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Top Development Boards & Shields for IoT Projects

/ Written By Sara Shoemake

To help with deciding what cellular board is right for your project we’ve compiled the following list. These are some of the best cellular IoT development boards and shields available. Most of these boards include support for the LTE-M and NB-IoT standard, but with lack of ubiquitous NB-IoT and LTE-M coverage, we see more manufacturers releasing new boards that support 4G Cat-1.

It’s refreshing to see how capable these new cellular boards are. Most include industrial modems, advanced firmware, power management, full certification, and lower prices. As such, the top cellular boards listed below can meet demands both large and small. Those building small volume (hobby) projects, as well as those who hope to move to production at scale could use the same technology.

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Arduino MKR 1400 GSM

Arduino is no stranger to cellular. They’ve created 3 generations of the GSM Shield and maintained an official GSM Arduino library. However, after retiring the GSM Shield, they did not have another proper cellular solution.

Not officially on this list, but a close relation is the MKR 1500 LTE-M and NB-IoT. The growing popularity and support with Arduino mean MKR boards will make many future lists as well.

Fabio Violante, the CEO of Arduino, had this to say about the MKR 1500:

“NB-IoT and CAT M1 are gradually becoming a reality in many countries in the world. With MKR NB 1500 we wanted to create a versatile and standard technology to democratize the access to the new networks, enabling our customers to take advantage of this big opportunity early on.”

Looking at the MKR 1400 specs, we find the popular SAMD21 chip which integrates seamlessly with the Arduino IDE and online Code Editor. For cellular connectivity, Arduino integrated the automotive grade U-Blox SARA-U201 which provides worldwide 2G/3G compatibility. We enjoyed the integrated LiPo battery support. Cellular boards commonly require more power than what USB offers (500 mA). Some cellular IoT development boards require a LiPo power in addition to USB power when programming. The MKR 1400 is capable of being entirely powered by the USB making those of us who do not have a spare LiPo laying around appreciative.

The MKR 1400 firmware is well organized and modular. Arduino has open sourced their cellular library under GNU Lesser General Public License and is available at the MKRGSM GitHub repo. Sandeep Mistry is the talented lead software engineer behind the library (@sandeepmistry).

  • Price: $69
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: 2G and 3G

The Arduino MKR 1400 GSM is available for $69 from the Arduino Store and all major online resellers.

Pycom GPy

Pycom is well known for their WiPy and LoPy boards which pack a ton of functionality into a tiny package. In 2017, Pycom announced some newcomers to their line-up in the GPy and FiPy. Although Pycom announced these boards in a 2017 Kickstarter, we included them in this list because general availability and functional firmware did not come to market until 2018. Now that we’ve had time with these boards we have seen the devices perform well on our test benches.

Pycom GPy Hologram SIM M2M

Fred de Haro, the CEO of Pycom, chatted with us about the decision to integrate cellular:

“At Pycom we believe in giving our customers a choice of [technology] used for their IoT deployments. As such, developing a module able to offer BLE, WIFi and new LTE-M / NB modules was critical to our product strategy. The GPy is able to connect to any LTE-M/NB Cellular network wherever your IoT deployments take you. In addition, the low power consumption the modules offers reduces the need to [recharge via a base station].”

The Pycom GPy is a little powerhouse containing an Espressif ESP32 microcontroller, Sequans Monarch cellular chipset, 8MB of flash, and 4MB of RAM. The Espressif ESP32 is a popular dual-core microcontroller and acts as the main MCU as well as providing WiFi b/g/n and BLE 4.2 support. The GPy was the first small footprint development board to offer support for the new LTE-M and NB-IoT cellular networks. LTE-M support is via the Sequans Monarch Cellular IoT chipset. This chipset is affordable and available today.

First to market devices such as these come with unique challenges. Initial units lacked robust libraries, which made programming LTE communication difficult. As Pycom became familiar with the Sequans chip, their LTE library became a reality. It is now possible to communicate over LTE-M and NB-IoT securely. Special recognition goes to Daniel Campora (@danielpycom) and Jose Marcelino (@jmarcelino) who created the LTE library and kept the community updated with progress.

