Electron vs. Boron – “living on the edge” – what has changed with the cellular connection?

A long but hopefully interesting story – I need some help to save the world (or at least one small, precious part of it) – read on!

Background: I’m a Park Ranger at Moreton Island National Park, Queensland, Australia.

My main job on this island is controlling (read “killing”) feral pigs. It’s been my focus for about 5 years, and I’ve managed to take out nearly 300 of them. I hunt, use poison and traps. I’m down to the last few dozen – so that means getting “smarter” with my trapping. The island is ~150 square kilometers and getting around is dependent on tides, swell and time.

Last year I built a prototype remote trigger for one of my traps. Simple stuff - 12v solar system, weather proof enclosure, Electron, INA219 to monitor the SoC and a relay to put 12v into a car door lock actuator to release a trebuchet trigger and drop a gate shut on a trap. The traps are steel mesh, about 10 meters wide with a wooden guillotine door. I use a dear feeder (solar powered on a timer) to toss some corn around and monitor the proceeding from afar via 3G connected trail cameras (from Spartan Cameras: http://www.spartancamera.com.au/gocam-camera/ ).

I have 10 traps scattered around the island. When they turn up at an area, I feed the pigs up over a week or so, wait till they are all comfortable with going in and out of the trap then watch the trap from the comfort of my home and trigger the trap via an IFTT applet. Works great – apart from being woken up by my phone at 3am to “work”.

Here’s the first successful test (I’ve obscured the 2 victims after dispatching them).


…in they come…


…drop the door (they are at the back of the trap)…


…and I have a 2 hour drive to deal with them.


Trap.


3G camera – motion activated – home-made 12v solar supply.


Deer feeder on the right.


Car door lock actuator – trebuchet trigger – the door weighs about 15kg.


Control box, solar panel, magnetic reed switch on the door (in case the camera goes offline) – still using an omnidirectional antennae at this point.


12v battery, solar regulator, and Electron.

When I saw the Generation 3 gear coming through I had grand ideas of switching to Borons to run the trigger and putting a xenon in the feeders so I could a) alter the feed time remotely (No point dropping corn of the ground twice a day when there are no pigs around right?); b) use an ultrasonic sensor to monitor the level of corn in the feeder; and even c) automate the triggering of the trap (PIR and ultrasonics).

So, I now have a box full of Borons and Xenons and one Argon (for testing locally) and I’ve been making “magic happen”.

My problem - Cellular reception. This island is 30 – 50km from any cell tower (apart from a few small, local towers serving the towns). It’s the 3rd largest sand island in the world, has interesting topography and a lot of other challenges. My trap/camera locations are subject to getting cell signal – 1 to 2 bars typically – from near the top of a strategically placed tree. Those towers big enough to reach here are (almost) exclusively from Telstra.

So, I have 2 Electrons. One in my first remote trigger and the other in my home at Cape Moreton monitoring the power system.


The Cape Moreton Lighthouse - 41km from the tower I get service from.

(I live in the house to the right of the lighthouse).
Both of these Electrons have been happily working on Signal strengths around 28 – 32 and signal quality of around 50 for about a year. To improve the reception of the trap trigger I use a directional 3G antenna pointed south toward a cell tower on Stradbroke Island – it doesn’t miss a beat.


Sate of Charge graph – IFTTT from Particle to Google Sheets – scripts keep the last X days of data.

The Borons however are basically useless here. When they (eventually) connect to the net they report the same signal and quality as the Electrons (30-ish strength and 50-ish quality) – but they constantly drop out (fast blink green – for hours sometimes – 8 hours during the day is not uncommon). Even with a directional antenna (giving signal strength of 60 -70) the Borons drop out then go into a spiral of disconnects… then spring back to life hours later. All at the same time, the Electrons just sit happily doing their job (quietly mocking me for trying to embrace the mesh). If I take the Borons to the mainland and use the standard antennae they work fine (reporting a signal strength of around 60 – 70).

So:
What has changed in the change from Electron to Boron as far as the Cellular Connection goes?

I suspect my Borons are trying to talk to non-Telstra carriers – how do I discourage that?

How can I troubleshoot all this? (Given the absolute crappy reception (and I only stay on the mainland for 1 or 2 days a fortnight) - I do indeed own a Particle Debugger! Can this help me?).

I don’t want to have to use a Telstra SIM. I use them in my 10 cameras, and they cost me a $150 a year, each – and with the cameras (despite taking 100s of HD pictures) I’d be lucky to use 300MB per month per camera -so much wasted data.

So - your thoughts?

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Thanks so much for sharing!

It’s an awesome creative use of Partice products :spark: @will @zach May want to share this on the blog.

@rickkas7 May have a way to force the connection to the towers you want if they are indeed not connecting to the same towers as the Electron. He has code that allows you to tell which towers are being used.

The Borons and Electrons are both 3G?

Yes - both 3G.

I even force my phone down to 3G when I’m here - 4G is faster but 3G more reliable.

I’m really stressing about getting the borons going as I need the xenons to smarten-up the whole system.

Cheers.

