LoRaWAN On Helium

The LoRaWAN Network on Helium is compatible with all LoRaWAN devices. However, Helium distinguishes itself in how it treats the LoRaWAN Network Server (LNS).

In typical LoRaWAN Networks, a central or regional LNS is managed by a single entity. Helium’s design for a decentralized network, however, means not only do we want gateways (or what we sometimes call Hotspots) to be independently owned and operated, but we want to enable the independent operation of the LNS. Without this, access to the network would require permission from a single central entity, the LNS operator of the network.

Therefore, we want to enable the multi-tenancy of LNS’s on the same Public LoRaWAN Network. Achieving this distinguishes Helium’s LoRaWAN Network from any other: public wireless infrastructure is now compatible with privately-run network servers.

The rest of this article will discuss the networking primitives. If you want to go ahead and run a network server, please checkout our article about running a network server.


Each LoRaWAN Network Server (LNS) on the Helium Network acquires an Organizationally Unique Identifier (OUI). This registers the LNS with the blockchain and allocates two very important routing objects owned and maintained by the OUI operator:

  • up to five filters, describing the sets (AppEUI, DevEUI) expected by the LNS
  • one or more slabs of DevAddrs, reserving NwkAddr space for the OUI's devices on the Helium Network

A device defined by (AppEui, DevEui) can be allocated any of the DevAddrs owned by the OUI. It is even possible to multiplex many devices on the same DevAddr at the same time, using the Message Integrity Check (MIC) to disambiguate.

Join Request Frames and Filters

A Join Request frame has the following unencrypted header:

|   Size (octets)  |      8     |      8     |      8     |
|   Join Request   |   AppEUI   |   DevEUI   |  DevNonce  |

From the gateways perspective, the (AppEUI, DevEUI) may be used to figure out if one or more OUI's are interested in the Join Request.

This is done by querying every filter maintained and written to the blockchain by every OUI. The filters themselves are xorhash tables, thus the AppEui and DevEui cannot be extracted. Only with the AppEui and DevEui in-hand can the gateway run it through the table and to see if it's there.

In response to the Join Request, a Join Accept is sent down, assigning the NwkAddr. Due to the multi-tenancy on the Helium Network, the LNS may only assign NwkAddrs within its DevAddr slab(s).

Data Frames and DevAddr Slabs

Data packets have the followed unencrypted header (FHDR):

|   Size (octets)  |     4      |      1     |      2     |    0..15   |
|   FHDR           |  DevAddr   |    FCtrl   |     FCnt   |    FOpts   |

Within DevAddr, there is the NwkAddr of a device:

|                     DevAddr                    |
|   NwkID (bits 31–25)   |  NwkAddr (bits 24–0)  |
|     Helium Network     |   allocated by slab   | 
|(‘H’ / 0b1001000 / 0x48)|      to OUIs          |

From the gateways perspective, it is able to use DevAddr to determine the OUI of Data frames. A quick query can say which OUI owns this DevAddr slab. This look-up and routing by DevAddr instead of by (AppEUI, DevEUI) via xorhash filters is generally much quicker.