  • Price: $81 ($52 board + $29 shield)
  • Language: MicroPython
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE-M and NB-IoT

The Pycom GPy is available for $52, and we recommend one of Pycom’s expansion boards to program over USB (~$29). Both are available from the Pycom website and all major online resellers.

Botletics SIM7000 Arduino Shield

Botletics is a newcomer to the cellular manufacturing arena. Founded by Timothy Woo (@botletics), they’ve introduced two cellular shields which are rapidly growing in popularity in the Arduino community. In February 2018, Botletics announced their first Cellular IoT product in the SIM7000 Arduino shield. Since then, this boutique hardware manufacturer has met demand by keeping this shield in stock while simultaneously growing manufacturing capabilities to support large orders.

Botletics SIM7000 LTE-M NB-IoT Arduino Shield Hologram IoT M2M SIM

The Botletics SIM7000 is an Arduino compatible shield providing 4G LTE-M, NB-IoT, and 2G connectivity along with LiPo/Solar support, GPS, and an MCP9808 High-accuracy temperature sensor. WOW! At its core, the GPS and cellular support come from a SimCOM7000 module. Botletics SIM7000 comes in 4 different versions for regional compatibility – SIM7000A (America), SIM7000C (Asia), SIM7000E (Europe), and SIM7000G (Global). The board is compatible with all Arduino Uno, Arduino Mega, and Arduino Leonardo boards natively and any 1.8-5V microcontroller if wired externally. Conveniently the SIM7000 can be debugged through its micro USB. Powering the shield is easily done through being paired with an Arduino or on its own through LiPo/Solar support or through the USB port.

Timothy Woo, the Founder of Botletics, shared with us where his shield fits in the expanded Arduino ecosystem:

“The Botletics SIM7000 shield was created as an affordable LTE cellular solution for users to upgrade from the widely-used SIMCom 2G and 3G modules painlessly. The shield is built around great documentation and the ubiquitous Arduino platform while also allowing for customization, making it a simple and intuitive way to get started with the latest LTE CAT-M and NB-IoT technologies.”

The Botletics firmware is a fork of Adafruit’s FONA library, also based upon a SIMCOM modem. Botletics modified the library to include support for the SimCOM7000 line of modules. Furthermore, Botletics officially supports the Hologram SIM and showcases multiple examples of working with the Hologram Dashboard. This library supports both the Botletics boards and the FONA currently.

  • Price $70
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: Global or Regional
  • Compatibility: LTE-M, NB-IoT, 2G (GSM/GPRS), and 2.5G (EDGE)

The Botletics SIM7000 Shield is available for $70 from Amazon.

RAK WisLTE Arduino Shield

RAK Wireless is another player making waves in the IoT hardware industry. RAK has an impressive catalog of LoRa, WiFi, and Cellular IoT hardware solutions. At the beginning of this year, RAK released the WisLTE Shield which is one of the most capable cellular shields we’ve seen.

RAK WisLTE LTE-M NB-IoT M2M Hologram Shield

RAK WisLTE LTE-M NB-IoT M2M Hologram Shield

The RAK WisLTE is an Arduino compatible shield providing access to global 4G LTE-M, NB-IoT, 3G, and 2G connectivity. Also, it has integrated GPS. Connectivity comes from the Quectel BG96 module, a global module certified to work with Hologram’s carrier partners around the world. The shield can be powered through its pins, barrel jack, USB, or LiPo/Solar.

We asked Ken Yu, the CEO of RAK Wireless, to share his company’s vision for Cellular IoT.

“RAK wireless is offering innovative modular IoT hardware that aims to provide rapid adoption of IoT to benefit our life’s! The unique cellular modules further enable devices with the most simple, reliable, managed and secure channel to send the data to [the] internet! We envision the future of IoT which reflects in the core principles of our hardware journey.”

RAK does not have an official software library, but they offer documentation and quick start guides including one with Hologram. Be sure to check out the WisLTE tutorials on Hackster.

  • Price: $43
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE-M, NB-IoT, 3G, and 2G

The RAK WisLTE Shield is available for $43 from the official RAK AliExpress store.

