Welcome to EnviroDIY, a community for do-it-yourself environmental science and monitoring. EnviroDIY is part of WikiWatershed, an initiative of Stroud Water Research Center designed to help people advance knowledge and stewardship of fresh water.
New to EnviroDIY? Start here

Beyond 2G cellular modems?

Home Forums Infrastructure and Equipment Beyond 2G cellular modems?

Viewing 17 reply threads
  • Author
    • #1210

        Does anyone know of a 3G or greater cellular modem available for Arduino? We’re developing a wireless sensor network to continuously monitor hydrology and water chemistry at a remote mine site in eastern KY. I get cellular reception on the ridge through AT&T, but don’t think T-Mobile will work way out there. There are other local carriers but I don’t know who they are. We’ve been looking at cellular modules such as the MG2639 module from sparkfun (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/13120) or the Fona shield but they are all 2G from what I understand, and AT&T plans on retiring their 2G network sometime in the near future. Does anyone know of a 3G module for use with Arduino and a cell carrier other than T-Mobile?


      • #1222

          I’m using systems from Onset U30 which have been upgraded – see a post I made elsewhere. The sensor interaface is typically 20mA current or Voltage.

          If you are after an Arduino shield its only going to be the typical Arduino distributors.
          For “coming soon” that should be Arduino suppliers you could make a downpayment on

          For currently available – but probably not recommended for small project runs, ie if you buy a lot the price could drop
          NimbeLink, LLC Skywire

          For professional grade with power available these might work.
          and they have lots of data plans

        • #1224

            Hi neilh,

            Thanks for the info. As for the Onset U30, we’re trying to avoid paying the big bucks for commercial equipment, plus we’re designing our own custom sensors and dataloggers…hence the Arduino WSN.

            Particle’s electron looks interesting…available in 2G/3G, Arduino compatible with libraries, and running on AT&T networks (service available at my remote mine site in eastern KY), all good. Sadly, they’ve run out and are not available until 11/15!

            NimbeLink also looks interesting, but I was hoping for something less esoteric and easier to program with available libraries such as available from Sparkfun and Adafruit. Do you know more about using these?

            The commercial grade Cradlepoint modem looks nice but expensive, and similar to (yet a little cheaper) the Sierra GX series recommended to me by folks from Metronome (who build the Neomotes I’ll also be using and comparing to our Arduino-based WSN).

            Question: do you know of an app for iPhone that’s similar to the “GSM Field Test Pro” you mention? I tried to find something like that on iTunes but no luck. That would be great in remote eastern KY.

            Again, thanks a bunch…I think the Particle electron looks the most promising!


          • #1225

              Hi Stephanie
              This is a great area to collaborate… I’m personally working on something …. and built some devices in the past see
              So as ever partly depends on budget.
              I only know about Android based “GSM Field Test Pro” – for techy stuff the iPhone is a more closed environment – not open source.
              The 3G(4G+) devices modems are evolving, the cellular network is cellphone driven – and the big industry players are a bit sticky about the lower revenue data M2M (machine2machine).. however the IoT (Internet of Things) is driving new products.
              I’d be interest in what you are doing as I’m working on powering in remote instruments … so particularly interfaces and what instruments you are hoping to interface to would be interesting.
              Physical sensors are a major budgetary challenge – scientists can sense elements on Pluto – but not many places have a Nasa budget to do it 🙂
              The specific challenges in sensors are accuracy, long term stability, calibration and powering. Each physical sensor has its own unique challenges to turn the real world sensing into traceable units.:(
              The Nutrient sensor challenge is one example of trying to solve the problem with I hear 28teams trying to create a Nitrate or Phosphate sensor


            • #1226


                I’m always open to collaboration…I very much like the website you sent me and want to develop something very similar to stream live data. I’d be interested in the platform you’re using to push and store data. This is all very new to me and my learning curve is quite steep (originally a forest ecologist and remote sensing analyst back when), but one of my advisors has been developing with Arduino for several years now and is an adept C++ programmer.

                My primary water quality parameter of interest is specific conductance as it is used by many regulatory agencies to determine whether streams are meeting their designated uses below mountaintop mine and valley fill (MTM/VF) sites throughout Central Appalachia (http://cfpub.epa.gov/si/si_public_record_report.cfm?dirEntryId=233809). Streams with SC > 500 uS/cm are typically degraded and have significantly reduced biological diversity. Mine waters in the region are dominated by Ca2+, Mg+, SO4-, and HCO3-. My research interest is in evaluating the effect of engineering hydrologic flowpaths to maintain downstream water chemistry. My site was experimentally mined and reclaimed to minimize the ionic strength of waters downstream from MTM/VF sites.

