ESP8266 has now lot of followers but they do not offer anything better


EMW3165

ESP8266 took the developers hearts for no time. To have WIFI stack and processor resources in tiny chip with only 4 external components necessary to operate was great success story by Espressif.

Needless to say this didn’t remain unspotted by others and now we are going to see boom of similar modules.

IMO they are doomed to not gain such success though. Why? It’s simple – nobody can make simplier device.

ESP8266 is already simple and well optimized. If you buy it in reel price for 5000 pcs is $1.50/each, if you can buy in volume I’ve heard you can buy it for less than $1.

Espressif sells about 1 million of these chips now per month. Their sales warned me that if I want to order more than 500K pcs I have to warn them 4 weeks in advance, small orders like 5-10K they ship same day from stock.

So whoever decide to beat ESP8266 should make something better which cost less $1 which is quite steep goal.

We saw now next competitor MXCHIP it’s nothing fancy STM32+MarvelWIFI chip and TCP-IP stack. it’s sold for about x2 end user price, but we are not impressed at all from it. Why? Because it’s in the same league like ESP8266.

We develop IoT Firmware for more than 4 months now and we work extensively with ESP8266 so we learned his good and weak sides.

Good side: incredible simplicity as hardware – you have everything in the chip. High integration, reliable work. Most of the problems are due to the not so good software implementation, although Espressif now rised their bug bounty award to $2000 for reported bug i.e. they are confident the bugs in their firmware are fixed.

Weak side: their RTOS is binary blobs which make hard to contribute, we see lot of missed events when you enable more timers etc, but we can’t see where these comes from as the software is closed. We do workarounds on higher level to make sure IoT Firmware works reliable though for end user who do not have to worry about what happens at low level. Another issues is lack of memory to run normal TCP-IP stack. https? forget it no memory, once one https connection is made there is no resources to handle other, so in practice is not usable. SSL? forget it, no memory for more than 512 bit encryption which is assumed compromised already, so basically with ESP we do not advice you to connect to anywhere else than your local WIFI net, as WIFI is encrypted, it provides you with good security, but if you want to make your “IoT” available to outside, you have to put between ESP and Internet something with real TCP-IP stack and good security, like RT5350-OLinuXino running real Linux, where you can install SSL with 2048 bit key, and hide well your devices which otherwise could be hacked from outside. We already work on such ‘broker’ which to allow access to ESP8266 IoT Firmware from outside.

So whatever comes next as ESP competitor will be in the same league unless have at least few megabytes of RAM to may handle properly https and ssl encryption, and I highly doubt one could make such for less than $1 to compete with ESP.

ESP8266 already deeply penetrated the low cost low security market. Good luck to the others trying to compete them!

22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Max
    Jul 17, 2015 @ 10:30:13

    I’m currently looking at the ESP8266 for “IoT” applications, and I do agree that usable encryption is a must. However, if the chip can’t be made to handle it, there’s a serious problem. Specifically, there cannot be a “gateway” involved – the ONLY thing making the ESP8266 (well, beside price) is the ability to hop onto an existing WiFi network without needing anything else. If I need to involve a “gateway” that advantage disappears – In that case I could be using any radio technology/stack I can think of, many of which being MUCH more battery-friendly, more open-source or just a different type of topology I might prefer. Yes, I know MQTT so loved by ESP users is “broker”-based, and that’s exactly what makes it useless for me. I believe that a proper “IoT” node must function stand-alone, and for the reasons outline above that means it needs to handle any relevant encryption in-node…

    Reply

  2. Djumaka
    Jul 17, 2015 @ 10:31:55

    You mentioned you work on IoT firmware for several months now, can you hint what’re you talking about?

    Reply

  3. JM
    Jul 17, 2015 @ 11:46:32

    An IoT device that does not support IPv6? What were they thinking?

