HIP-70: Evaluating Layer 1 Blockchains for the Helium Network

Helium Foundation
Helium Foundation


HIP 70 proposes to move Proof-of-Coverage and Data Transfer activity to Helium Oracles, which will be verifiable and open-source. This change allows the Helium Core Developers to focus development efforts on building the LoRaWAN and 5G networks that back the HNT ecosystem.

When the Helium network was launched, building a blockchain was key to the development of the world’s largest wireless network. Over the last 3 years, several alternative chains have reached a level of scale where our network can now consider a migration to improve the experience of Helium’s users without changing the network’s fundamentals.

Since the initial public announcement of this desired change in January 2022, many chains have been evaluated. Each project under consideration was evaluated using the selection criteria defined below. Certain criteria were weighted with greater importance than others. For instance, ‘Compatible Wallet Cryptography’ is key in the ability to migrate the hundreds of thousands of Helium wallets already in existence. Other similar criteria are described below and prioritized by importance.

Section Header: Top Priority Criteria

Compatible Wallet Cryptography

The vast majority of Helium wallets leverage the Ed25519 curve, which is the encryption mechanism that generates the public/private key for a wallet. As of a recent snapshot, almost 97% of wallets and over 99.98% of held HNT uses an Ed25519 wallet. Other chains using this same encryption mechanism are at an advantage for consideration as they create a clear and smooth migration path for existing Helium wallets to transact their HNT, MOBILE, IOT, and DC tokens on the new L1. For these chains, Helium wallet users can use their same private key to easily access their Helium tokens post-migration.

Credible Scalability Plan

The selected chain should have a proven track record of scalability. Furthermore, the selected chain should be able to demonstrate an extended roadmap for continued scalability. We evaluated both of these aspects and took into consideration the actual scale of transaction processing that occurs on each chain today.

DeFi Ecosystem

One of the largest opportunities in selecting a new L1 is the opportunity to transact within its broader ecosystem of apps. In selecting the chain, there should be a diverse range of options with a sufficient user base.

Transaction Costs

Since Helium Oracles will submit transactions to the L1 chain on a regular basis, it is necessary to leverage cost-effective transactions. High transaction costs, especially if unpredictable, would delay the submission of rewards to Hotspot operators.

Furthermore, the Helium Community is accustomed to an approximately $0.35 USD transaction cost whether to transfer or burn (vote) tokens. Raising transaction costs would limit the utility and usability of the Helium Network.

High Transaction Throughput

Related to transaction cost, the selected chain should also demonstrate high transaction throughput. A chain with low throughput may offer low fees initially but could become prohibitively expensive as the chain scales.

Furthermore, the chain should be able to handle transactions in a fast, predictable manner. Proof-of-Coverage and Data Transfer rewards will be issued to Hotspot owners through on-chain transactions, and these participants should be able to expect the delivery of their rewards in a timely manner.

Access to Leaders or Senior Developers

Core developers of the considered L1 should be readily at hand to help support Helium — both during and after a migration. Furthermore, knowing that the senior team is long-term aligned with the network gives peace of mind that they will be partners for the long life of the Helium Network.

Section Header: Mid Priority Criteria

Credibly Decentralized

The selected chain should be secure from attacks that might occur when a number of nodes are compromised with the intent of affecting the blockchain or obstructing it from functioning correctly.

Stability / Predictability of the L1

The developer experience on the L1 should be established and predictable for the long term. On downtime, the Helium Oracle architecture will be inherently tolerant of temporary L1 outages or disconnects without affecting data transfer or the earnings of Hotspot owners. However, maintaining a stable and predictable experience for the on-chain ecosystem ensures that the entire token experience remains seamless for the Helium community.

Developer Tooling

The integration of the Helium Network with the newly selected L1 will be handled by Helium Core Developers. Ensuring the Helium Community is able to participate in the continued development of the Helium ecosystem, however, presents greater opportunities for the Helium Tokens in ways beyond data transfer. For example, we expect to see Hotspot token-splitting smart contracts developed in short order. New ecosystems bring new opportunities and we’re excited to see how they evolve.

Common or Popular Programming Language

The Helium Validator and Miner software have been written in Erlang, which has been valuable in supporting the enterprise nature of the Helium project. However, Erlang carries a steep learning curve for developers looking to participate. A migration should offer a commonly accepted programming language, preferably Rust, which is already a secondary expertise of the Core Developers.

Strong Exchange Support for Protocol Tokens

Beyond DeFi, the Helium Community should have the freedom to trade their HNT, IOT, and MOBILE tokens wherever they like. Certain chains offer simpler paths for exchanges to adopt protocol tokens.

Several Wallet Teams

As a standalone blockchain, the Helium Core Team was previously responsible for all development and maintenance of wallets for the Helium Blockchain. It was always the desire of the Helium Core developers to see additional wallet options support the Helium project, and the selection of the L1 should continue to support the right for the Helium community to make their own choice on which wallet they trust for their HNT or Hotspots.

Helium is a global network, and wallets with different geographic distribution and language support make it easier for the Helium community to unite in building the world’s largest wireless networks.

More Than One Validator Client

Helium’s native chain ran on one Validator codebase. While impressive in its own right (sustaining tens of thousands of peer-to-peer connections on Raspberry Pis), it was also fragile to changes. Multiple Validator codebases in an ecosystem would mean that the overall network is hardened against failure.

Section Header: Low Priority Criteria

Cost to Run a Mainnet Node

One of our considerations while looking at various chains was the cost to operate a single node. Some chains are famously cheap to run a single chain follower that is able to validate transactions and somewhat cheap to run a full “voting” node. Although the core developers are no longer interested in helping operate an L1 blockchain and continue to write block-producing software, running other infrastructure or having a diverse vendor ecosystem of mainnet node infrastructure providers is essential for operating Oracles.

Other Proof of Physical Work Projects

Helium has the opportunity to support other Proof of Physical Work projects, either through connectivity or Proof-of-Coverage mechanisms offered by the LoRaWAN network or MOBILE networks. Sharing an ecosystem with these other communities allows greater opportunities for shared learning and collaboration.

Section Header: Bonus Considerations

Mobile Wallet Platform and Phone Project

The Solana Mobile Stack and Saga phone project are highly aligned with the Mobile and IOT goals of the Helium network. Although not required, we find this somewhat interesting when it comes to chain selection.

The team recognizes that each of these considerations will surely start a Twitter fight. The evaluation was taken at a snapshot in time. Future updates to these chains may change the evaluation.