A look at some of the potential applications of the Helium Network.
The Helium Network, created by Helium Systems, is a decentralized telecommunications network making use of LoRa/LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) technology. Using blockchain technology and the cryptocurrency HNT which is specifically designed for the Helium Network, the network has in place a sort of connectivity marketplace. After paying an initial mining stake/deposit in HNT you provide internet service to mine HNT. To receive internet access from the network, you buy data credits from Helium for their internet services.
Unlike conventional telecoms, the Helium Network is designed so that HNT-mining hotpots provides the network’s coverage and infrastructure. Helium Systems can rely on the populace – members of the public – to build a massive network for them. In return for providing the network, the hotspot owner is rewarded in HNT. With this feature The Helium Network has the potential to have exceptional coverage, drastically improving the potential Helium Network Applications.
The Helium Network is also a LoRa network, which works differently than WiFi or cellular networks.
The Helium Network is a LoRa network. But why use LoRa over conventional technology like cellular (5G) or Wi-Fi? LoRa cannot transmit a large quantity of data quickly, but it does take very little power to transmit the data. LoRa networks can transmit this data over a very long range as well as through challenging environments, such as between buildings or underground.
LoRa’s traditional competitors, WiFi and cellular networks, work very differently than LoRa:
WiFi can transmit much more data but, compared to LoRa, has extremely limited range and uses an enormous amount of power.
Cellular (5G) networks can transmit data over a large distance like LoRa and much more of it, but consume a lot of power and require heavy-duty infrastructure such as enormous cell towers to have been built in the operational area.
This gives the Helium Network a leg up in applications that require long range transmission but don’t need to transmit much data, especially in areas where it is not economically feasible to build costly, time-consuming cell towers.
One commonly used example is environmental monitoring. Environmental monitoring refers to the monitoring and assessing the conditions of a particular environment. This environment could be many different things, such as a farm or a factory, but many of these environments are best suited to LoRa instead of WiFi or cellular networks.
On a farm, the farm owner might not need enormous amounts of data on every acre of farmland, but likely needs small amounts of it to determine how effective his farming methods are, or to make sure the harvest is coming along well. To do this, the farmer would need to be able to transmit the data from environmental sensors to somewhere he can see it. These sensors could potentially be covering hundreds of acres of land, and this could pose a problem.
To start with, the high bandwidth of WiFi and cellular would be wasted when so little data is actually being transmitted. WiFi in particular also has a very short range, meaning hundreds of WiFi routers would have to be wired up and spread out across the farmland. The high power consumption would also pose an issue: It would make both methods cost a lot of money to keep running not only because of the power costs themselves, but because sensors would run out of battery life very quickly, meaning the massive farm would have to be scoured constantly to replace the batteries in the sensors. Finally, cellular lands itself another disadvantage since many farms are in rural enough spaces that cell towers might not even have been built yet. The Helium Network, on the other hand, excels here.
Long range means the infrastructure for data transmission is easy to set-up. Low power consumption means running costs are lower and sensors will have much longer battery life. Lastly, the one major disadvantage of LoRa networks (having low bandwidth) would be irrelevant as this Helium Network Application doesn’t need high bandwidth.
Another potential Helium Network Application is health monitoring – also known as biomedical monitoring. Diabetics are one particular group who would heavily benefit from systems allowing for constant, unintrusive monitoring of their vitals, mainly glucose levels.
One monitoring system shows a lot of promise, being able to monitor a patient’s glucose levels along with detecting motion and taking temperature readings but it is based on wi-fi technology.
The proposed design makes use of WiFi and cellular networks to connect to the patient’s phone which then transmits the data elsewhere also via WiFi or cellular. However, using the Helium Network’s emerging LoRa infrastructure could further improve this already brilliant design.
Using LoRa means that devices might not need to connect to the patient’s mobile device in the first place, and even if it does it will use negligible amounts of the cellphones power. The lower power consumption also means sensors can have longer battery lives. But the benefits don’t stop here.
LoRa’s low infrastructure costs and long ranges means LoRa networks could eventually have coverage in incredibly rural areas even cellular does not reach. This means there would be far fewer places where the monitoring system could not function due to being unable to find a connection or running out of battery.
The Helium Network and LoRa technology is poised to become a dominant force in the field of asset tracking. Asset tracking refers to the tracking of various assets a company or government possesses. Tracking is most often locational but can include other variables on an asset such as speed or overall condition.
Asset tracking is an incredibly useful tool for logistics companies that are constantly moving hundreds of thousands of items. These items could be distributed among thousands of trucks or being moved between continents en masse by a container ship. Asset tracking can allow for each individual item to be tracked, preventing products from being lost or stolen. Moreover, customers can be given more accurate projections of when they will receive an item.
Millions, even billions of different items and crates and containers all need to have some kind of tracking device on them to record data and their location. Assets could take months to reach their eventual destination if being sent by container ship, and could be in all sorts of remote locales or walled-off environments with poor cell service. Though each individual tracking device might not need to transmit a lot of data, the cumulative power and data draw of all these trackers could pose a genuine issue as more and more products are given asset trackers.
With such long travel times, sensors need to last for extended stretches of time, and this is one of LoRa’s strong suits. As mentioned, in some remote areas LoRa could be the only source of connection. Moreover, the Helium Network is also likely to be cheaper than cellular networks due to the cheap infrastructure: for the massive scale asset tracking the logistics industry needs, even a slight difference in data costs could make an enormous difference in expenses.
Since asset tracking does not need to be real time, the low data transmission capabilities of LoRa and the Helium Network doesn’t hamper it’s effectiveness: a product can be tracked just as well with location and status updates every 5 minutes as with power-hungry real time tracking.
All in all, the potential Helium Network Applications are many, and the Helium Network is something you’ll want to keep your eye on in the coming years.
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