    Reply

  4. petelynch
    Jul 17, 2015 @ 14:40:14

    We can regard the ESP8266 as being the “Mk 1” IoT / Wifi device. Sure, there were others before such as the Wi-Fly, but it’s still the first device to make it into the mainstream.
    However there is already news about the “Mk 2” the EMW3165 that seems to address a lot of the limitations in this article. it also has some 5V tolerant pins. At present it’s more expensive than the ESP8266, but it’s reasonable to expect that to change as production ramps up and demand increases.
    It’s been a year since the ESP8266 made its splash. I wonder what the “Mk 3” device will look like, next summer?

    Reply

    • petelynch
      Jul 17, 2015 @ 14:48:40

      Interestingly, the device in your article is an EMW3165 rather than a ESP8266

      Reply

    • OLIMEX Ltd
      Jul 17, 2015 @ 15:46:25

      EMW3165 have less memory, why it is MK2 I rather say it’s MK3/4 and sorry to break your enthusiasm but it would never touch ESP price point, ESP design have 4 external components beside the SoC, in this design just STM32 cost more than $1.5 so to reach ESP pricepoint will never happen

      Reply

  5. duster
    Jul 18, 2015 @ 07:49:05

    Mxchip has been making modules like this for years, so not really a follower. This one uses broadcom WiFi, not Marvell. The price to value ratio may not be as good as esp8266 (the <$3 modules) but still good, especially if you need ADC, DMA, USB otg, etc… And it does homekit too.

    Reply

    • OLIMEX Ltd
      Jul 18, 2015 @ 19:48:50

      ok, but nothing more than EPS with some more IOs, same speed grade, less memory, no multiply connection https, no real ssl, nothing more that ESP already don’t have, but at x3-4 times more expensive BOM

      Reply

      • duster
        Jul 19, 2015 @ 01:36:06

        Esp is a great value, but you can’t really say “nothing more”. It is a very high production quality certified module. Stm32 is extremely well documented and good debug support. Lots of hw peripherals. All those things have value. It fills a gap between esp and rt5350. But I am still waiting for multi core WiFi/Bluetooth Linux module <$10.

  6. manis404
    Jul 19, 2015 @ 00:03:26

    One critical thing that mxchip has and the expressif chip lacks is: WPA-Entreprise. Anyone who tried to connect their esp chip on eduroam will know what im talking about. The cheapest chip(not module) that supports wpa-entreprise costs above 15usd @1k qties. mxchip has an opportunity here…

    Reply

  7. Leon Anavi
    Jul 20, 2015 @ 02:54:31

    I love ESP8266 – it is the perfect low cost solution for DIY home and office automation.
    In long-term, aka 3-5 years, I think that IoT developers will focus on low cost boards with ARM and MIPS, for example RT5350F-OLinuXino, which are capable of running a distro with the Linux kernel. GNU/Linux distro brings good security and a lot of popular software development tools. Over the time the prices of these boards will drop under $10.

    Reply

  8. cometu
    Jul 22, 2015 @ 16:36:52

    HI, I am very interested on the esp8266, i’ll soon need a wifi chip and I already have tried the cc3200 from TI which is very expensive but works very well and it’s very easy to develop on it.

    I ordered some ESP8266 to see what could be done on it, thting is that I need to port “parse.com” API on it but you said there is not enough ram for https, (what is required for parse.com API).

    At the time you wrote the article did you saw that espressif released a new rtos-sdk saving 12kB-SRAM? (http://bbs.espressif.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=743)

    Is it enough to do https with those 12kBram?(I have strictly no idea🙂 )

    nice post however😉

    Reply

  9. Marc Coussement
    Apr 14, 2016 @ 18:35:31

    Thread Networking (WiFi) is the way to go for IoT.
    See Silicon Labs and other manufacturers.
    Any comment on this statement is welcome.

    1. Thread is an IPv6-based mesh networking protocol designed as a reliable, low-power, secure, and scalable networking solution for connecting Things to the IoT
    2. Thread is a low-power, secure and scalable IP-based wireless mesh networking protocol based on proven standards.
    3. Built on IPv6 technology with 6LoWPAN as a foundation, Thread provides a self-healing mesh networking solution for over 250 nodes.
    4. Thread addresses the growing market need for a secure, IP-based mesh networking solution and provides support for sleepy nodes, allowing years of operation from a single battery.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: