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The Helium Consensus Protocol

The Helium blockchain uses a new consensus protocol, called simply the Helium Consensus Protocol.

Consensus Protocol Design Goals

In designing the protocol, we wanted to emphasize the following characteristics:

  • Permissionless - Any Hotspot operating in accordance with the consensus rules and network specifications should be able to participate freely in the Helium Network.
  • Truly decentralized by design - No incentive should be available for taking advantage of factors like inexpensive energy cost or deploying more hardware in the same location.
  • Byzantine Fault Tolerant - The protocol should be tolerant of Byzantine failures such that consensus can still be reached as long as a threshold of participants are acting honestly. For this, we selected a variant known as HoneyBadgerBFT detailed below.
  • Based on useful work - Achieving network consensus should be useful and reusable to the network. In Nakamoto Consensus-based systems like the bitcoin blockchain, work performed to achieve consensus is only valid for a specific block. By comparison, Helium’s consensus system should perform work that is both useful and reusable to the network beyond simply securing the blockchain.
  • High rate of confirmed transactions - The protocol should be able to achieve a high number of transactions per second, and once the transaction is seen by the blockchain it should be assumed confirmed. Users sending device data through the Helium Network cannot tolerate long block settlement times typical of other blockchains.
  • Censorship-resistant transactions - Hotspots should not be able to censor or otherwise select / deselect transactions to be included in a block.

HoneyBadger BFT

The Helium Consensus Protocol is based on a variant of the HoneyBadgerBFT (HBBFT) protocol. HBBFT is based on a body of research originally kicked off by Andrew Miller and the team at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

HBBFT is an asynchronous atomic broadcast protocol designed to enable a group of known nodes to achieve consensus over unreliable links. In Helium’s implementation, a consensus group of elected Validators receives encrypted transactions as inputs and proceeds to reach common agreement on the ordering of these transactions before forming a block and adding it to the blockchain.

HBBFT relies on a scheme known as threshold encryption. Using this scheme, transactions are encrypted using a shared public key, and are only decryptable when the elected consensus group works together to decrypt them. The usage of threshold encryption enables the Helium Consensus Protocol to achieve censorship-resistant transactions.

Extended Reading

The Consensus Group Election

A new Consensus Group (CG) is elected once per epoch. Currently there are 43 members elected to each consensus group, as defined in the num_consensus_members chain variable.

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For a more complete overview of how Validators are elected to the consensus group, see the Election Process Documentation

Rewarding Hotspots

At the end of each epoch, mining rewards are distributed by the consensus group to the wallet addresses that have earned them. Currently 65% of all mining rewards go to the hotspot infrastructure (with the remaining 35% being distributed network investors). A graphical overview of token reward system can be viewed here.

During the course of any epoch, Hotspots are rewarded for the following list of activities:

  • Successful participation in proof of coverage as a target (as a “challengee”)
  • Witnessing a proof of coverage challenge
  • Transferring device data over the network

During the course of any epoch, Validators are rewarded for the following list of activities per changes from HIP 55:

  • Submitting valid proof of coverage challenges (as a “challenger”)
  • Serving as consensus group member

The Consensus Group then splits 6% of all HNT mined, as well as any transaction fees collected during the epoch.

Each one of the above activities is recorded in a block using the reward transaction. At the completion of each epoch, all the individual reward transactions are grouped in a rewards transaction at which point all $HNT mined in that epoch are distributed.