Particle Mesh will ship in October
My name is Will Hart. I’m a General Manager at Particle responsible for leading our investment in new wireless technologies like Mesh networking and LTE M1.
Today we sent an email to all of our preorder customers to inform them that there have been delays during hardware development. Particle Mesh hardware will now ship in October 2018.
I understand that this is disappointing news to many of you who are anxiously awaiting your Particle Mesh hardware. We have been working very hard to make a September delivery date possible but encountered several unexpected delays in development that have made that impossible.
Openness is one of our core values at Particle, and it also is the purpose of this post. I want to provide to you a glimpse behind the corporate curtain and share some of the challenges that have led to this delay. I also want to share some of the triumphs we’ve achieved since the announcement of the new generation of hardware in February.
If you have any questions about the update below, I encourage you to ask them here in the forums or by visiting our support portal.
Where we are today
According to our delivery plan, we should be in the middle of mass production for the Argon, and completing mass production for the Boron by the end of the month.
Today, we’re wrapping up mass production for the Xenon and preparing to start mass production for the Argon, which puts us 4 weeks behind schedule.
Although we’re disappointed to share this delay with you, we’re incredibly excited about the product that we’ve built, and have achieved the following milestones that will de-risk the remainder of the product development process:
All hardware is locked down
All hardware design files for seven new Particle products are final, and PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) for mass production ordered.
The Boron, the last design to be completed, is the most complex piece of hardware that we’ve designed to date — it’s a densely routed, 8-layer masterpiece of a board with an MCU and two radios all packed into a tiny Feather form factor.
The final hardware designs also feature some improvements over original specifications that include:
- More flash memory
- More PWM pins
- Upgraded Argon Wi-Fi coprocessor (dual core ESP32-D0WD)
Stress testing completed
We have conducted more hardware, environmental, and RF stress testing for Particle Mesh than any previous generation of Particle hardware. This testing has allowed us to push the boundaries of what is possible for embedded mesh networking systems and to discover additional opportunities to improve the performance of our new hardware.
The video and photo below show a test network deployed outside our Shenzhen, China office. You’ll also see our network capacity testing all devices roles in a Particle Mesh network: gateways, repeaters, and endpoints.
Pretesting complete, certifications underway
FCC and FCC-equivalent pretesting has been successfully completed for all our new hardware SKUs, it’s one of the most important milestones in the process. All of our new hardware passed with flying colors, making our third generation of hardware the most performant as well as the most complicated dev kits yet.
Xenon, accessories in mass production
The Xenon as well as the Debugger, Classic Accessory Adapter, and Ethernet FeatherWing, have all entered mass production.
Photos of the first Xenon units off the line are included below — notice the data matrix codes that will be affixed to every Particle Mesh device to simply setup and device configuration!
Causes of delay
I shared above that delays in the development process have continued to put pressure on our September delivery date, and wanted to share some of the interesting problems we’ve had to overcome to make Particle Mesh possible.
LTE M1 network readiness
The Boron is built with LTE M1, the newest cellular protocol for IoT devices. Many of the new features that make it compelling for IoT applications – like eDRX low power and extended coverage modes – are still being rolled out by carriers. To ensure that our customers’ devices can take advantage of these new features when they become available, we’ve brought our industry-leading OTA firmware update platform to LTE M1.
In final device testing, however, we discovered some quirks in the connection stability with individual towers on the network, which was interfering with the consistency of OTA updates in different geographic regions. As a result of these new challenges, we’ve improved our OTA update protocol and made it more resistant to lossy network behavior.
Evolving vendor SDKs
Particle Mesh is using two brand new chipsets — the Nordic Semiconductor nRF52840 mesh and Bluetooth combo chip and the Qualcomm MDM9206, an LTE M1/NB1 chipset — that have only been deployed by a very small number of companies. One of the challenges of working with these new chipsets is the evolving software support within the vendor SDKs that make development possible.
We discovered throughout the course of implementation that several basic features, like the USB peripheral for the nRF52840 and flow control for the MDM9206 (u-blox module), were either not implemented or not reliable. Through partnerships with these companies, we were able to resolve these blockers, but it taught us that even baseline functionality for cutting-edge hardware cannot be assumed.
Because LTE M1 is a brand new wireless specification, the certification body (called CTIA) that defines the certification criteria for this new class of hardware is still working to finalize a critical test – the OTA (“over the air”) testing standard for LTE M1. This test is a required approval of our carrier certifications for the Boron and a key requirement for fulfilling all preorders. We are working closely with the CTIA to expedite our certification by testing against draft standards of the test, which has required our testing partners to procure and install new testing equipment just for this task.
Though there have been some setbacks during development, there have also been some exciting triumphs. Each new generation of Particle hardware bites off more and more complexity than the previous. Particle Mesh is no exception.
Bluetooth-based Thread commissioning
Our iOS and Android apps will be the first implementations that we’re aware of to include Bluetooth-based Thread network commissioning (all Thread commissioning standards assume Wi-Fi and Thread onboard). This has essentially meant inventing our own Bluetooth setup protocol that allows for the initial setup of Mesh network over Bluetooth as well as the ability to commission new endpoints onto existing mesh networks via Bluetooth. This has never been done before, and we expect it to radically simplify the simplicity with which these kinds of networks can be created and maintained over time.
The video below demonstrates an early demonstration of this process (with a proof-of-concept app design).
Secure Bluetooth authentication and pairing
Security is a cornerstone of the Particle platform, and Bluetooth is the newest protocol that we’ve added to our portfolio. Although encryption for Bluetooth data streams already exists as an optional feature, Bluetooth authentication is not a secure process or part of the specification, as it was originally intended for peripherals like keyboards and mice.
Since we’re using Bluetooth for critical tasks like network commissioning and device diagnostics, we improved on the Bluetooth standard by porting Mbed TLS, an encryption library in C, to our Android and iOS apps to facilitate secure authentication.
Embedded border routers with OpenThread
A third milestone that we’ve achieved is becoming the first company to implement OpenThread’s gateway functionality on an embedded microcontroller device.
Previously, all OpenThread gateways have been implemented on devices running Linux with significantly more powerful processors and additional flash/RAM. As I mentioned above, we have been able to do so with impressive network performance, making Particle the first end-to-end Thread development platform and by far the cheapest and most accessible tools for developing Thread-based applications. This is only possible because of this engineering feat, which we are contributing back to the OpenThread community via our open source Device OS.
In the photo below:
- Magenta = gateway
- Blue = repeater
- Green = end device
What happens next
With most of the highest risk milestones behind us, the rest of the development process should be relatively straightforward.
- Manufacturing continues for the Xenon and will kick off for the Argon and Boron soon
- Hardware will be tested in our contract manufacturing facility in Shenzhen and packaged
- All finished goods will be sent from our facilities in China to our logistics warehouse
- Over a period of two weeks, we’ll fulfill all 30,000+ device preorders and make the product available for purchase in our retail store for immediate fulfillment
In the spirit of openness, we’re committed to providing you as much transparency into our development process as possible. If you have questions, please feel free to ask here in the forums or reach out to our developer support team by visiting our support portal.
— Will Hart