Basic Terms and Definitions List - Blockchain, Helium, and Hardware

This article contains a running list of common terms and their definitions to assist users both new and seasoned. 

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Blockchain Terms

  • Blockchain - A distributed ledger shared amongst nodes of a computer network. Transactions are grouped together into blocks and finalized, with each block containing information from previous blocks (typically a hash of the last block). Blocks are chained together in sequential order. Blockchains are immutable due to how they are designed - changing any information in previous blocks will invalidate all future blocks built on top of them.

  • Hash - A one-way mathematical function that converts an input of arbitrary length into an encrypted output of a standard length. Hashing the same input always results in the same output, but any change in input will result in a completely different output. Hash outputs cannot be reverse-engineered to discover their inputs.

  • Immutable - Unable to be changed. Blockchains are immutable, meaning once blocks are finalized they cannot be edited after the fact due to the nature of blockchain design.

  • Layer 1 - In blockchain technology, Layer 1 describes the main underlying blockchain architecture. For example, Bitcoin is a Layer 1 blockchain, with Lightning Network built on top of it as a Layer 2 network.

  • Layer 2 - In blockchain technology, Layer 2 describes an overlaying network built on top of a main underlying (Layer 1) blockchain. For example, Lightning Network is a Layer 2 network built on top of Bitcoin (Layer 1).

  • Ledger - A public recordkeeping system that contains user’s pseudonymous (or anonymous) identities, respective balances, transaction history, and other items. Blockchain ledgers can be examined with block explorers and are used to track what wallets have what balances.

  • Miner - A participant in a blockchain ecosystem, typically performing some network function in the form of work in exchange for rewards. In Bitcoin, miners perform proof-of-work computations to validate transactions for rewards. In Helium, miners provide network coverage which is validated with proof-of-coverage for rewards.

  • Oracle - Entities that connect blockchains to external systems, thereby enabling blockchains to use inputs and outputs from the real world. For example, DeFi trading protocols use Price Oracles to determine the current market price of a currency. Helium utilizes Oracles to calculate Proof-of-Coverage activity.

  • Private Key - Half of the public/private key pair that allows for control over an account on the blockchain. Private keys should only be known by the rightful owner of an account as anyone with the private key has control over any assets belonging to the account. Used to sign transactions, for example when sending funds.

  • Public Key - Half of the public/private key pair that serves as the identity of an account on the blockchain. Public keys are public knowledge and can be looked up on the blockchain ledger to find account balances and transaction history. Also known as a Wallet Address.

  • Seed Phrase - A human-readable form of the Private Key which is easier to back up and restore. Typically a set of 12, 24, or 25 specific words in a specific order.

  • Wallet - Software used to manage public/private key pairs for a blockchain and allows for interaction with the blockchain. Displays balances and transaction history associated with your Public Key and uses your Private Key to sign (authorize) transactions, for example when sending funds.

Cryptocurrency Terms

  • Burning - The process of removing coins or tokens from the circulating supply, thereby reducing the total supply and (theoretically) increasing or stabilizing the price. Burning sometimes enables other mechanisms such as stablecoin price balance or creation of a token at the expense of another (for example, burning HNT to produce DC). Burning is typically accomplished by sending tokens to a “burn address” which can receive tokens but cannot send them, thereby effectively locking them away forever.

  • Coin - A digital asset that operates on its own blockchain. The native currency of a blockchain. For example, ETH is a coin (Ethereum network).

  • Market Cap - The Market Capitalization of a crypto project. Calculated by multiplying the current price of a coin or token by the circulating supply. A measure of the popularity or dominance of a project.

  • Staking - Locking some coin or token amount for a specific period of time in order to earn a percentage reward. Staked cryptocurrency is frequently subject to a vesting period where unlocking of the tokens occurs over a period of time. Staked tokens cannot be traded or sold while staked. Some blockchains use staking as a mechanism for producing new blocks. It also helps to prevent large selloffs of tokens in a short period of time which would dramatically affect token price.

  • Token - A digital asset operating on an existing blockchain. Separate from the native currency of a blockchain. For example, UNI (Uniswap) on the Ethereum network.

Hardware Terms

  • Antenna - In the context of Helium networks, an attachment to the Hotspot that transmits and receives LoRa RF signals. A LoRa hotspot needs a frequency specific LoRa antenna to provide LoRaWAN network coverage.
  • Concentrator - A piece of hardware, typically in the form of a PCI-e card which converts signals between the antenna and the Hotspot hardware.
  • CBRS - Citizens Broadband Radio Service, 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz range (3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz) that the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has designated for sharing among three tiers of users: incumbent users, priority access license (PAL) users and general authorized access (GAA) users. Helium 5G utilizes the GAA portion of the CBRS spectrum for its radios.
  • eNB - Short for eNodeB, the technical term for a Small Cell Radio unit.
  • Hotspot - A hardware device that provides physical network coverage and gets rewarded network tokens for its activity. There are currently LoRa/IOT and 5G Hotspots and in the future there could be more Hotspots of various protocols.
  • Radio - Refers to the CBRS Small Cell Radio unit.
  • Router - A device that transfers packets between two or more IP networks. Most often provided by your ISP to allow your devices to connect to the internet.
  • Small Cell - Refers to the CBRS Small Cell Radio unit. Most CBRS Small Cells have their antennas built in, however some like the Baicells 436 require external antennas.

