tl;dr - Community interest in Verizon support for the Electron?
I’m the co-founder and CTO at Tule, where we are building a remote sensor network that helps commercial agriculture companies monitor their water use. We are planning to build our next generation hardware on the Particle platform, and we were excited to see the recent announcement for the Electron (our sensors run on cellular). However, for our company, Verizon support is a must have - a large percentage of the fields we work in have no AT&T or TMobile coverage. Unfortunately that means that the standard Electron, which is planned to be GSM-only, won’t work for us.
I’m sure this same problem applies to other rural applications such as hiking, mining, equipment tracking, etc. With this in mind, we’re interested in gauging community interest for an effort to bring Verizon support to the Electron ecosystem.
It seems that there are 2 major obstacles that are preventing the Particle team from offering Verizon support in the initial release of the Electron:
- The larger uBlox Verizon modem is too large to fit on the proposed Electron PCB (which is built to be backwards compatible with the Core and Photon header layout)
- Verizon is not part of their MVNO program, therefore, they can’t offer painless activation and management of data on the Verizon network.
From our perspective, it would be worth the pain of initiating a direct relationship with Verizon and giving up footprint compatibility with the Photon, in exchange for getting Verizon-compatible hardware that works with the Particle software stack and device management tools.
The uBlox modems that the Particle team has selected for the Electron have been designed to solve this problem using a Nested Design architecture. As you can see in the following graphic, it is possible to support the Verizon modem (and 4G modems) by designing the PCB with 3 nested modem footprints:
At least 2 solutions are possible for the PCB layout:
- Make the board longer to accommodate the larger modem while maintaining the header layout of the Core and Photon
- Maintains header compatibility with the Core and Photons
- Is compatible with breadboards
- Long shape requires larger enclosure
- Probably more wasted PCB in manufacturing
- Make the board wider, breaking compatibility with the Core and Photon, but minimizing overall PCB size (and cost)
- PCB can be loaded with either AT&T or Verizon modems
- Same PCB will be compatible with next generation uBlox modems
- Most compact size for smaller enclosure
- More efficient to manufacture
- Header not compatible with Core and Electron
With either of the above PCB layouts, the Electron firmware could be modified to support the Verizon modem. Thus, we could have all the benefits of the Particle over the air updates, secure communication, cloud services, etc, with coverage of the Verizon network.
Seeking input from the community:
- How important is Verizon support to you? Will the GSM-only version of the Electron work for your application, or is Verizon support a requirement?
- Would you be willing to contribute engineering or financial resources to build a Verizon compatible version of the Electron?
- If you need Verizon support, which of the above PCB layouts do you prefer?
This effort is not intended to undermine the Particle team’s efforts. We would prefer to stay completely inside the Particle ecosystem rather than building custom hardware, but Verizon support is required for our business, so we need to find a solution. I have spoken to the Particle team about this initiative and they are supportive. Hopefully our work for building Verizon compatible firmware and hardware can be contributed back the Particle community.