The first time I heard about the Helium network was earlier this year while idly scrolling through TikTok.
The excitable young guy in the clip claimed he was making upwards of £1,000 a month for simply having a small black box – a Helium (HNT) miner – in the corner of his room.
Sceptical, yet intrigued, I did a bit of research and decided to take the plunge and buy a miner from UK supplier Nebra Ltd in March.
But due to a series of production glitches and supply hold-ups, my miner didn’t arrive until September.
The delay was made even more frustrating as there’d been a ‘halving’ during this period. This is when the rewards for mining a specific crypto are cut in two meaning a miner earns less for the same work.
On top of this, thousands of new miners had already been shipped by other producers meaning there were many more people vying for the same share of crypto than when I originally ordered mine.
I knew that I’d missed the window of top earnings potential, so I lowered my expectations.
Nebra had clearly overpromised when they launched their miner, and this led to a long and frustrating delay for thousands of customers. It’s fair to say this was a PR disaster for the small firm.
Fast forward to September 16 and my miner landed on my doorstep.
Unboxing the Nebra Helium (HNT) miner
The small form miner comes bundled with a 3dbi antenna, mains adapter and an ethernet cable.
The documentation makes it clear that you must attach the antenna before powering up the device.
Once connected and plugged in, the first thing you need to do is sync your miner with the Helium blockchain.
Every piece of advice I’ve read suggests you should plug your miner directly into your WiFi router using the ethernet cable to ensure a stable connection while syncing completes.
This can take as long as 36 hours (although some people have reported much quicker syncing times) and your miner won’t be doing a lot during this time.
While you’re waiting you can download the Helium app and link your miner to it via Bluetooth.
Setting your HNT wallet recovery phrase
The Helium app contains your HNT wallet where your earnings will be deposited. It also offers several useful tools to help you along the way.
To protect the security of your wallet you’ll be asked to write down a 12-word recovery phrase during set up.
It’s vital that you keep your recovery phrase safe. If your phone is lost or stolen, you’ll need it to restore your wallet and your HNT balance.
Nebra also offers an online dashboard – which is free for now although scheduled to become a paid product at some point – allowing you to check on your miner’s status as it syncs.
You can also directly query your miner on its syncing status and other diagnostics by typing its IP address in your browser.
There are various free tools available online to view the IP addresses of all the devices connected to your WiFi network.
What happens after I’ve synced my Helium miner?
This is when you’ll start to earn your first HNT tokens.
Once your miner is synced you may want to unplug the ethernet cable and move your miner to the top story of your property, or at least as close to a window as possible.
I placed my miner on top of a cabinet next a window in a first-floor room at my property.
Sure enough, my miner sprang into life and started earning small amounts of HNT for performing tasks such as sending beacons and transferring data packets.
I started averaging about 60p a day in earnings. Seeing the first HNT drop into my wallet was initially exciting, but the amount was pretty disappointing after the hype I’d seen on TikTok.
So, I started doing a bit of research into how I could increase my earnings and was soon down a deep rabbit hole of antennas, dbi ratings, relay settings, positioning, elevation etc.
I knew I needed to do something because at this rate it would be many months before I even covered the cost of the miner (£350 delivered).
This is what I did:
1. Ensured my Helium miner wasn’t relayed using port forwarding
This is something covered in every guide to improving your Helium miner earnings.
It’s basically a setting in your router involving the state of the ports.
If the port relating to your miner is closed this could have an impact on its performance, therefore you need to open the port (44158).
This involves going tweaking your WiFi router’s settings and it’s quite straight forward once you know how.
There’s an excellent series of guides here which cover many of the routers in use in homes today.
If your miner is being relayed the word ‘True’ is displayed in amber in the top right of your IP diagnostics screen.
Once you’ve successfully completed the port forwarding instructions, the status should be shown as ‘False’ in green:
Port forwarding completed, I decided to try a few more tweaks to squeeze the optimal performance out of my miner.
