Combining Helium and census statistics: Is Helium coverage any good?


Helium has 240k+ hotspots globally, growing at a rate of 50-70k monthly. It’s already the largest contiguous wireless network in the world, with several roaming deals under its belt and more in the pipeline.

The question remains: how much coverage does Helium really provide?

Spoiler alert: if your town has a Starbucks, theres a good chance you already have coverage.

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For the United States, I can answer this in a quick and dirty way using geolocation, zip codes and census data. This can be done easily with uszipcode and geopy python packages. First, I resolved the zip code of all online US hotspots based on their latitude / longitude (about 89k as of writing), then queried basic zip code statistics like area and population. It’s obviously not a perfect approach, but zip-basis gives a more meaningful picture on coverage than the city-basis already out there. Unpopulated or “weird” zip codes are excluded (such as military bases, large uninhabited land, territories, special government designations).

I should mention there are DeWi grants which will do similar things in a more robust way by using actual PoC receipts and more sophisticated mapping. I’m excited to see what they come up with.


Each zip code will be classified into the following buckets based on population divided by area. Using DoD definitions:

  • Urban zip codes have > 3000 people per square mile (97 million people live in this criteria)
  • Suburban zip codes have 1000-3000 people per square mile (71 million people)
  • Rural zip codes have < 1000 people per square mile (143 million people)

Its worth reiterating that I’m only counting online hotspots. The online hotspot rate fluctuates between 75-85% based on a variety of factors.

Zip code coverage

Above is a graph of total US zip codes containing at least 1 hotspot. Frankly, it’s an astonishing graph — Helium is spreading across the United states like a living organism. Below shows each demographic broken out over time. Last year, Helium had a presence in 40% of urban zip codes, today it’s 90%+. According to the rules of HIP17, when hotspot density grows too high the earnings go down. We are seeing this play out in real time as suburban zip codes are now the fastest growing demographic, with rural areas showing notable growth after the middle of 2021. By 2022 the rural zip codes will be the only remaining areas for large profit potential.

Class Total US zip codes Zips with hotspots %
Urban 3493 3149 90%
Suburban 3436 2500 73%
Rural 25958 4091 15%

(Note: Table dated October 2021, will be out of date very soon)

Node density

It’s also helpful to look at coverage according to density, defined as the number of hotspots divided by area of zip code. This is a good raw measure of people living in covered areas.

Hotspot density Number of zip codes Population of zip codes
> 0 hotspot/sq. mile 9740 229 million
> .5 hotspot/sq. mile (1:hex7) 4368 118 million
> 1 hotspot/sq. mile (2:hex7) 3178 87 million
> 2 hotspot/sq. mile (4:hex7) 2074 57 million
> 4 hotspot/sq. mile (1:hex8) 1158 33 million

(Note: Table dated October 2021, will be out of date very soon)

For the Helium crowd obsessed with hex placement, according to the area mapping table, a single hex7 is about 2 square miles, and a single hex8 is about .25 square miles. There are 118 million people live in areas with one hotspot per hex7, which is decent coverage with some redundancy. One hotspot per hex8 is terrific coverage and 8x more dense than 1:hex7, with about 10% of the United States living in these conditions. In reality, “true coverage” is better than these figures since a single well placed antenna can cover dozens of square miles.

The Helium Explorer shows hex8 cell size. One hotspot per hex8 would make the explorer cell map completely green, just like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago or NYC.

Arguably, Helium is about 30% of the way to the end goal of 1 hotspot per square mile in the United States. By the time you read this, the data will already be out of date as the network marches towards 10x growth by 2022! Simply amazing.

Revised October 20th 2021 to fix some calculation and formatting errors.