Recently we at @ttncat had to prepare a crash course on LoRa, LoRaWAN and The Things Network for a professional school in Barcelona. It was a 15 hours course that covered from the very basics to some more advanced topics on RF like link budget, attenuation or impedance matching. It was fun to go back to my years at college and revisit and update some of those topics. And at the same time it was a great opportunity to upgrade my toolbox.
I’d like this to be the first of a series of posts about radio frequency. Talking about tools and devices I already had and some of the new ones I now own. I think they might be of some interest for newbies and makers since -due to my budget- they tend to be low cost devices. At least I hope you will find it interesting to know they exist.
I don’t pretend to write these posts in any specific order but I’m just starting with what I feel is one of the most basic concepts, and it’s that a radio device outputs energy. So maybe one of the first questions is “how much energy?“.
So RF power monitoring is the first step to analyze how a certain radio sends data by quantitatively measuring how much energy it outputs. You probably know this is called “power” and power is measured in Watts (W). Radio Liberty (a CIA-founded organization meant to broadcast anti-comunist propaganda) had a facility in Pals, Girona, from where they could reach as far as Moscow. The facility consisted on 6 radio towers with an overall output of 1.5MW (that’s megawatts).
A few weeks ago a user came with a request to add support in ESPurna to a power meter that had been hacked by Karl Hagström. It is a very cheap chinese power meter with plenty of room on the inside, enough to house an ESP8266 module and a DC/DC power supply and the main IC protocol had been reverse engeneered. There even was a repository by the Harringay Maker Space with sample code for an arduino compatible platform.
I found it really interesting so I jumped in and ordered two of them (for 25,20 euros in total). Unfortunately the seller I bought it from has ran out of them. But you can still find them on the usual market places, like these ones [Ebay] or (also with non-EU variants) these ones [Aliexpress].
When I received them I quicky unscrewed the enclosure of one of them and… wow, it looked slightly different than that on Karl’s post but also different from the one the people at Harringay Maker Space had worked with.
I went back and forth and I noticed the hack was almost 2 years old and the board was clearly different: different version (unlabelled on Karl’s pictures, version 2014-04-28 on Harringay’s power meter and 2016-12-18 on mine), different board layout with a different connector between the power meter board and the display (7 wires on theirs, 6 on mine). But the most important difference was the main power meter IC. Karl had reverse engineered the ECH1560 on his power meter, a 24pin SOP package (on the back on his device, on the front in Herringay’s power meter). Mine was only 16pin…
I had to decipher the IC mark using parts from both devices since the manufacturer had crossed out the marks (they don’t want us to hack it or what?). Finally my best guess was V9261F. I quicky googled it and… bingo!