Open Source Hardware boards for NB-IoT technology presented at RuseConf 2019

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RuseConf is part of IT-Tour. Every year IT-Tour organize conferences in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse, Burgas, Veliko Tarnovo. They are all made by volunteers and completely free to participate. The idea is to encourage local IT community to share ideas and interesting talks.

This weekend on 28th of September was RuseConf and Olimex presented there our newest NB-IoT boards.

NB-IoT-DevKit boards will be on our web for sale next week with sale price per one unit EUR 18.00. They employ the NB-IoT technology which uses existing LTE 4G network to implement LPWAN.

The NB-IoT devices use low power and can operate on battery for 10 years if network traffic is less 200 bytes per day (this may seems small but SigFox for instance allow 2 to 140 uploads of 12 bytes messages per day. NB-IoT has no restrictions and limits, but if have to be careful as more traffic means more battery discharge. One GSM LTE base cell can connect up to 100 000 NB-IoT devices at same time ( but of course it no one talk on his GSM phone in this cell range) which beats LoRa gateway maximal theoretical 49 connections. Also the NB-IoT module we use has +20dB more sensitivity so if normally one Base cell can connect to NB-IoT nodes up to 10km this module has 10 time more sensitivity and can connect up to 100 km from the base cell. This of course is marketing claim theoretical claim as explained in the talk but still impressive.

The slides are in Bulgarian and English and uploaded at Slideshare.com

 

FOSDEM slides and video

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FOSDEM is always impressive, even for people like me who go there for 7th time. It’s great place where you can see developers for almost every FOSS big project and talk face to face.

It’s really pleasure to see that last years there is Hardware related dev rooms too.

KiCad as always attracted lot of attention

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but CAD and OSHW devroom was pretty small, so people are waiting on long tails to get in and just few lucky ones succeed:

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For security reason the organizers didn’t allow people to stay standing or sitting on the floor, but this didn’t stop all. Next day I spoke to lot of friends and they said – I knew there will be no space for all who want to enter, so I just stay at the cafeteria and watched the stream.

It was same situation at the Andre Przywara talk One image to rule them all. There was no space in the room to accommodate all people who wanted to attend it.

There were three talks from Plovdiv at FOSDEM this year 🙂 Our friend Leon Anavi had two talks Making Open Source Hardware for Retrogaming on Raspberry Pi and The Software Developer’s Guide to Open Source Hardware. It’s cool as his full time job is as software engineer but as you can see he does OSHW in his free time and obviously like to talk more about his hobby than his daily work 🙂

I talked about some new OSHW boards we are working on last few months.

The idea is to build LoRaWAN infrastructire and install some free Smart City solutions in Plovdiv which to set example and to put all our work on GitHub so if other cities want to follow to be able to replicate and scale what we did and hopefully people to get aware more about the power of the open source hardware and software solutions.

Here are my slides and here is my attempt to speak English at FOSDEM. Sorry subtitles are not available 🙂

It was incredible pleasant surprise to see OLinuXino-LIME2 mentioned in Danny Haidar‘s lighting talk Creating a Computing Revolution: from Personal Computers to Personal Servers.

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FOSDEM 2019 is this weekend in Bruxelles

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FOSDEM the biggest FOSS/OSHW event in Europe is this weekend in Universite Libre de Bruxelles

FOSDEM traditionally starts Friday evening in Delirium Cafe.

With 47 devrooms, 7 main tracks, Keynotes and Lighting talks everyone can find group with his interest.

Olimex will present our new IoT developments with KiCAD at CAD and Open hardware devroom in Sunday.

If you want to meet and talk please send email to info@olimex.com, we will be in Delirium Cafe this evening and at ULB in the weekend.

NB-IoT seminar slides and BC66 datasheets are online

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NB-IoT seminar by Quectel and Comet had more than 130 peoples interested. The hall was full even with people not having place to sit.

It’s understandable as NB-IoT is one of the fastest developing technology.

NB-IoT is new, the standard draft was made in July 2015 and at the beginning of 2016 already has been accepted, just in 6 months.

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For comparison LoRa is technology from 2008, but just last couple of years people start using it widely. The other LPWAN Weightless was announced in 2012 but first ever devices were made in July 2017.

Why NB-IoT was developed so fast?

Because Qualcomm, Vodafone, Ericsson and Huawei which are major player in mobile networking are behind it. NB-IoT works with the existing cellular network base station hardware. In practice it’s lightweight LTE implementation and just uses narrow band communication. So to add support for NB-IoT only software upgrade is necessary and it uses the existing infrastructure.

Another boost for NB-IoT is that it was first choice for IoT implementation in China as product with Chinese company (Huawei) involved vs LoRa which is considered technology controlled by US company.

