First steps with Helium IoT network

Helium is a crowdsourced-crypto-blockchain-Iot network working with LoRaWan. With all these trendy name, for sure they had the key elements to raise a large amount of money. That’s great for the development of this technology.

I’ve decided to write about this IoT network after an interesting talk given at the Zurich IoT meetup today (thank you CoVID-19 for making us the opportunity to reach such event, today online, bad things can get positive sometime).

Helium is a crowdsourced network. It means, like for TheThingsNetwork or Amazon Sidewalk, the infrastructure, at least the gateways part (antennas) are provided by anybody, basically you and me. That way the network deployment costs are really limited and the network have no boundaries.

Compared to TTN, Helium network is “crypto-blockchained” basically, the gateway owner are mining different challenges like registering some network change, proving the location of a gateway, cryptocurrency transactions… For this work, for maintaining the network architecture and relaying the messages, the gateway’s owner are earning HNT (Helium Network Tokens) ($2.24 each today).

Compared to TTN where you make it running for free, just because you are convinced about the sharing economy, Helium base its business model on a promise of getting some money back from your investment the gateways (+energy, communications…).

Helium is an IoT network, a LPWAN for being more precise. It relies on LoRaWan standard protocol & gateways. You need to add an Helium miner software on a backend system to make it running.

So they are looking to Uber-ize the telecom domain, at least this is what they are expecting.

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First steps with LoRa Radio Node (Arduino)

The LoRa Radio Node is an AVR Arduino board with a RFM95 LoRa module. This all-in-one LoRa module allows to have a LoRaWan device for a reasonable price around 15€. You need to add a battery (like a LS14500 3,7V battery) on the battery holder for a 4€ extra cost to make it mobile. LiPo option are also available using the power connector. Even if the connectors are looking like grove, they are not compatible so you will have to make your own wiring to connect extensions.

This post is reviewing how to getting started with this board to fire your first LoRaWan frame over The Things Network.

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Yadom Murata CMWX1ZZABZ-091 breakout board under review

Murata CMWX1ZZABZ chip is actually famous for being a powerful LoRaWan multi zone module also able to communicate over Sigfox.

I’ve already published a technical post on Murata CMWX1ZZAB chip in a previous post. You will also find an implementation based on my IoT SDK. Yadom has just released a breakout board ( BRKABZ01) for this chip making it accessible for hackers and for easier prototyping.

This post is going to review this board and demo how to access it really quickly. Are you ready ?

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Make a Laird Sentrius an outdoor gateway

The Laird Sentrius LoRaWan gateway is a low cost, stable and easy to configure on The Things Network gateway. They are indoor gateway. I want to install it outdoor to offer a better coverage.

In certain situation the easiest way to install it outdoor is to use an external antenna and a long antenna cable. In some other situation this approach is complex to implement and the easiest way is to install the gateway outdoor with its antenna and network connection.

The best is to use an outdoor LoRaWan gateway. The price is usually > 600€. Even if in general the outdoor gateways includes GPS and Cellphone connectivity. In this post I’ll explain how I make one of Laird Sentrius outdoor because it costs less than 250€ for the gateway itself.

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HopeRF RFM95 and arduino a low cost LoRaWan solution

The HopeRF RFM95w module proposes to access LoRa at low cost. Its unitary price is around 4€ on shop like aliexpress. A version with a shield is also existing. Its name is Lora1276-C1 from niceRF. These different transceivers are using Semtech SX1276 chip. It makes this kind of chip interesting for regional low cost LoRaWAN design in association with a MCU. Here we are going to use it with an Arduino platform.

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STM32 and Arduino, working with a custom board

Arduino is supporting STM32 platform and after following the installation steps, you can easily work with the st-microelectronics development kit.

In the real life you need to create a specific setup once your prototype is transformed into a custom board. This setup redefines the pin mapping, the target MCU and needs to refine the firmware transfer method as you will use and external STLINK programmer.

In this post we are going to see the different step for doing this.

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IoT, the tracking use-case

I want to start a new category of posts about IoT, not focus on the technology itself but on the use-cases. That said, for sure my words will be on the technological aspects of this use-case. The objective is to let you understand what are the solution but also what are the challenges behind that use-case. To start I’ve selected the Tracking use-case, reviewing all the GPS, WiFi and operator technics.

Regarding my experience in IoT from the past 5 years, one of the biggest market for LPWAn is actually assets tracking. In number I assume alarm backup is a little bit behind but thanks to one uniq actor. Tracking is far away first regarding the number of actors already having implemented a solution in production. This is also where we find the largest number of objects on the market for a single use-case.

That’s why I decided to start with this use case. I also know it really well for being the founder of one of these solution : Foxtrackr and I’ve already implemented all the technics described below.

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Do I need to implement a private LPWan network ?

Recurrent question where I usually see the wrong option taken by industrials: do I need to implement my own private network for m LPWA network ? In many case the wrong choice has been made due to a lack of understanding of network total cost of ownership. For sure I heard element about MY DATA privacy, but honestly, all the companies are putting added value data into the Cloud, so don’t tell me you unknown machine temperature is a sensitive data ?!? That said, let’s back to the true question : when does it make sense to create your own private network ?

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