The crypto market is awash with endless tokens to buy. Among the more than 19,000 that exist, some are blue-chip, and others are just a flash in the pan. Determining what to make a bet on isn’t always easy, especially when you’re new to crypto.
Devin Fitts, a senior manager on Walmart’s engineering team and holder of a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, began by buying only bitcoin in 2016 after he heard about it from a friend’s dad. He then snowballed into buying coins such as ethereum (ETH) and binance coin (BNB). He was betting that these investments would have long-term growth potential.
It wasn’t until four years later, in November 2020, that he heard about helium mining while he was still working from home. Fitts, whose career focused on logistics and automating processes to improve distribution centers for Walmart, liked helium because it had a simple and real-world use case. He also liked the idea of being able to own something physical that was crypto-related and generated passive income. Finally, it was the most accessible form of mining.
The Helium Blockchain is a network of miners that connects through small devices hosted in people’s homes or offices. The hardware is plugged into an internet router. The miner then creates a secure low-bandwidth wireless signal for devices that require an internet connection. Participants essentially allow the network to use their internet to create a series of signals that can be used by devices including motion and leak detectors, and light and air-quality sensors. The network is now rolling out 5G, which would allow cellphones to connect as well.
A helium miner can retail anywhere between $350 to $450, depending on the supplier.
“It was much cheaper to buy a helium miner hotspot than getting an intense computer set up to mine bitcoin or ethereum,” Fitts said. “It’s also cheaper because it uses the amount of electricity of charging a cell phone.”
Bitcoin ASIC miners often cost more than $10,000 and can rack up large electricity bills. Ethereum mining requires effort and technical skills to piece together pricey graphics cards.
Helium miners earn rewards for providing a signal and checking on the signals of other miners in their proximity. Participants are paid out in the blockchain’s native currency, HNT, which was trading at around $8.36 on Friday.
Overall, Fitts felt it was less risky in case he tried it out and it came to nothing. He eventually bought six helium miners. One model was a Rak V2 which retails for $420, and the rest were Bobcat Miner 300s which retail for $430. For all six, he said he paid about $2,559 excluding taxes.
Between the two models, Fitts felt the latter was easier to set up and operate.
“The Rak hotspot that I have, sometimes it goes offline for no reason. And then just a day or two later it’s back and operating as normal,” Fitts said. “So maybe it’s something I’m doing wrong, but that’s just something I’ve noticed.”
The lead time for receiving a miner after ordering can be quite long. He placed his first order in November 2020 and waited about seven months before receiving it. The lag time isn’t ideal because, in the interim, new, better-performing models could be released, or rewards could be slashed significantly. Some people may try to skip the wait by turning to eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
By June 2021, he had received his first miner. After setting it up, it initially earned an average of about 0.97 HNT a day, he said.
Today, he only has three of his six miners online. One Bobcat is set up in the attic of his house in Bentonville, Arkansas. The other two are placed at his friends’ homes within two miles of him in opposite directions. This is because the miners need to be at a certain distance from one other.
While Helium recommends placing the miner by a window, the Bobcat in Fitts’ attic isn’t near any windows. To his surprise, it has the highest earnings of the three. Fitts added that since January, all three miners have been relocated from Rogers, a town 20 minutes away. However, he noted that the earnings haven’t varied drastically.
The lifetime revenue for the Bobcat in Fitt’s home, which has been online since Jun 10, 2021, is about 324.79 HNT, according to screenshots of his account viewed by Insider. The second Bobcat, which has been online since June 11, 2021, has received 128 HNT. The RAK V2, which has been online since October 8, 2021, has brought in 32.41 HNT. At a trading price of $8.60, his overall returns for all three miners are about $4,173 at HNT’s trading price of around $8.60 on Friday.
The three miners that are offline had been placed in different homes with family members who lived in North Carolina. However, their earnings were minuscule, at around $.50 a month. This is because there weren’t other miners within their vicinity.
Placing the devices in areas where there are miners within a mile or two increases their profitability because they can “witness” or check signals in exchange for additional rewards. The town within North Carolina only had one to two other miners within their vicinity. Meanwhile, the area surrounding Fitts’ had about 20 miners within a five-mile radius.
Currently, Fitts is holding onto his HNT because he believes that more technologies and home smart devices will begin to leverage Helium’s hotspots. The network will also become compatible with cellphones that run on the 5G network.
But new miners may not be rewarded as much as Fitts did: During the bull run of November 2021, HNT traded at around $53 at its peak but is now down about 84% from there. He believes the price will recover to at least around $25 to $30.
Looking back, Fitts regrets purchasing six miners in a short time. He’s now struggling to find other profitable locations to place them. Depending on location, it may take a very long time for a miner to break even if its rewards aren’t high. Miners also need to consider HNT’s trading price, which can fluctuate drastically and delay a return on investment.
Moving forward, he wants to try devices from other networks that provide similar use cases to Helium. Two projects he’s looking at next are Pollen Mobile, which offers a 5G network signal, and Hivemapper, a dash cam that’s placed in your vehicle and collects road data for mapping purposes.
“One of the things that technologies like this unlock is just the monopolies that are out there today,” Fitts said. “So I’m thinking about cellular, right, like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, people have to pay whatever they’re charging because there’s only a handful of options.”