busy urban environment, the 2dbi antenna the hotspots mostly come with might be better, since it’s a more ’rounded’ signal.
Or, if you’re on a hill like me – a 4.8dbi upwards might be better, for further reach. This image from Day Wireless illustrates it best:
A note on cables: the shorter, the better. The standard Nebra antennas come with a 5m cable, and I’m told that’s really the longest you should go with. If you can get a shorter one, that’s even better. Bear this in mind if you’re planning on mounting it on the roof or similar – the cable will have to run down to the hotspot itself.
Setting up a Helium Miner / Hotspot
Helium called their network ‘The People’s Network’ for a reason – they wanted to make it easy for everyone to take part in it.
For this reason, it’s very easy to set up and get your hotspot going, without any coding knowledge or any other expertise normally needed to run a crypto miner.
The hotspot needs three things:
- Power: Unlike bitcoin miners, Helium hotspots don’t have high power consumption (about 5w, or the same as a normal broadband router or LED light bulb)
- Wifi or Ethernet: Mine connects to our home wifi. The data it uses varies, but if you have a ‘normal’ broadband connection with wifi, you should be fine.
- Smartphone: With the Helium App installed (which is free) – view it on the App Store or Google Play. You can use this to look at the Hotspot Explorer too, even if you don’t have a hotspot yet.
Bear in mind you might need to buy longer cables for power (it runs on USB-C and comes with the UK plug and power cord, but it might be too short). You’ll also need to make sure the wifi signal is OK where you want to place it.
Your hotspot comes with a quick start guide and a 12 word password. You should definitely keep the password safe – it’s your only ‘key’ to the app and subsequently, your HNT wallet!
Mine took about 15 minutes to set up, and the app runs you through the process. The hotspot takes 24-48 hours to synchronize with the Helium blockchain – you can view its progress on the app – then you’re good to go.
The hotspot will do all the things it should do, on its own. It will witness other hotspots, issue challenges, and collect HNT rewards – you don’t have to do anything else except check your HNT balance! It makes no noise, it just sits there, doing its thing.
However, the next tricky part is if you want to sell some HNT for British Pounds.
How do I Cash in my HNT for British Pounds?
At the time of writing, there are only a handful of cryptocurrency exchanges that have HNT listed as a cryptocurrency you can trade in. Converting your HNT to GBP is a bit tricky, but not impossible – and certainly worth it at today’s prices.
The only exchange I use for this (since it’s one of the world’s biggest) is Binance. You’ll need to open an account with them and go through various ID and security checks as part of their anti money laundering policies, which is normal for any exchange.
Bear in mind you have to be very careful when sending crypto – always make sure it goes to the right address, or you’ll lose it forever. There are plenty of tutorials on the Binance site – just make sure you’re visiting their real site. They will always have some sort of authentication message sent to your email and phone when you log in, withdraw, etc.
Once an account is set up, the steps I take are:
- Go to ‘deposit’ and then ‘deposit crypto’
- Under ‘coin’ select Helium / HNT
- A deposit address will appear on the right -this is the one you should send to, using the Helium app (easiest by using a QR code, which Binance will do for you if you select that)
- Send Helium to the Binance deposit address using the wallet section of the Helium app
- In my experience, it takes 5-10 mins to arrive, and Binance will alert you when it arrives
- Next, go to Trade – Advanced, and search for HNT / BTC (Helium to Bitcoin) and exchange as many HNT as you like for Bitcoins (BTC)
At the moment I am converting HNT to BTC (Bitcoins) with Binance, and then swapping the Bitcoins for pounds, and then withdrawing.
- Trade your BTC (bitcoin) for GBP (pounds). Then you’ll see an equivalent £ balance, and you can withdraw this via faster payments to your bank, or you might want to put it on a debit card.
- There are small fees for exchanging/trading/depositing/withdrawing throughout the process, though if you do it all in one go (e.g. do the exchange quickly, one after the other) then I’ve only had about 1% total taken in fees, and £1.50 for the faster payments withdrawal.
Another option is to send Bitcoins to Bitstamp (another exchange) to convert them to GBP, withdraw the GBP to your bank. You can open a Bitstamp account here. I’ve used them for years and they’re reliable. However this option means you have to have an account with both Binance and Bitstamp.
Disclaimer: I am not a financial adviser, and this doesn’t constitute financial advice (or advice of any kind!). I’m just illustrating what I do, in case it helps. As with all things crypto, it’s entirely at your own risk.
It may be that some of the other big exchanges start to offer HNT on their platforms, in which case it might become easier (especially if they let you trade HNT directly for GBP, but at the moment, you have to change it into Bitcoin first).
Some people on various forums will offer to buy your HNT, but that is risky in itself, and you won’t get the market rate.
If you have any questions, need advice or just want to talk to fellow HNT enthusiasts, there’s a very active Discord channel that you can visit, too.
Overall, I hope this helps you if you’ve been curious about Helium, or wanted some UK-specific information on how it works. Compared to the USA there are far fewer hotspots in the UK and there are many places where there aren’t any, or only a handful.
As the “Internet of Things” takes off, I hope that adoption will do up – and those who help build the network will be rewarded. Good luck!