                Prior to matriculating at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA in 2012, I worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviewing surface coal mine permits in Kentucky for compliance with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. In addition to surface and groundwater specific conductance, parameters of interest include climate (wind speed, precip, barometric pressure, temperature, and relative humidity), flow (I’ve got one flume installed and possibly another will be installed) and groundwater (water depth, ORD, and pH) and surface water quality (including temperature, DO, pH, ORP, Ca, and Cl). I’ve been interested in developing a wireless sensor network primarily due to limited funding and the remoteness of the site, as well as the ability to monitor and collect continuous data.

                I’m well aware of the limitations you mention re: sensors, particularly cost, so one of my research objectives is to evaluate the performance of low-cost sensors that can be integrated into WSNs. For example, we’ll be testing Atlas Scientific, Pasco, an/or Cole-Palmer sensors (pH, DO, conductivity, ORP) and Pasco and/or Cole-Palmer for Ca and Cl. We’re also trying to develop a pressure transducer using shields from Sparkfun and Adafruit, but are having some difficulty with waterproofing. May have to try the acoustic systems for depth. A sensor for sulfate is of particular interest but I can’t seem to find anything out there.

                Let me know any thoughts you may have regarding collaboration. Feel free to contact me a sgfulton@charter.net.

                Thanks again,

                P.S. I recognize your area code…I’m originally from San Rafael, CA.

              • #1227

                  Hi Stephanie
                  Thanks for the azonde.com comment – I started it many years ago – somewhat based on TinyOS.net – which is an embedded CompSci teaching tool.
                  A better way is to use a REST based reporting.
                  An example I’ve done using a Rain Gauge (Arduino based) thingspeak.com/channels/8652 (supplied by iobridge.com)
                  which when using a JavaScript framework looks like this

                  Wow really interested in your “research interest is in evaluating the effect of engineering hydrologic flowpaths to maintain downstream water chemistry” & “Streams with SC > 500 uS/cm are typically degraded and have significantly reduced biological diversity”
                  My suggestion would be to collaborate on a significant part of that, measuring the stream SC.
                  Where would you see the SC probe placed in the water column (see below)?
                  The challenges from what I understand with SC sensors is the buildup of slime that can impair the readings.
                  I’m working on a low cost depth gauge – open source.
                  Part of that could be adapted to a SC probe.
                  A possible place designed for collaboration could be here..
                  let me know if this works, but I’m open to anywhere else.

                  The context: Wireless Sensors Networks (WSN) are challenging and IMHO Riparian WSN (RWSN) are even more challenging, and the technology stack to pull this together is still evolving unless you go for a commercial solution.
                  I’m seeing if I can solve this technical challenge with the focus on the riparian stream side locations.
                  – WSN are particularly applicable to long term, sensing over many years with a wide variety of environmental conditions and reliability needs.
                  – Sensing in the water column is varied and sensors need to be easily changed for both equipment management (failures) and varied traceability requirements. (Some sites require more defined measurement trace-ability than others)
                  – Depth sensors placement has to be at the bottom of the water column, and best practices are typically 6in/15cm below the lowest level the water is expected to drop to for any stream flow. The primary challenge is the physical sensors themselves – which have temperature dependency and resolution/ accuracy that is challenged with low water heads.

                • #1230

                    BTW its also worth compiling a list of different ways of doing remote long distance RWSN – what works and what doesn’t
                    One cellular method is to use an integrated Cell phone
                    And I’ve just seen this that might answer your original question, an Arduino shield for 3G Multitech Socket Modem.

                  • #1231

                      Thanks for all the great info, Neil, and sorry I haven’t been responding sooner. Right now we’re focused on getting the Adafruit FONA shield to work. It’s 2G but there are libraries, etc. which makes it much simpler for us to work with since we’re not engineers. We’re trying to keep it simple. This is my dissertation research and the WSN is only one aspect of the study so I’m pretty slammed trying to get up to speed on the Arduino side of the house. My advisor is doing most of the programming, etc. then once we get a prototype data logger I will build up the rest of them. I will try to keep you informed as much as I can. Thanks again.

                    • #1232

                        Hello Stephanie
                        Goodluck with it. Thanks for the detail. Out of curiosity what base arduinio are you are looking at.
                        One way to share the experience is to blog on the stages that you go through.
                        The challenges – from how to check what works and how to protect it, and how they are overcome are as valuable as the end result.

                        The Adafruit FON doesn’t state its temperature range – which is usually important for an outside environmental logger, but amazing with the lib
                        https://github.com/adafruit/Adafruit_FONA_Library – amazing what is being created.
                        As someone who plays with software/hardware – the technical challenges with software is testing. So personally with this I would
                        1) Generate a test suite – pick a simple pattern of data reporting,(incrementing number) and then test out the linkages from test unit to reporting. This verifies from unit to internet.
                        2) For “integration test” – that is checking it works except for the real data – create an air temperature probe – and then stick it out in a realistic situation – just outdoors where it can be easly investigated – and leave it running for a month. This allows all the gremlins to safely introduce themselves and be encouraged to move on.

