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Alternatives to Nova Labs / Helium Network

George Hardesty
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Nova Labs/Helium Network Alternatives

The demand for wireless networking technologies that are capable of supporting the exponentially rising number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices (estimated to be 18 billion in 2022 ) has led to the development of several viable solutions in various stages of deployment; some commercial, and others open source; some well established, others start-up.

Nova Labs (formerly known as Helium Network)  is one of the leading wireless networks that has been specifically deployed for the support of low-power IoT devices . But it is important to remember that the IoT market is heterogeneous, with IoT devices, infrastructure, chipsets and modules driving the development and rapid deployment of a variety of networks.

This article will answer the question “What are the alternatives to Nova/Helium Network?” profiling 5 key competitor networksand wireless technologies that are making similar inroads into the Internet of Things market. We will also include the network specifications and frequency bands for these wireless technologies and provide examples of suitable external antennas and wireless equipment.

Helium Alternatives

What are the alternatives to the Nova Labs/Helium Network?

Both the Nova Labs and the leading alternatives have taken novel approaches to the provision of wireless networking for the Internet of Things. Widespread adoption of infrastructural and transformative IoT projects and solutions is currently significantly limited by the availability of bandwidth for secure high-speed data transfer. The demand for robust and secure networking solutions that can consistently support IoT connections is more than can be met by the current conventional and largely centralized methods of networking and computing.

Newer wireless networking technologies are using an Ad Hoc or HetNet approach to supporting IoT connections. The key types network being utilized by IoT include:

  1. Wireless Sensor Networks: These networks are composed of individual autonomous devices (nodes) that carry sensors. The sensors will transmit data on their environmental conditions asynchronously to a central hub to facilitate remote monitoring.
  2. Mobile Wireless Sensor Networks: These are sensor networks where the nodes are mobile.
  3. Mobile Ad Hoc Networks (MANETs): the nodes in this type of network are wirelessly linked mobile routers that can receive and forward data while moving around.
  4. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Networks: Peer-to-peer networks consist of a variety of privately operated gateways which can be used for the transfer of IoT data.

About the Nova Labs/Helium Network

Nova Labs, formerly known as Helium Network or The People's Network is rapidly differentiating itself as one of the world's largest distributed wireless networks, operating on a peer-to-peer basis to provide wireless connectivity for a wide range of Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Peer to Peer

Nova's decentralized approach to low-power, long-range wide-area networking is widely recognized as being a novel, disruptive approach that has the potential to change how wireless networking services are delivered long-term. With more than 40K hotspots spanning 1000 cities in the US, as well as the UK, Europe, and Asia, its expansion since 2013 has been remarkable. Nova is now a recognizable wireless network provider supporting a growing number of IoT and sensor-based commercial products. It is a consumer-facing brand that is becoming well known for providing IoT services and is stimulating consumer adoption of LoRa Gateways.

Nova/Helium is one of the first peer-to-peer wireless networks in the world. It uses LoRaWAN (itself a proprietary networking technology) to provide a mesh network composed of privately owned and operated gateways that can transfer the data of participating IoT devices.

Helium is also distinctive because the owners of the gateways are remunerated for providing their service using a cryptocurrency, The Helium Token, which is underpinned by Helium Blockchain and a robust system of verification for participating gateways.

Like LoRa, Nova(Helium) is low-energy and supports data transmission over large distances, hopping from Nova(Helium) gateway to Nova(Helium) gateway. The objective of Nova is to achieve global coverage for IoT, outstripping the major competitor technologies. It has proven performance for a range of use cases and has over the last 8 years achieved a significant geographic footprint. This has made Nova a network of choice for IoT devices and applications that need reliable low-energy, low-data transmission for a competitive price.