2. Upgraded to a 5.8dbi glass fiber antenna
The antenna bundled with my miner was pretty small and felt flimsy.
It hadn’t been effective in connecting with other miners in my area, so I felt I needed a better option.
However, getting a bigger antenna with a higher dbi does not necessarily mean enhanced miner performance and in some cases can actually lead to worse results.
So, after more research, I established that a 5dbi glass fiber LoRa would be best for my circumstances, so I bought one from Nebra (£40) along with a magnetic base for indoor mounting (£10). Delivery was £9.95.
I swapped antennas – making sure to power down my miner before doing so – then placed it on top of a filing cabinet.
Within a day or so there was a slight uptick in earnings, but the increase was not what I’d expected from my additional £60 investment.
3. Mounted the antenna on top of my roof
Frustrated with my earnings so far, I decided to spend more money and pay an aerial guy £95 to come and fit my new 5.8dbi antenna on top of my house and run a cable through the loft to the room where the miner is located.
This had the most impact of everything I’d tried so far.
Within a matter of hours my earnings were up to £2.80 or so and by the end of the first day, they were just shy of £4. This was still far from the amount I was expecting, but it was moving in the right direction.
My miner seemed more active in terms of the number of tasks it was completing, and it was starting to witness nearby beacons which seemed to bring in the best HNT rewards.
But it was still struggling to stay synched, and I found its status randomly changed to offline for prolonged periods of time.
After more reading I found this was likely the fault of a poor WiFi signal to the room where the miner was located.
4. Added a WiFi booster to my network
I called my broadband provider and explained that I had a weak signal in one of my rooms. They were very helpful and sent me out a WiFi signal booster (£9.95 delivered).
I located the booster in the same room as my miner and connected it via the ethernet cable.
The first thing I noticed was that within minutes my miner’s status changed to relayed.
After more online research I found instructions from a Redditor on how to port forward your router to your booster then to your miner to solve the problem.
I followed the instructions but found that this caused my miner to effectively go offline for nearly 24 hours until I reverted back to the original port forwarding settings.
My miner switched to relayed status for a while before reverting back to being non-relayed.
This was clearly an unnecessary tweak that confused my miner.
The result of adding the booster was that, overall, my miner was a lot more stable.
I only saw it syncing once in a week which was a vast improvement before I added the booster.
The other thing that happened almost immediately, although this may be a coincidence, is that I suddenly had three witnesses.
Earnings improved slightly, but only by about 50p a day or so.
Then, after about a week, I saw a real bump in earnings to around £7 a day or so.
But this didn’t last and the following day I was down to about £2.50.
The next day things improved, and my mining rewards stood at about £4.
This is my earnings graph for month one:
As you can see, it was a slow start and the real uptick happened when I installed an upgraded antenna on the roof of my home.
And that is where things stand after month one.
I’m going to leave my miner untouched now and see how it fares over the next month without any additional tweaks so it can establish itself on the network.
How do I sell my Helium coins?
Selling HNT is a little trickier than trading Bitcoin and other, more mainstream cryptocurrencies.
You’ll need to sign up for an account at an exchange that supports HNT trading as not all of them do right now.
I used Binance and the process was straight forward.
Firstly, go to your Binance wallet overview page and click ‘deposit’ then select Helium (HNT) under ‘Coin’.
You’ll then see a deposit address which you need to scan using the Helium app on your phone.
On the app, decide how much HNT you want to transfer then click withdraw. You’ll be shown the fee for the transaction before you commit to sending your coins.
If you’re happy, confirm the transaction and within a few minutes your HNT will appear in your Binance account.
Next, you need to open the Binance trading screen and search for HNT. At the time of writing there were three currency pairs available – HNT/BTC, HNT/USDT or HNT/BUSD.
These means that you can choose to sell your HNT in exchange for either Bitcoin or two stablecoins.
