Repurposing Helium Hotspot as TTN Gateway?

I’m new to LoRa, but not new to software, DIY projects, Linux, and tech in general. I’ve watched a good number of YT videos (mainly from Andreas Spiess, “The Guy with the Swiss Accent”) that were instrumental in my wanting to build/buy/install my own TTN gateway. I dig the ethos. Plus, my part of the greater Seattle metro area lacks TTN coverage.

I understand that Helium is its own network (with so little actual paid device packet traffic that it can’t possibly be viable outside the crypto-sphere). I also see a number of (sometimes brand new) Helium devices on eBay (the RAK and the SenseCAP M1) for decently low prices.

However, until I did a google image search to determine what was inside those things, I was unaware that they contained a RPi 4 and a mico-pcie hat, basically.

I have yet to find a good article that answers the following things…

  • Is it the OS installed on those “hotspots” that makes them “Helium” devices, or is the LoRa tranceiver card somehow locked to that OS, restricting it to the Helium ecosystem?
  • It must be possible to simply install Raspbian (or DietPi) and install whatever is required for a TTN Gateway, right?

I’ve found only a handful of forum posts on TTN that seem to address repurposing. One devolved into a discussion of a gateway participating in BOTH TTN/Helium. To be clear, I don’t want that

Rather, I want to repurpose a pre-owned Helium hotspot, ditch all of its Helium-ness, and use it as a TTN Gateway.

I found one post with a comment that says the SenseCAP M1 can be repurposed. I’m surprised, though, that this isn’t a more common topic. (Or maybe I’ve not searched with sufficient keywords. Or maybe it’s just so obvious a use case that no one writes about it?)

Is there a reason to avoid repurposing a Helium device for TTN use? Is there a reason there aren’t more posts where people have done it?

Thank you in advance and I look forward to participating on a hardware level soon.

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No. Yes. There aren’t a lot of people investing the time and effort.

Some reasons:

  • LoRaWAN gateways are cheap these days (there are choices < 200 euro, it used to be that a gateway cost nearer 1000.)
  • sellers make a mint on selling the RPi by itself.
  • due to lack of documentation of the closed source gateways it’s not clear which can be reused and which can’t. So why risk spending 175 euro on a used device when I can buy a brand new gateway with warranty for about 180?

As Jac mentions the scarce supply of decent Pi’s over last year or two mean people abandoning their Pi based miners tend to split and sell the Pi stand alone for a decent bag of money and they are then left with the concentrator card/pi HAT as appropriate of which there are many now available at low cost c/w original card costs. In the eary days H-Miners were just the same builds of hardware with a Helium specific s/w build (supporting crypto, witnessing activities, etc.) but as you may be aware the pyramid risked serious damage and even collapse through the gamification and spoofing of e.g. location, in order to implement fake miners that were falsely declaring none-existant coverage. I know of instances where 50, 100 or more were simply sat on warehouse shelves spitting out HNT but providing no real world coverage. Some countries and frauduent actors took to this at an industrial scale. Helium took action and phased out the option of using early insecure builds and brought in a new variant where each had to include a ‘secure element’ device that allowed manufacturers to build authenticated and secured versions under licence (another money source for manufacturers and the network ‘owners’). However, people were still able to fake the GPS data and so many deployed GW’s were still showing on the network as fake sites. Many of the available former GWs are either early builds or they are later ones with secure element built in. For TTN purposes these elements can simply be ignored - the Pi image loaded to support TTN use will do just that and ignore them. If you have Pi’s in stock or can access them then buying the cards is a viable option, and if you can buy whole miners at low cost and fit replacement uSD card build then also an option, but as Jac points out they need to be cheap to be cost effective c/w new warranties low costs TTN capable GW’s. They can be usefull as a learning platform for putting your own GW’s together. Note, I have a small stock of such cards myself picked up on eBay cheaply that will go into builds as and when Pi’s come available through the coming months :slight_smile: Simply follow the guides you can find on the forum and on the internet for building a TTN/Pi gw…noting what ever version of chipset is used for the conc card. Most seem to be SX1302 based, but have seen some early SX1301 based units on offer…

Remember also that as the focus of the Miners was, well, mining!, there was a push to use ever more powerful Pi’s - burning power and not good for the environment and not adding anything to the actual LoRaWAN functionality/performance. If you get cards add your own lower power Pi’s or if full miners you can simply swap out these Pi4 2G, 4Gb or 8Gb beasts for simpler Pi’s running at low power - P3’s, Pi2B+ even RPi0W or 0W2’s are good enough for core TTN LoRaWAN functions and may be in your spares box :slight_smile: You can then repurpose the Pi4’s or simply do as others have and sell the Pi’s on for a profit or decent cost recovery :slight_smile:

Thank you for your reply. I thought I was missing something obvious, but it seems I do have my head around how to repurpose the Pi-based Helium hotspots

I figured there had to be something about the Helium hotspots to help thwart at least some of the witnessing/proof of coverage abuse I’ve read about. It’s good to know that the ‘secure element’ isn’t an impediment to reusing the Pi-based hotspots.

Like anything for sale anywhere, there are people trying to get stupid money for their used He hotspots. But sold auction prices on ebay, for instance, reveal a much better deal

I did repurpose a Sensecap M1 - was really an easy topic to do so, if you follow the description on Github and have some knowledge about Linux /Pi based hardware in common

Which description in which GitHub repository are you referring to?

The link, i posted in this thread - was matching 1:1 for me

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Excellent, thanks for clarifying, that takes the guess work out of the game.