Nova(Helium Network) Frequency Bands

  • North America: 902 - 928 MHz
Uplink frequencies (MHz) Downlink frequencies (MHz)
903.9 923.3
904.1 923.9
904.3 924.5
904.5 925.1
904.7 925.7
904.9 926.3
905.1 926.9
905.3 927.5
905.16 923.3
  • Europe: 863 -870 MHz / 433 MHz
Uplink frequencies (MHz) Downlink frequencies (MHz)
868.1 869.525
868.3 869.525
868.5 869.525
867.1 869.525
867.3 869.525
867.5 869.525
867.7 869.525
867.9 869.525
868.8 869.525
  • Bandwidth: 1.4 - 5 MHz
  • Max uplink speed: 1 - 7 Mbit/s
  • Max downlink speed: 1 - 4 Mbit/s
  • Latency: 10 to 15 milliseconds
  • Number of antennas required: 1

Suitable external antennas for Nova(Helium Network) networking

A closer look at the top Nova(Helium) competitors and alternatives

Nova(Helium Network) has several competitors which can support the connectivity of IoT devices. These networks use a variety of wireless networking technologies. They all have demonstrable performance and have proven to be commercially viable. Here are 5 of the leading current Nova(Helium) Hotspot alternatives:

Number one: LTE-M and NB-IoT

LTE-MCellular networking can offer robust internet connectivity, high-speed data transfer, and an existing distributed infrastructure of cell towers. In light of this, the T hird Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has devised two standards-based Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies that are delivered via the cellular network. The two key cellular networking provisions for IoT networking are:

Description: LTE-M , also known as LTE-MTC (with MTC standing for Machine Type Communication) cellular Low Power Wide Area Networking standard that is used by IoT devices. LTE-M standards were released by the 3GPP in 2016 (Release 13) and 2017 (Release14). It has significantly higher data rates and functionality than NB-IoT as it can support the transfer of voice data and mobile networking, but requires significantly more bandwidth and is more expensive. It can support low-energy, battery-operated devices.

LTE-M frequency bands

Uplink (MHz) Downlink (MHz)  
Band 2 1850-1910 1930-1990
Band 3 1710-1785 1805-1880
Band 4 1710-1755 2110-2155
Band 5 824-849 869-894
Band 8 880-915 925-960
Band 12 699-716 729-746
Band 13 777-787 746-756
Band 20 832-862 791-821
Band 28 703 to 748 758 to 803
  • Bandwidth: 1.4 - 5 MHz
  • Max uplink speed: 1 - 7 Mbit/s
  • Max downlink speed: 1 - 4 Mbit/s
  • Latency: 10 to 15 milliseconds
  • Number of antennas required: 1

Suitable external antennas for LTE-M networking

Description: Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) is a cellular technology standard that supports Low Power Wide Area Network connectivity for IoT devices. NB-IoT networking is specified in two 3GPP releases, Release 13 (2016) and Release 14 (2017). It is designed to provide low-cost, low-energy connectivity to a high density of IoT devices that send data frequency. It achieves this via a narrow 200 kHz band, restricting the bandwidth used. As NB-IoT operates on the licensed spectrum it has no duty-cycle limitations.

NB-IoT frequency bands

  • North America: 1700 MHz (B4), 700 MHz (B12), 1700 MHz (B66), 600 MHz (B71), 850 MHz (B26)
  • Europe: 1800 MHz (B3), 900 MHz (B8) and 800 MHZ (B20);
  • Bandwidth: 180 - 200 kHz
  • Max uplink speed: 159 kbit/s
  • Max downlink speed: 127 kbit/s
  • Latency: 1 to 10 seconds
  • Number of antennas required: 1

Suitable external antennas for NB-IoT networking

NB-IOT Frequency BandAdoption of NB-IOT and LTE-M networks has continued to rise with large increases in cellular network operators that offer NB-IoT and LTE-M networks with 136 operators in 64 countries in mid-2021. The numbers of Cat-NB1, Cat-NB2, and Cat-M1 compliant devices have also risen proportionately. However, cellular IoT networking technologies primarily operate in the expensive licensed spectrum, especially if a large number of IoT connections need to be supported.

Number 2: Wireless M-Bus

Wireless Meter-Bus (WMBUS) is a long-range wireless networking technology that was originally used for the remote reading of utility meters (where it was known as Meter-Bus) but has been adapted for supporting the wireless sensor networks used in IoT. It is low-energy and low-cost, especially as it operates using the license-free ISM bands. Despite its simplicity, it can support AES-128 encryption and authentication to secure transmissions.

Description: Wireless M-Bus networks are star networks that are expanded using repeaters. They provide both uni- and bi-direction communication according to specific network requirements and can operate at one of three frequency bands detailed below. The range of Wireless M-Bus links varies with frequency; at 169 MHz the practical range is around 1.2 miles (2000 meters) and at 868 MHz the range reduces to 0.3 miles (500 meters). It also functions in a variety of modes with data rates varying depending on mode. There are 4 modes in current mainstream use:

  1. Stationary (S)
  2. Frequent Transmit (T)
  3. Compact (C)
  4. Narrowband (N)

Wireless M-Bus networks promote long battery life with a battery life of up to 20 years in some deployed applications.

