LoRa-E5 the Seeed Studio STM32-WL module

STM32-WL is the new ST family supporting LoRa and LoRaWAN in, not a single chip but a single die. I did not yet written on it (busy busy busy) but this technology is really interesting as it resulting on a simplified architecture with less chip in your circuit and at the end a lower power consumption, a lower footprint and a lower cost.

LoRa-E5 from Seeed studio is a module containing a STM32-WL circuit and the associated RF circuitry to simplify design based on such chip. Its public price is $9.9 for the module alone and you can also find different boards using it. This price is in the maker market but a bit high for a such system for mass production. This module contains the stronger STM32WL family chip, chip price is 3.71€ / 1000 on mouser. But the module includes all the circuitry around and facilitate your design.

The module is mainly maker market and comes with software to be immediately used by end-user within an Arduino or equivalent environment. It can also be re-flashed for being used with your own software in it. The cortex M4 in is is stronger than most of the Arduino platform.

Let’s see what this chip is and how to use it.

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LoRaWAN soil moisture solar device using Helium network

My child have a small garden where he has tomatoes, mint, different vegetables and fruits. We want to know when it is the right time to water it.

This was also an opportunity to use my Rak Wisblock kit fro something else than just writing some blog post. I’ve chosen to connect the device over Helium network because I’m making different tests on this network currently but it is also working on TheThingsNetwork the same way. So you can use the network most covering you around.

The data will be displayed on Cayenne Mydevice for getting a quick dashboard for displaying the information. In this blog post I’m going to describe the main steps and the needed hardware to make your own device.

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Low Cost LoRaWan Field Tester

When deploying a LoRaWan network, we need to verify what is the coverage. Eventually before deploying a Hotspot for Helium network we need to find the best place to reach as much peers as possible. A field tester is a simple, mobile, tool to help you decide the best location and monitor the coverage in a zone.

There are many different existing solutions on the market, I have used some of them in the past like the Adeunis field tester. The problem of the existing device is usually the price and the absence of backend application to report the network seen signal. The solutions are usually around 200 – 400€ and I was looking for making something less expensive for makers and hotspot owners.

Thanks to the Seeed Wio Terminal, a low cost Arduino like terminal with a cool TFT screen and buttons, it makes it a nice platform to make a LoRaWan Field tester with a good UI.

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What is the real cost of Helium communication ?

Helium network is a crowdsourced network using a blockchain. There are multiple transactions related to the Helium devices communication. Usually, we talk about the message transmission transaction corresponding to a flat cost of 1DC ($0,00001). That said there are some questions:

  • what is a message definition ?
  • what are the other blockchain transaction impacting the communication cost ?

In the post we are going to review the answer to these questions and I’ll propose a spreadsheet to modelize these cost with some example to see the different kind of real message cost you should take into account in your business model.

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Make your own private network on top of Helium IoT network

Helium is a multi network server with a decentralized packet routing system. This is really clever and allows anyone to use the public infrastructure as private LoRaWAN compatible network. That way you get benefit of a worldwide coverage and, in the same time, the ability to protect your raw data from anyone looking at them. You can also create some other public network server, as we are doing with Helium-Iot.eu

The objective of a such public service is to offer a shorter route for your European devices and as a consequence a shorter response time for downlink. It also ensure your data to stay in Europe, something important for personal data like tracking, health or for industrial applications.

For a better understanding, let’s take a look at the Helium network architecture:

Helium network architecture

Thanks to the miner components incorporated in the hotspots, the traffic from the devices is directly routed to the right network server. Each of the network servers belongs to a, operator, it can be you or me or any established telecom operator. This is basically really cool !

That’s why we have decided with the company I work for to take a look at this business and launched Helium-IoT.eu. So you can connect your devices to Helium using our console https://console.helium-iot.eu

In the next page of this post I will explain how to become your own operator for making your private network. This is a bit complex operations, so if you want your own network server, as part of our services we are proposing to make it for you and host it. We also have solutions to migrate existing LoRaWan networks to Helium. Just let us know by contacting me with the contact link.

So, let’s be more technical to understand all of this.

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Radio cable selection for outdoor (LoRaWan) antenna

When looking for a cable to connect an antenna, you need to consider different parameters:

  • The cable loss at 868MHz (if corresponding)
  • The connector type

In this post I’ve tried to list some of the mostly used cable and connectors for connecting LoRaWan antennas.

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Migration to TTN v3

Announced during TheThingsConference 2021 this January, TheThingsNetwork console is upgrading to v3. In fact it is really more than a simple update because this consist in merging TheThingsNetwork and TheThingsIndustrie in a common environment. This upgrade is really different than a traditional upgrade because it has an impact on any gateways and any devices ; a big impact anyone needs to manage. Here are some of the currently known impacts on the networks and the different components:

  • Traffic from v2 is routed to v3 but v3 is not routed to v2
  • Gateway are not migrated automatically
  • LoRa Application/Integration needs to be re-created in v3 to communicate over v3
  • Device LoRaWan session needs to be refreshed
  • Coverage map are lost
  • Gateways using gRPC protocol (TTN Packet forwarder won’t relay V3 traffic over V2)
  • … some more to be discovered

As the Network is managed by many different people, and not really planned and organized by TheThingsIndustry, we are going to have disconnections and fields operations to make all of this back to life.

It concerns the TTN Initiators (people deploying the network) but also the TTN users because they need to update Applications and restart/rejoin devices once the V2 has disappeared.

The currently know planning for Europe is (Other countries not yet planned)

  • April 2021 – v2 console will be read-only (you won’t be able to add devices / gateways)
  • September 2021 – v2 infrastructure will be switched off, no more communication on it

This blog post details my advises and experience of the migration. As I’ll do it in different waves for practical reason, this post will be updated. So please come back and refresh all along the months of February-March 2021 to get the updates, content and advice will be updated according to my progress.

Personal current advice about migration: START INVESTIGATING SINGLE DEVICE MIGRATION

I had some difficulties to migrate my first device and this has been solved by upgrading the gateway and redefining it in the TTNv2 backend. Discovering such situation earlier is important to get on time for upgrading. I recommend to start migrating 1 device to identify such situation. Migrating more than a device could still means impossible ways for some of your devices to communicate through v2 infrastructure. But it will help to prepare your infrastructure for migration.

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TheThingsConference 2021

New year, new edition of TheThingsConference, the main LPWan event now.

As this event is a big community event including industries, silicon providers, service providers, operator, integrator… It’s a big opportunity for all these people to meet altogether. 2021 due to covid-19 pandemic is online as most of the IoT events currently. Question were, how will be the quality, how will be the interaction within the community ?

TheThingsConference already had a virtual event in 2020 some month after the yearly physical conference and basically it has been a success. It also has been a good training or this 2021 event. As a consequence the event quality (platform, keynote video, talk video) have a really good quality. They basically taken benefit of the new capabilities of the recorded video like to play with a 3D device in the middle of the scene. So that really cool.

They have also taken into account the different time-shift and replaying all the conferences on different slots to allows people to follow it on normal hour. That’s great a better than the previous edition (a 24h non stop event… fun but difficult). The conference is taking place on a whole week

Interaction between the community, at least over the chat is really good and this is also a success… I’ll complete that post all along the conference but we can start seing what has been announced during the keynote.

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