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According to Quectel slides they sold in 2017 36 million modules for about 245 million USD i.e. average price per module is USD 7 which is already in LoRa pricing range.

NB-IoT though offers lot of advantages compared to LoRa. The Narrow Band communication allow the receiver sensitivity to increase many times and with one base station is possible (from the slides) to cover up to 100 km with NB-IoT. Also one single cell base station can serve up to 100 000 NB-IoT nodes!

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Quectel flagman for NB-IoT is BC66

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It’s Multiband: B1+B2+B3+B5+B8+B12+B13+B17+B18+B19+B20+B25+B26+B28+B66 i.e. covers completely all regions US, EU, Asia, Africa, Australia and once you do your design you can scale worldwide.

Anothe major advantage is that it works from 2,1 up to 3.6V. This is very important as Lithium batteries capacities usually are defined when battery is discharged from 3.0 to 2.0 V.

NB-IoT is different from 2G/3G where there are 2A pulses when link to base station is eastablished, here max current drawing is only 250mA when you establish link to base station. Once established link do not need to be re-connected when the module go to PowerSavingMode and wake ups!

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This is why their recommended design has just 100uF filtering capacitor necessary!

Another nice surprise is that in BC66 you have Cortex-M4 78Mhz ARM processor with 400KB Flash and 400KB RAM running FreeRTOS, which you can use for your own applications. There is also ARDUINO support:

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Overall BC66 seems very interesting and we are dedicated to release OSHW boards with it targeting same applications like with LoRa: Smart metering, Parking, Smart City, Industry 4.0 etc.

Who ever have dealt with Chinese vendors know how they hide all info from their potential customers, in this regard Quectel made difference by releasing all BC66 info online after the seminar. You can view all presentations and the datasheets here.

 

NB-IoT event organized by Comet electronics on December 4th

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NB-IoT is one of the promising LPWAN technologies I review in both my Industry 4.0 and OpenFest 2018 talks.

It’s lightweight LTE technology which has only 48 bytes of payload and 30kbps up and down link. Some call it 0G.

NB-IoT is specified by 3GPP standartization organization, same which standartize 2G/3G/4G/5G. It works flawless with existing cellular technologies with simplified RF and processing.

With these high speeds and small payloads the average consumption of NB-IoT make it more efficient even than LoRa, but there is many things to consider in your design.

First is that NB-IoT never will reach LoRa price point, it will be always about x2 more expensive.

Second – some modules like for instance the popular Ublox SARA-N2  which cost EUR 11 for 250 pcs, can’t work at lower than 2.75V power supply. Most Lithium batteries capacity is quoted with battery discharge from 3V to 2V so these modules will work only with fraction of the capacity of Lithium batteries. They are designed to operate from 2.75 to 4.2V i.e. targeting LiPO re-chargeable batteries, but these will never stay charged for 10 years as NB-IoT technology promises, so this is really odd design choice by Ublox.

Another thing to take into consideration is the high current pulses which LTE technology introduce (up to 2A when link is established). So even on paper NB-IoT to looks better than LoRa it still could be implemented with compromises where these benefits to be not seen.

Fortunately some Chinese vendors (like Quectel) made their modules BC66 to work from 2.1V.

Comet Electronics is organizing on December 4th NB-IoT event together with the first cellular operator which implements NB-IoT connectivity in Bulgaria – A1 and with Chinese module supplier Quectel.

It would be interesting to touch and evaluate this technology which is relatively new, has no infrastructure and is dependent by subscription fees only.

NB-IoT Gateways are not expensive and cost about $2000, but you can’t use them unless you have licensee to operate at GSM frequency (and these licensees cost millions of EUROs at least here in Bulgaria) so you can use your gateway only in Faraday cage :). This is where LoRa technology shine and this is what makes it so popular! No subscription, no fees for data transport, everyone can run his own gateway.

This is also one of the reason NB-IoT infrastructure is not so well developed – the investment is small, but the mobile operators still can’t figure out how to squeeze money out of this. There are already several providers on the net which sell NB-IoT SIM cards with EU roaming and with low cost like $12 per year, but local operators will find a way to shut these down and take their share.

Electronica 2018 highlights – AI, Smart Solutions, Communication and Security

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Electronica in Munich trade fair is the most important meeting place for the electronics industry. Last week more than 3000 exhibitors and 80 000 visitors met together .

What was very visible this years is that beside the traditional big number of German companies the second biggest by number of companies exhibitor was China. There were both big:

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and small companies:

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Artificial intelligence, Machine Learning, Smart solutions, Connectivity and security were dominating topics among the exhibitors.

LoRa and NB-IoT solutions were present on almost every fifth booth 🙂