Setting up your Helium miner for the first time

In this introductory post I’m documenting my experiences setting up a hotspot for the first time. I hope this helps you if you’re doing the same.

The long wait time for a Helium hotspot has given many people an opportunity to plan where they are going to place it once it arrives. You may want to experiment with a few different locations. The ideal point is the top floor of your house, or near your balcony if you live in an apartment building. Most Helium hotspots ship with a low gain omni antenna so it might also be worthwhile to consider .

Once you receive your Helium miner, what’s next?

Before powering it up, ensure that the antenna is connected to the antenna port. For those who are new to the world of radio frequency products, the antenna port is called an RP-SMA Female port. It’s like the one on your Wi-Fi hotspot. The connector on the antenna is RP-SMA Male. You will want to make sure that the antenna is positioned as in the picture below.

Correct antenna positioning

The antenna should not be at an angle as in the picture below.

Incorrect antenna positioning

After you have powered up the hotspot, you will be able to connect to it via the Helium app on your phone. Make sure you have Bluetooth enabled on your phone. The first thing to turn on is the yellow LED. Then the green LED above it will start blinking. Only after it starts blinking can you connect to it, not before. There are differences between hotspots. For instance a Rak hotspot will give you a longer window of time to connect relative to a Nebra hotspot.

You will be asked to connect to a network and set a location. You may want to use an Ethernet network as opposed to your Wi-Fi network as the wired Ethernet connection is way more reliable and it will sync to the block chain a lot faster. Once synced you can later switch over to Wi-Fi connectivity. We have discussed network connectivity in a post .

Okay so now let’s get into some of the details of my experiences setting up a hotspot. The first miner I purchased was from and setting that up was very easy. I suspect that was due to the fact that Rak was the manufacturer of the original Helium hotspots and they had the opportunity to sort out many issues and bugs before shipping in volume. The Rak miner is also built very well. Although I have to question the use of aluminum enclosure with an internal Wi-Fi antenna – definitely not the best for wireless network connectivity.

Okay so now for my experience with the . I ordered a few of these and they were delivered six months later.

is not as well built as the Rak. However I really love their open source design. While the plastic enclosure might appear cheap, it is way more practical for Wi-Fi connectivity. The parent company has many years of experience building electronics kits but I suspect they were not well equipped to deal with the high demand and customer expectations for their Helium products. They are doing a good job catching up to meet demand and I think they will do well moving forward and in the future.

As I was setting up my for the first time I encountered this error message Hotspot not found on onboarding server or No onboarding key found. Even though I powered the device down and up a few times, I still got the same message and was not able to move forward with setting up my miner. 

So I contacted the team at Nebra and got them to look into it. Their support system is quite overwhelmed these days and they recommend not emailing them multiple times with the same problem. This will only slow down their support response. 

Once I got in touch with the team they went through various checks. The first one was quite simple – to ensure that the LEDs light up as expected. Both external and internal to the unit. Mine did.

The next one was to re-seat the (shown below) into its slot. The processor card can be dislodged during transport and I suspect it is something they will have to fix for the long term and in a future revision of the hardware. Relatively straightforward as well. lid comes off quite easily – no tools needed. 

Finally it was agreed that the issue was due to the fact that the hotspot had failed to register on the Helium server during the setup process. The Nebra team had to do this manually. I suspect that the reason for this issue was that the Helium server was likely down at the time I was setting up the device and hence the hiccup.

Even after the Helium team said the issue was fixed, I had to work through the setup process a couple of times before it was ready to start syncing. Each time I had to power down and restart the miner.

Once registered, the sync proceeded to completion quite fast. In fact it was done in 48 hours. I’ve heard it can take longer – sometimes a week or more. is now up and running. The rewards aren’t as great as they were six months ago but on the other hand they are better than they will be six months into the future!

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