I’m doing much the same as you, I have Electrons set up now where I get 1 bar of service on my phone and they work fine. I got the Boron a fortnight ago and I couldn’t get it to maintain a connection even where I get 5 bars on the phone so I put in a Telstra sim and have had no drop outs yet. I have yet to deploy it to where there is bad service though. That should be in the next week or so.

I’d go with the Telstra sim and if possible get the borons up high, maybe up with your trail cams.
Maybe even go LoRa from Xenons through to 1 Boron to save on sims.

Are you using the Particle Inbuild SIM or a 3rd Party SIM? What’s the RSSI of the Electron verses the Boron.
Be good to know if the Boron has a Weaker Receiver than the Electron, as we plan on rolling out a load of Boron’s but if they are not going to be suited for a Telstra Connection then we may have to stick with Electrons.

Or stick with the Electrons and use Lora 915mhz RFM95 or XBee radios for the local radio network instead of mesh.

The MESH stability is still a work in progress and it took many years to get the Electron and Photon to where they are now.

Strength and quality number are the same between the Electrons and the Borons when the Borons are connected - it just seems like the Borons are “hopping” between carriers. Because Telstra provides the “best” continuous signal/connection you can almost (usually) make calls, text and browse on a Telstra phone here (where I live - 40km out to sea at the top of a bloody-great cliff).

We have lots of friends and family come and stay here (as you would). If they are with Telstra then they get reasonable service. Optus and Vodaphone are a lucky-dip - some times you can make/receive calls (briefly) sometimes just text - sometimes playing “snake” is all the entertainment you’ll get from your trusty old NOKIA.

Looks and smells to me like the Boron is trying (for whatever reason) to use whichever carrier it thinks is best at the time.

…using a Telstra SIM means $150/year vs. about $20/year on the soft-SIM (no contest).

My local testing with an Argon and a couple of Xenons has been faultless. My Trigger (Boron) and feeder/motion sensor (Xenon) will be within 8m of each other - line of site. I don’t see a problem. Maybe if I start hanging additional sensors in the surrounding trees we might be talking up to 10m.

Iv’e just got to get some reliability with the Boron connection.

Hook a brother up??? Send me the code!!!

OK - I’ll rip a Telstra SIM out of one of my cameras and give it a go.

My original Trigger (using a simple 5db dipole) worked fine but would “go off the air” for hours at a time when there were more people (campers) on the island.

A friend (who works for Telstra) says that cell towers will actively “drop” weak connections (read "remote connections) when their load increases (to provide faster/better service to the many at the expense of the few.

I’m guessing the Borons are trying to use another carrier (successfully yet breifly) for a while and then sitting there spinning their wheels trying to reconnect when said carrier is way to busy to service a “remote schmuck” like me.

Once I swapped the omni for a directional I gained another ~10db and that was enough to keep me connect 99% of the time.

…once again though (for the “clever people”) - when they are connected the Boron and the Electron report the SAME signal/quality numbers - BUT the Electrons manage to STAY connected and also RECOVER way faster than the Borons.

WHY?

:grinning:

Might the the following be the root cause of your problem given Vodafone’s limited coverage in your location? An item in another post:

‘’rickkas7Particle Technical Documentation Writer18d
By the way, when using the Particle SIM card, only the Electron and E Series E310 use Telstra in Australia.

The Boron 2G/3G uses Vodafone.”

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VERY interesting Post… Thanks for Sharing !
I’m doing something similar to trap wild hogs, but not near as nice/large of a pen.

I might have missed the answer to this, but is there a Chance that your problem is the Local Mesh crashing, and not necessarily the Boron’s Cell Connection ?

I see the same pattern between Electron and Boron (and Argon), and I am in a location with great coverage. In my experience with the complexity involved with Mesh on top of 3 new devices, overall maturity could take a while.

A particle engineer (I think) followed my devices and they believe it may be related to a similar situation with a networking deadlock on Argon. So when it is fixed in the next release it should be a lot better than today.

The Boron 2G/3G uses Vodafone, not Telstra. That very well could be the issue.

You don’t have to use an actual Telstra SIM, however. You can order a Particle SIM card from the online store and use that as a “3rd-party” SIM card in a Boron and it will use Telstra.

Just flash this code to your Boron once and the setting will stick. No need to set the APN when using a Particle SIM.

#include "Particle.h"

#include "dct.h"

SYSTEM_MODE(SEMI_AUTOMATIC);

void setup() {
	Cellular.setActiveSim(EXTERNAL_SIM);

	// This is just so you know the operation is complete
	pinMode(D7, OUTPUT);
	digitalWrite(D7, HIGH);
}

void loop() {
}

Change the code to INTERNAL_SIM to switch back.

Don’t forget to deactivate your internal SIM card, otherwise you’ll end up paying for both.

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Which antenna are you using Pete?
BTW I have been sending low res infrared images from a xenon with a flir camera to a website. Let me know if you want the code.

Good to know, that explains a lot.

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What do the images end up looking like? Which if Sensor are you using?

Upside down selfie :grinning:
It’s a Flir Lepton https://www.sparkfun.com/products/13233

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Damn it, damn it, damn it…

It’s all good.
The external sim can go over Telstra network.
See Rick’s post above.

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