“Helium has been revolutionizing wireless networking while building on blockchain technology since its launch in 2019. Helium’s initial goal was to blanket the US with wireless networks with their small wireless modules that devices can connect to anytime, anywhere. The goal was to provide IoTs (Internet of Things), or any wireless-capable device, with a long-range but cost-efficient wireless connection through a decentralized wireless network. Helium’s far-ranging LongFi wireless hotspots provide connectivity 200 times farther than the regular Wi-Fi at a lower cost. Helium’s hotspots are plug-and-play and can be deployed by anyone.
But there’s more to Helium than just wireless networks. Helium is, in itself, a blockchain network. Helium rewards those who purchase and install hotspots with HNT (Helium Network Token), which is Helium’s equivalent of Bitcoin.”
Proof of Coverage
A consensus mechanism is crucial to a blockchain to keep the network safe, efficient, and secured. While most blockchains are implementing Proof-of-Work and Proof-of-Stake mechanisms, Helium used Proof-of-Coverage (PoC) at the time of its launch. In PoC, miners need to produce proof to prove that hotspot activities are legitimate.
Miners need to complete a challenge, the unit of work in Helium’s network, in order to satisfy the protocol. Participants need to fulfill the roles of either a challenger, a transmitter, or a witness. The challenger creates the challenge, the transmitter sends data packets pertaining to the challenge, and the witnesses are the nearby hotspots that verify the data packets sent by the transmitter. A hotspot can perform any of these roles and will be rewarded with HNTs by the network. Placement of the hotspots is crucial to earning coins; the more coverage there is, the more activities can be performed by the hotspot, and the more coins can be earned. Likewise, hotspots placed near other hotspots earn more coins than those with lesser hotspots around to form an interconnected network.
PoC’s work algorithm efficiently provides work to the network, but it’s still not a consensus mechanism where nodes reach an agreement to prove that a transaction added to the blockchain is valid to continuously keep the network secure. To improve Helium’s blockchain operations, the Proof-of-Stake mechanism was onboarded in 2021.
Proof-of-Stake (PoS) is a simple and power-efficient consensus mechanism where participants are rewarded for the coins that they stake. In PoS, participants stake their digital assets for the possibility of being selected as a validator. The validator is randomly selected and gains the right to add a block to the blockchain once selected. The validator then verifies a hotspot’s transactions, reaches a consensus, and adds a new block to the blockchain. The validator is then rewarded with coins. If a validator adds a fraudulent transaction, however, the validator will lose a portion of the staked coins or the whole of it.
PoS’s uncomplicated process propelled Helium to adopt the mechanism. PoC heavily relies on the wireless network coverage of the Helium hotspots, and it succeeded in extending the Helium network’s blocks. However, when Helium reached global success, PoC could no longer keep the network secure. Helium needed a consensus mechanism with low latency and robust security with the imminent expansion of its network. This is how Proof-of-Stake got into the picture.
From 2021 to date, Helium concurrently runs PoC and PoS to hold the network together and keep it secure as it expands. Implementing PoS is beneficial not only to Helium’s network but to the users as well. With PoS onboard, users have another way to make their earned HNTs profitable through staking.
How to Stake HNTs
Since Helium’s implementation of PoS, HNTs have become eligible for staking. Staking allows users to grow their HNTs earned from installing Helium hotspots. The Helium network forms a consensus group consisting of elected validators. This group completes a blockchain epoch and is later on rewarded for completing the epoch and keeping the network scalable, stable, and secure. The group reward can be accessed immediately, but the staked amount remains locked up while the validator node is still running. Once the epoch is complete, the network un-elects existing members of the consensus group and elects new ones from the pool of stakers to verify another transaction.
Becoming a Validator
To become a validator, a participant needs at least 10,000 HNTs and technical skills to set up and maintain a validator node. Some stakes may have to wait longer than others to be selected as validators since factors such as the length of time the coins have been staked and the amount of coins staked are taken into consideration when choosing a validator. The validators must always stay online and up to date to earn rewards; otherwise, they will be penalized and earn fewer coins.
Withdrawing Staked Amount
If a validator wants to withdraw the staked amount, it needs to be unstaked first. The validator then enters a cooldown period for approximately five months where it will not be able to earn rewards. The staked amount will be returned to the owner’s wallet once the cooldown period is over.
Staking Through Independent Providers
Those who do not have the skills to set up a validator node or have less than 10,000 HNT can still participate in staking through independent staking providers. These providers, also known as crypto exchanges, make the process even simpler by doing all the work for you in exchange for commissions on every reward earned. Some risks are involved when staking through independent providers; thus, thorough research is recommended on the legitimacy of the provider before you subscribe to their services.
Incentivizing the installation of hotspots to provide wider network coverage with crypto coins is a bold and clever move for Helium to grow its wireless and blockchain networks. Its implementation of the PoS mechanism gave its users another way to augment their crypto earnings. Helium offers a staking platform for validators but also allows those who do not meet the requirements to stake through independent staking providers. Staking benefits both the stakes and the Helium network, the latter earning rewards for every successful transaction added to the blockchain and the former by maintaining the network’s stability and security.