So you want to run a cellular backhaul for your helium mining setup? Welcome to the first step in achieving the ultimate in locational flexibility. Identifying a data plan in conjunction with the right 4G/LTE hardware is an important step. Here’s a short survey of the data plan landscape with a Helium miner use case in mind.
Some of the nuance of data plan selection comes from the nature of the Helium use case. Helium is “IoT-ish” – it facilitates the IoT landscape, but the miner itself is hardly IoT. A non-cloud miner, in other words every hardware generation besides the short-lived DIY program, will consume 10’s of gb per month, or 100-200mb per day. Yes, that means the RAK v2 miners too — in fact, the RAK v2 cannot be made into a cloud mining compatible machine. Officially sanctioned cloud mining native hardware is still a far away dream for the Helium community as of early 2021.
Back to picking a data plan. Mining cares less about bandwidth – the mining task needs 100-200mb per day, and can subsist at a trickle rate. Its enough data to be a meaningful consideration, but there is no human in the loop to get frustrated at buffering youtube videos, so we can trade off bandwidth with cost.
Dont end up like this, pick your data plan wisely
The “helium as a member of my family” plan
Pros: Simplicity. Might even be cheap for 1-2 added lines. Its fast and easy to manage within preexisting frameworks provided by your carrier.
Cons: If you want more than a handful of miners running, this method just doesn’t scale. Plus you’re paying for capabilities like voice/SMS which you just don’t need. You might blow through your data allowances by consuming 10’s of GB per month, then your mom or wife will be ticked off they can’t listen to spotify because you’re mining cryptocurrency with a cellphone.
Verdict: Great if you don’t want to complicate your life.
The Twilio / Sixfab pay-as-you-go interface
Twilio / Sixfab pay-as-you-go (link)
Pros: Up and running quick. Works on large variety of bands, including LTE-M & NB-IoT which are “IoT” type bands, supporting low power and low bandwidth hardware (for example, Quectel’s BG96 module). Data dashboards to visualize usage, uptime, availability.
Cons: Holy mother of expensive data. $0.10 per mb? How does the tune of $500 / month in data consumption sound? Use for prototyping, but avoid. I wouldn’t even use with cloud mining because one poorly planned device firmware update could have you wake up to $500 bills.
Verdict: Great if you like losing money.
Above: Embedded Works support team in action
IoTDataWorks / Embedded Works Unlimited plans (link)
Pros: The price is right for 64kbps versions at $40/year. Compatible with readily available 4G radios: Quectel’s EC25 (Cat-4) and Telit’s LE910C1 (Cat-1). No frills: just data, no voice/SMS. When I ask them questions via email I’m connected with people who know what they are talking about. Refreshing. Two thumbs up from me.
Cons: Will NOT work on Cat-M1/NB-IoT radios. Their backend is just plain janky – you literally “shoot them an email” to get the SIM “cranked on”. No way to monitor usage, uptime, total data — again, “shoot them an email” and they can tell you. They need to up their game here.
Special note about buying from Embedded Works actual website – they have a special listing for static IP address assignments for the cool price of $20/year. This could potentially make some tasks easier.
Verdict: Looks like a winner, but no frills. NOTE: IoTDataWorks is the same as Embedded Works.
AT&T LTE-M One Rate Plan (link)
Pros: The price looks right at $32/year with unlimited access to the LTE-M bands, which are capped at 300-400kbps (fine for our needs). I see Quectel’s LTE-M radios BG96, BG95 listed in AT&T’s gigantic list of approved modules.
Cons: The fine print on this plan spooks me: “May not be used to establish a continuous, unattended connection to the AT&T network.” Uh..that’s literally what I need. I fully expect the ban-hammer to be indiscriminately applied, with kafkaesque attempts at seeking tech support.
As luck would have it I have a Quecetel BG96 Pi HAT around which uses the LTE-M spectrum. While AT&T’s interface is nice, my experience with the LTE-M spectrum its self was pretty lackluster. I could never maintain a solid connection.
Verdict: The problem isn’t with AT&T’s web interface, but my experience on LTE-M was pretty crappy. I’ll stick to your garden variety LTE/4G
Pros: Flashy website, easy to get rolling. Love the color scheme.
Cons: I don’t see any cheap trickle data plans. I’ve heard anecdotes of waking up to $500 charges due to poor data cap configurations.
Verdict: There’s better stuff out there for the Helium use case.