Wireless M-bus frequency bands

Mode Frequency (MHz)
Stationary (S1) 868.3 / 433
Stationary (S1-m) 868.3 / 433
Stationary (S2) 868.3 / 433
Frequent transmit (T1) 868.95 / 433
Frequent transmit (T2) 868.3 / 868.95 / 433
Compact (C1) 868.95 / 433
Compact (C2) 869.525 / 868.95 / 433
Narrowband (N1a-f) 169
Narrowband (N2a-f) 169
Narrowband (N1g) 169
Narrowband (N2g) 169
  • Bandwidth: 125 kHz, 250 kHz, or 500 kHz through the merging of channels.
  • Data rate: 300 bit/s to 37.5 kbit/s
  • Number of antennas required: 1

Suitable external antennas for Wireless M-Bus networking

Number three: The Things Network (a global LoRaWAN network)

What is The Things Network?

The Things Network is an alternative peer-to-peer IoT data network that is owned and operated by its participant users. It uses LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) technology and aims to be an open, crowdsourced solution for IoT connectivity

This Netherlands-based enterprise achieved LoRaWAN coverage of the city of Amsterdam by 2015 and has since been deployed in over 70 countries using participant-owned gateways and crowdsourcing.

Internet of ThingsDescription: The Things Network provides the resources and expertise to build secure LoRaWAN networks with the maximum uptime that is critical for IoT connectivity. In many urban areas, The Things Network is already active with gateway coverage for IoT devices to connect and upload their data.

Their proprietary network server, The Things Stack implements the LoRa protocol and is used to manage local or private network deployments, overseeing the IoT devices that are connected and managing integrations. Alternatively, developers can run their own network servers using an open-source stack provided by The Things Network. IoT devices can then be connected to the network. Larger, commercial, LoRa network deployments implemented The Things Network are supported with the necessary Service Level Agreements.

As a LoRa-based network, The Things Network uses Chirp spread-spectrum modulation for its data transfer. The data rates achieved by The Things Network are variable with adjustments in the transmission power, spreading factor, and bandwidth capable of lifting speeds to the kbit range. In North America and Europe, the Things Network operates across 9 channels at 902-928 MHz (US) and 863-870 MHz or 433 MHz (Europe). Frequency plans for The Things Network are shared below.

The Things Network frequency bands

  • North America: 902 - 928 MHz
Uplink frequencies (MHz) Downlink frequencies (MHz)
903.9 923.3
904.1 923.9
904.3 924.5
904.5 925.1
904.7 925.7
904.9 926.3
905.1 926.9
905.3 927.5
905.16 923.3
  • Europe: 863 -870 MHz / 433 MHz
Uplink frequencies (MHz) Downlink frequencies (MHz)
868.1 869.525
868.3 869.525
868.5 869.525
867.1 869.525
867.3 869.525
867.5 869.525
867.7 869.525
867.9 869.525
868.8 869.525

There is currently no frequency plan for The Things Network at 433 MHz.

  • Bandwidth: 125 kHz, 250 kHz or 500 kHz through the merging of channels.
  • Data rate: 300 bit/s to 37.5 kbit/s
  • Number of antennas required: 1

Suitable external antennas for The Things Network

Number four: WiFi

The shorter range of WiFi coverage has traditionally limited its use in IoT networking at scale. However, its role is evolving as it provides a stable, proven, and efficient connectivity to the internet that can be exploited in heterogeneous IoT networks. As Wifi has diversified, it has provided more opportunities to be integrated into IoT networks as a targeted gateway, supporting longer-range networking technologies like LPWANs with low-latency broadband internet access.

Description: Wi-Fi Is a proprietary name for Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) set up and deployed in accordance with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard 802.11 . It is just over 20 years old and was originally devised as a successor to wired Ethernet networking. WiFi uses the non-licensed Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) frequency bands for data transfer. It has had multiple releases with 6 distinct versions of this widely adopted wireless networking technology. Compatible equipment is certified and branded with the WiFi logo and the version of WiFi used. Not all of the 6 successive versions of WiFi are backward compatible with the most recent versions using newer technologies like MIMO.