                      • #1233

                          One technology that’s become recently available is LoRa, which is a ISM (900 MHz) band system that’s optimized for data transmission. More details at https://www.lora-alliance.org/ but PCB’s with LoRa radios on them are available from Tindie.com at reasonable pricing (sub $20 ish). It looks like these would require a base station to complete a network, but they claim 5 to 10 km of coverage, which might be sufficient for may applications. I’m not affiliated with them, I just find the technology interesting.

                        • #1234

                            Dave, thanks for this. It is interesting. Do you know more about it? Do you need a cellular carrier/SIM card? I’m curious how they’re transmitting the data, i.e., on whose network. It’s not clear from their web site, and I can’t find anything in their specifications (or I’m missing it, as it’s still hard to me to understand all these communication protocols).

                          • #1235

                              Yes, Neil, the FONA library is wonderful…we’re not really inteested in developing all that code (or figuring out each protocol in great detail) for each and every sensor/piece of hardware we’re using, so having a library is key.

                              You asked which Arduino platform we’re using…it’s the Mega. We may also use a Raspberry Pi as the data manager for cellular, but I’m not sure that’s necessary.

                            • #1236


                                This is independent of a cellular carrier, you use unlicensed ISM bands for communications. You can sort of think of this as very long distance Wifi. The sensors communicate with a separate base station that you configure. The Datarates you can get over this are somewhat dependent on the distance between the sensors and the base station, so it’s good for transmitting data, not good for web pages. I haven’t used it, but I’ve spent 6 to 10 hours looking at it.


                              • #1237

                                  The LoRa are part of a group of emerging technologies – some that may be built out like the Cellular Network for easy use.
                                  One example is http://www.weightless.org/keyfeatures/5-km-range
                                  Right now they are point to point – that is you have to have both sides of the link – and do Line of Sight analysis. The wireless signals will not go through hillsides.
                                  Cellular providers generally do a regional geographical analysis to attempt to place their cell towers at the highest point so that they can reach the widest number of cell phones.
                                  The big advantage of “LoRa” point-to-point wireless sensor network is overall lower consumed power – the local equipment can manage it better. The disadvantage is that all nodes have to be maintained.
                                  The big advantage of Cellular systems is you only need the end modem – but it has to be in range of a provider and requires much more electrical power.

                                • #1238

                                    That’s a great summary of things. Doing both sides of the link is both an advantage and disadvantage for these approaches. There’s also no re-occurring charges for service, although the up-front cost is probably higher.

                                  • #1239

                                      Dave, again, sounds interesting, but not sure LoRa would work for us. We’re monitoring water chemistry at a remote mine site in eastern KY and want to push the data out to the internet. LoRa sounds more appropriate for IoT in urban settings. From what I’m gathering, cellular seems like our best bet, and it’s going to have to a carrier that’s using AT&T or Verizon, or a local provider. I don’t think T-mobile is available out there.

                                      Neil, thanks for the summary.

                                    • #1240

                                        Hi Dave
                                        Sounds like you have a good idea of what you want to do and the technologies, but to start with the basics.
                                        1) I’d suggest a plan with cost options including what ever time its going to cost in time billing. If there is team install project time with two people per visit for safety and x hours traveling time – the costing analysis changes. If you expect to visit the site regularly and can absorb the wireless network planning then it is a different cost structure.
                                        2) First is to identify locations on the ground (sorry sounds basic but sometimes this step gets missed) and the wireless telemetry options.
                                        2) a cellular radio-site survey – probably first on paper, and then if there is the possibilty of a specific cell carrier to organize having that carriers cell phones and then investigate the site options for actual radio signal.
                                        3) if there is a local building with internet then you could consider a point-to-point system. For a local internet need to investigate how to access that network – sometimes it is easy (eg School, sympathetic property owner) other times the network owner (eg County Water Agency) is challenging to get to the right person and permission to install at top of building. Then need to map the Line of Sight for the radio waves – in valleys its tricky.

                                        One narrow valley I installed in – the property owner knew where there was a narrow alley for Verizon Cellphone – its where he could get his Cellphone to work. And we installed a Verizon system in that alley – which was very unique as almost nobody uses Verizon CDMA systems


                                      • #1241


                                          I don’t have any current active projects, I’m pondering an open source lagrangian drifter for stream flow measurements, but nothing build yet. You’ve written up some nice installation instructions to keep in mind.



                                      Viewing 17 reply threads
                                      • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.