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).
You might have heard aboutThe Things Network (TTN from now on) here or somewhere else. If you have not, then it’s a good opportunity to visit the project and check if there is a community of users around you. I have been a core member of the TTN Catalunyacommunity for over 2 years now. This year we are working hard deploying several new gateways in Barcelona and doing workshops and hackathons with the main goal of helping individuals and social entities to carry out projects around a LoRaWan open, libre (free as in freedom) and neutral telemetry network.
I have a couple of IKEA-like boxes in my home office labeled “Inbox”. They are full of stuff I buy and store waiting for some free time to spend on them. From time to time I pick one of the boxes and take a look at its contents. They are actually full of “wow” stuff. I would buy again most of the things there but at the same time I fear I’m just collecting stuff that will become junk.
I couple of week ago I rescued from one of those boxes an M5Stack Core Development Kit and some other stuff that was there for maybe 6 months.
I’m working on a project were I have to build a network of battery powered sensors over a territory the size of a small town.The sensors will monitor power consumption, temperature and humidity in energy poor households. Often the families in that situation can’t afford an internet connection at home so WiFi is out of question. GPRS would be an option but lately other radio technologies have come to my interest.
I’m a core member of The Things Network Community in Catalunya. LoRa is one such technologies. The (soon) availability of affordable gateways and the open nature of the software stack (from gateway firmware to backends to handlers) make it a great candidate to build an open, libre wireless sensor network that can cover large territories with few gateways.
Someday soon I’ll talk about the gateways, backends and so. Now I’m focusing on nodes. The idea is very similar to my previous post about a Moteino energy monitor node with an RFM69 radio, but using a LoRa radio and LoRaWan protocol instead. There are several options here. The cheaper and more common is to use a HopeRF RFM9X LoRa module and implement the LoRaWan specification in code. There are already libraries for arduino and alike that implement the LoraMAC specification almost at 100%. But for my first try I used another approach.
Microchip is selling a serial module that implements the full LoRaWan stack and communicates with your favourite uC through serial. The Microchip RN2483 (in the EU) is very easy to use and it’s price is not very different from HopeRF modules (both are about 15 euros at DigiKey). It’s the same module that the people at The Things Network have used for their The Things Uno prototyping platform (and Arduino Uno with a RN2483 module).
Question is: is the RN2483 a good choice for a battery powered LoRaWan node?