I selected the USDT option, set a limit order after looking at the current market price and how it was fluctuating and submitted my order.
Seconds later it was fill and the corresponding amount of USDT, minus Binance’s fee, was now in my account in place of the HNT.
I then did a straight swap from USDT to GBP then transferred the cash to my bank account.
The whole process from crypto to fiat took about 15 minutes and went without a hitch.
The price of HNT has had a pretty good ride so far. At the start of 2021 it was priced at about $1.50 per coin.
At the time of writing, it was trading at around $19 after reaching an ATH (All Time High) of around $26 in August.
Even if you’ve decided against investing in a miner, there’s still the potential for the price to rise further if you bought coins directly from an exchange.
Equally, you could lose all your money, especially as the network depends on people being incentivised to invest in mining equipment.
If people lose interest in the project and either ditch their mining kit because they’re not getting a worthwhile ROI or shy away from joining in the first place it could fail completely.
Is it worth buying a miner to earn Helium (HNT)?
It all depends on whether you’re hoping to make money, or you just want to be part of an innovative project which has the potential to be something unique in the crypto world.
From my experience, if you’re hoping for the latter, then no, it’s not worth it, especially given the fact that more miners are coming online daily which will further reduce the share of HNT that each network participant will get.
And if my earnings so far are anything to go by, it’ll take a long time to recoup your initial investment, especially if you stick with the bundled antenna and keep it inside.
Despite there being multiple hotspots within a few kilometres of mine, with the original antenna my miner wasn’t reaching them.
Even with my roof-mounted 5.8dbi setup, it still felt like any hotspot more than 5km away or so were out of reach, even though the area I’m in isn’t that built up.
Now, I’m not accusing the excitable young TikTok creator of deliberately exaggerating his earnings to shill Helium miners to drive people to the affiliate link he’d posted, and I know the rewards were a lot higher when made the video.
But having studied the earnings of many hotspots near me and around the UK I’ve yet to find any earning anywhere near what he claimed he was making.
You can take a look for yourself by visiting the Helium Explorer map.
In fact, the best I’ve found is about £350 and that was located in a densely populated area with an antenna claiming to be mounted ten metres off the ground.
This kind of setup clearly isn’t practical for most people unless you live in a block of flats and have access to the roof.
I’m sure there’ll be someone who’ll find a much higher earning miner somewhere in the UK and prove me wrong.
But having spent more than £500 on kit and installation, I’m not sure what else I could practically do to improve my setup.
So, for now, I wouldn’t recommend that you buy a Helium miner if you’re expecting to earn any serious cash out of it.
What is the Helium network?
Dubbed ‘The People’s Network’, the Helium blockchain and crypto is the first peer-to-peer wireless network in the world.
The aim is to create a decentralised infrastructure layer that will provide a cheap and secure way for Internet of Things devices to connect to one another and send data over the internet.
The team behind Helium say they want to start “a wireless revolution” and that the network represents “a paradigm shift for decentralised wireless infrastructure”.
The idea behind the Helium Network is great in principle, but for it to work people need to be properly incentivised to invest in the tech that makes it possible.
And with HNT rewards set to decline as more miners come online, it’s questionable how many people will invest in a technology that will take a long time to cover the initial outlay.
Already, hundreds of secondhand miners are appearing on eBay at exorbitant prices.
But equally, at the time of writing the companies selling the miners were all sold out and had long waiting times for new orders.
It’s clear there’s still a high level of enthusiasm in the Helium idea.
But whether it’s based on a genuine belief in the technology or greed triggered by a smattering of TikTok videos (ahem) claiming glittering returns remains to be seen.
Adam is the founder of The Crypto Adviser which offers experts guides and reviews on all things related to Bitcoin and cryptocurrency.
Adam is Diploma for Financial Advisers (DipFA) Level 4 qualified, a Member of the London Institute of Banking and Finance (MLIBF), and has worked for many years as a journalist and PR consultant, having studied with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).