WiFi Frequency

The versions of WiFi that may be of most use in IoT networking are the more recent versions that are focused on speed and performance:

  • WiFi 4 also known as Wi-Fi-802.11n is a 2009 release that is noted for its use of antenna diversity or MIMO which requires multiple antennas for a boosted performance. It operates at both 2.4 and 5 GHz which provides both speed and coverage. Using MIMO lifts the potential data rate to over 74 Mbit/sec.
  • WiFi 5 also known as Wi-Fi-802.11ac is a 2013 release and is ideal for high throughput IoT networking for multiple devices. It also uses antenna diversity to provide high-speed networking with speeds of up to 1 Gbit/sec possible.
  • WiFi 6 (Wi-Fi-802.11ax) is the most recent WiFi release (2020). It has far greater bandwidth than previous versions of WiFi and appears to have been designed with IoT networking in mind as it uses additional unlicensed frequency bands up to 6 GHz (WiFi 6E). It can provide extremely fast data transfer with low latency, up to 6 Gbit/sec. It also has more capacity than previous iterations of WiFi, again a solution that can be used by multiple IoT applications that require fast data transfer to Cloud-based services.

WiFi frequency bands

There are 3 key frequency bands used by WiFi:

  • 2.4 GHz this frequency band has fourteen channels that are 20 MHz wide. In the US 11 channels are available (channel 1 to channel 11). Most channels overlap and have the potential for interference.
  • 5 GHz (5.150 GHz to 5.850 GHz) this frequency has greater bandwidth but less penetration and range. There are 25 non-overlapping channels, which can be combined.
  • 6 GHz (5.925 GHz to 7.125 GHz) at 6 GHz 14 non-overlapping channels are 160 MHz wide.

For more information on the versions of WiFi and the specific channels click here.

  • Bandwidth: 20 to 160 MHz depending on the frequency band used
  • Data rate: up to 6 Gbit/sec
  • Latency: negligible
  • Number of antennas required: up to eight

Suitable external antennas for WiFi IoT networking

Number 5: AWS IoT

AWS IoT is a commercially released IoT network provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS)

To provide accessible and scalable IoT services for both consumers and industry. The coverage capacity of this Amazon IoT network is expansive with Amazon providing broad and deep service provision for the connection of IoT devices, from edge computing to centralized Cloud management which can be provided as Amazon is also a Cloud vendor.

Description: AWS IoT can provide Cloud-based data processing and storage which assist in the management of what may be noisy IoT data feeds. It is highly scalable, running to a capacity for billions of IoT device connections and trillions of messages. The partnership of this network with Amazon Web Services means that complete IoT solutions can be customized with a variety of integrations that use the significant computing power of AWS. This also provides enhanced speed, with devices running twice as fast as competitor offerings. The AWS IoT network has multi-layered security that includes end-to-end encryption and robust access control.

AWS IoT has a LoRaWAN core and is operated via a distributed network of connected LoRa gateways, managed by the AWS IoT core. AWS IoT networks that use the LoRaWAN core are deployed with a “star of stars” network topology, This network topology consists of multiple gateways that relay the data between the IoT device and a LoRaWAN Network Server.

AWS IoT frequency bands

The AWS IoT core for LoRaWAN networking uses the following frequency bands:

  • North America: 902 - 928 MHz
  • Europe: 863 - 870 MHz

As AWS IoT relies on a range of LoRa network deployments, the specific channel allocations may vary.

  • AWS IoT Bandwidth: 125 kHz, 250 kHz, or 500 kHz depending on channel plan.
  • AWS IoT Data rate: up to 37.5 kbit/s
  • AWS IoT Number of antennas required: 1

Suitable external antennas for AWS IoT networking:

High-quality external antennas for Nova(Helium) Networking and the top alternatives safeguard fast efficient data transfer for IoT solutions.

Irrespective of the type of wireless network used, the efficacy and performance of IoT networking are reliant on robust and reliable wireless connectivity.

The choice of antenna is a critical factor for the maintenance of the wireless connectivity needed to run an IoT network. External antennas for IoT can achieve higher gain along with characteristics and positioning that are better matched to IoT applications. This means that the wireless connectivity in IoT can be better targeted and more efficient. If you have a specific IoT project in mind and would like advice and recommendations for antennas, we are happy to offer our insights and expertise. Simply reach out by phone or email to learn more.

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