Strange antennas have appeared in the foothills around Salt Lake City and authorities have no idea what they are or who put them up.
As first reported by KSLTV 5 in Utah, people first began noticing the antennas a year ago. They’re simple machines made up of a LoRa fiberglass antenna, a locked battery pack, and a solar panel to power it. The Salt Lake City public lands department has been pulling them down as they find them, and told KSLTV that there have been as many as a dozen.
It’s illegal to place structures on public lands without permission and some of the antennas have appeared on steep peaks. In one instance, the removal of an antenna required a team of five people. Other antennas were found on land managed by the University of Utah and the Forest Service. Neither immediately responded to Motherboard’s request for comment.
“Our Trails team and Foothills rangers have found some unauthorized solar panel towers in the Foothills,” Salt Lake City Public Lands said in a post on Facebook. “If you have information about these towers or who they belong to, please call our office at (801) 972-7800 so we can return them back to their owner.”
A leading theory online is that the antennas are part of a cryptocurrency mining operation. Helium is a type of cryptocurrency that uses antennas to create a long range wide area network. Instead of a proof of work, Helium relies on a proof of coverage. The wider the network, the more Helium you’re mining. Helium mining requires the exact kind of antenna shown in the photos of the devices recovered by Salt Lake City authorities. There are plenty of articles online instructing people how to create solar-powered rigs for Helium miners to deploy in rural areas, and Helium miners are fond of bragging about the elevation of their antennas.
“It might be related to cryptocurrency and relaying networks and being able to make money off that,” Tyler Fonarow, Salt Lake City’s recreational trails manager, told KSLTV, “So that’s another reason we want to stop it now before it becomes a dumping ground for dozens and dozens of more antennas.”
“Since Salt Lake City leaders alerted the University of Utah to the unauthorized solar panel towers in the foothills northeast of the Avenues neighborhood, University of Utah representatives have been actively coordinating with City Public Lands officials to determine whether any member of our campus community is connected to the towers,” the University of Utah told Motherboard in an email. “As far as we know, the tower located on university property is not owned or operated by the university. We appreciate Salt Lake City’s collaboration and dedicated efforts to identify the owners.”
The Salt Lake City public lands department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.