Nordic nRF9160-DK

nordic-nrf9160-dk

Nordic has a tremendous history of providing low-power, robust, and developer friendly IoT modules.  With the nRF91 Series, they’ve freshly entered into cellular IoT/M2M with a module built from first principles for the next generation of Cat-M1 and NB-IoT networks.

The nRF9160 module itself is built specifically for energy efficiency making it perfect for battery-driven use cases.  Nordic has not only set the standard for small form factors with their SiP module, but they’ve packed a ton of functionality in there as well such as GPS, an application processor,  and I/O.

The nRF9160-DK is a single-board cellular IoT development kit for LTE-M, NB-IoT, GPS and Bluetooth LE. The nRF9160-DK supports a wide range of applications from asset tracking and smart ag to wearables and medical. 

This kit uses the nRF9160 SiP and is hardware compatible with Arduino Uno and allows access to all I/O and interfaces via connectors. It has 4 LEDs, 2 buttons and 2 switches which are user-programmable.

SparkFun LTE CAT M1/NB-IoT Shield

SparkFun is on a mission to make the world of electronics more accessible and has opened up a whole subcategory dedicated to cellular IoT products and accessories.  Everything from LTE antennas to their own cellular IoT board is immediately available for purchase through their online store. Sparkfun’s guides, forums, and support are world class to help you get your IoT projects up and running smoothly.

The SparkFun LTE CAT M1/NB-IoT Shield is a great way to add wireless, high-bandwidth cellular IoT to a project while keeping power consumption low and can easily incorporated with Arduino-based devices. This shield in particular also comes with a Hologram SIM included. 

The shield includes a u-blox SARA-R4 modem that can perform a variety of functions via AT commands like SMS and server communication. The SparkFun LTE CAT M1/NB-IoT shield support u-blox based GPS modules but does not support other GPS modules or sensors. 

  • Price: $85
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE CAT M1, NB-IOT
  • The SparkFun LTE CAT M1/NB-IoT Shield can be purchased for $85 from the SparkFun store.

Mikroe LTE IoT 2 Click

Mikroelektronika is an engineering company, a manufacturer of development tools and embedded solutions. The Company’s aim is to help engineers and companies alike develop and thrive in the embedded world. Based in Serbia’s capital Belgrade, Mikroelektronika offers customers full 360° embedded solutions: everything from advanced prototyping up to end-user device. With a largest selection of embedded tools and the highest expertise, Mikroelektronika has mastered the embedded communication offering IoT solutions through their Click boards™ that feature Bluetooth, RF, WiFi, and Cellular connectivity options using various modules with different frequencies thus allowing users not only to be able to do rapid development but also to utilize their custom engineering sector for the world of IoT.

The LTE IoT 2 Click is a click board build for wireless connectivity, offering LTE CAT M1 and NB-IoT functionality to support a variety of M2M and IoT applications.   It offers two SMA connectors, the ability to run AT commands via UART, USB connector and more. The LTE IoT 2 Click can support EGPRS at 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, giving it global applications from smart metering to IoT networking to remote monitoring automation. 

Sodaq SARA SFF R412M

Sodaq SARA SFF R412M

The R412M is a TINY IoT development board at roughly the size of a matchbox. It supports LTE-M and NB-IoT and Arduino compatible providing coverage across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa with EGPRS fallback available in other regions. The power consumption is so low it can be supported by solar and has a wide range of quality modules that make the board versatile across many different applications. 

  • Price: €115
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: North America, Europe, Asia, Africa
  • Compatibility: LTE-M, NB-IoT
  • The Sodaq SARA SFF R412M can be purchased for €115 on the official Sodaq store.

Conclusion

Over time, we will continue to update this post as new boards become available. Not only are we big fans of these boards, they are also compatible with the Hologram M2M IoT SIM.

The Pitch

Interested in Cellular IoT for your current project? Check out Hologram’s Cellular IoT Platform.

Since 2013 Hologram has provided self-serve access to the worlds largest cellular M2M IoT network. With the Hologram SIM, our customers have access to 2G, 3G, LTE, LTE-M, and NB-IoT networks from over 500 carriers. In America that includes T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint.

Get started by ordering the Hologram Pilot SIM today. Pricing starts at $0.60 a month with data billed per kilobyte.


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Ben (benstr) Strahan – Marketing Director/Head of Developer Relations
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