Helium Specific Terms

  • Beacon - A specific broadcast sent out by a Hotspot on a 6 hour interval. Other Hotspots report if they witness the beacon which assists in validating the beaconing Hotspot's location for proof-of-coverage.
  • Data Transfer Oracle - After the migration of Helium to the Solana blockchain, Data Transfer Oracles are systems external to the blockchain that handle data transfer functions for packets sent over the Helium network. Periodically, the Data Transfer Oracles will provide information on their functions to the blockchain to be recorded.
  • DC - Data Credit, a token on the Helium network which is used to pay for data transfers, miner location and antenna detail changes, onboarding fees, transaction fees, and more. Data Credit has a fixed fiat value of $0.00001 USD in order to guard against wild swings in transaction costs. Data Credits are created by burning HNT. Data Credits cannot be burned to produce HNT.
  • Gateway - A device to which other devices connect in order to send and receive data. In the context of Helium, LoRa sensors connect to IOT Hotspots (gateways), and phones connect to Helium 5G Hotspots (gateways) via CBRS radios or WiFi.
  • LongFi - The proprietary name for Helium's implementation of LoRaWAN. LongFi is essentially LoRaWAN with blockchain integration.
  • Helium Wallet App - The black app. This is the app that manages Helium wallets, token transfers and voting for HIPs.
  • HNT - Helium Network Token, the main token of the Helium network. HNT is a token existing on Solana.
  • IOT - A subnetwork token on the Helium network which is used to reward LoRaWAN miners. IOT is a token existing on Solana.
  • MOBILE - A subnetwork token on the Helium network which is used to reward Helium 5G miners. MOBILE is a token existing on Solana.
  • Proof-of-Coverage - A mechanism by which the Helium network is able to validate coverage provided by miners as well as validating their asserted location matches reality. Each sub-network in Helium operates its own form of proof-of-coverage which is used in rewards calculations for miners.
  • Proof of Coverage Oracle - Proof of Coverage Oracles are systems external to the blockchain that handle proof-of-coverage functions for the Helium network. Periodically, the Proof of Coverage Oracles will provide information on their functions to the blockchain to be recorded.
  • Solana - A Layer 1 blockchain similar to Ethereum, Algorand, and others. Helium exists as a layer 2 on the Solana network.
  • Validator - Specific nodes run on high powered servers which are responsible for keeping track of the blockchain, performing consensus work (choosing valid blocks and adding them to the chain), and more. Solana employs Validators rather than proof-of-work miners as with Bitcoin.
  • Witness - A specific transmission sent by Hotspots to the Proof of Coverage Oracle when they witness a beacon from another Hotspot. Includes information such as signal strength which assists with validating the position of the beaconing Hotspot for proof-of-coverage functions.

Software Terms

  • API - Application Programming Interface. APIs let a product or service communicate with other products and services without having to know how they’re implemented. APIs are sometimes thought of as contracts, with documentation that represents an agreement between parties: If party 1 sends a remote request structured a particular way, this is how party 2’s software will respond.
  • DMZ - Demilitarized Zone. A separate zone in your router's firewall which it treats differently than your local network (LAN). Traffic from the internet is allowed full access to devices in the DMZ, while those devices are only allowed limited access to your local network. Allows exposure of specific devices to the internet without exposing your entire internal network.
  • Docker - A framework for building, running, and managing software containers. Individual programs run in containers which isolate them from one another. Containers are lightweight as their required supporting components are handled by Docker, rather than needing to be installed on the underlying operating system manually.
  • Firmware - In the context of Helium miners, an image containing the underlying operating system and all required software and configuration files for a device to run the Helium miner software.
  • helium_gateway - Helium's mining software that runs on a Helium IoT or 5G Hotspot to control data transfer and proof-of-coverage activities. New releases of the miner software are provided by Nova Labs core developers and updated across Hotspots by Hotspot makers.
  • IoT - Internet of Things. A term describing a wide variety of small, low powered, network connected devices. Smart devices like lightbulbs, TVs and refrigerators, moisture detecting sensor devices, GPS units on scooter fleets, and temperature sensors are all examples of IoT devices.
  • LoRaWAN - A low power, long range wide area network technology that allows devices with minimal data transfer needs to connect via extremely long distances and send their data using very small amounts of power. LoRaWAN works best for devices such as sensors which need to send small data packets (for example, a temperature reading) over long ranges and need to have excellent battery life.
  • NAT - Network Address Translation. A protocol used by routers to map an internal (private) IP address to the external (public) IP address of the router which allows the internal device to communicate over the internet. No longer required for Helium Hotspots to function normally.
  • OTA - Over the Air Updates. Software updates to devices provided remotely, typically via the internet. In the context of Helium, miner devices typically receive OTAs when there is a new version of the Helium Miner software or changes to the device firmware are needed.
  • Private IP - An IP address which is not routable on the internet. Typically assigned to devices inside your home network. For example, two different people could have a device in their home with the same address assigned to it without causing issues, as that address is private to each internal network.
  • Public IP - An IP address which is routable on the internet. No two devices on the internet can have the same public IP address assigned, else there would be no way to determine which of the devices traffic was being sent to. Typically your ISP router is assigned a public IP address which allows it to communicate with other devices over the internet.
  • RPC  - Remote Procedure Call. A communications protocol which allows for one program to request a service from a program located in another computer on a network without having to understand the network's details. RPC is used to call other processes on remote systems like a local system.