AVNET Monarch LTE-M Development Kit -- EU - Review

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RoadTest: AVNET Monarch LTE-M Development Kit -- EU

Author: Jan Cumps

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Development Boards & Tools

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: ublox SARA-U201

What were the biggest problems encountered?: Adapt to European bands

Detailed Review:

Summary:

I tested the Monarch LTE-M Development Kit in Europe.

This works. The kit connected to European mobile providers and interacted with the Azure IoT Central.

 

The Avnet Monarch LTE-M Development Kit is a combination of

  • a Sequans Monarch Go modem shield,
  • an NXP LPCXpresso board and
  • Azure Cloud software.

Out of the box, it's configured to work in the USA and has a Verizon SIM card pre-installed.

Verizon does not operate in Europe, and the 4G bands are different. I made the changes that are necessary to operate this design in Europe.

The kit is - at the time of this test - certified for Verizon and their LTE band 13. The hardware is designed to operate in European ranges, but this wasn't tested. It was an experiment for all involved.

In the review, I'm focusing on the adaption of the Modem to a non-USA region. My fellow road testers have reviewed the hardware and software.

 

 

Adapt to Europe Mobile Networks

 

The main differences in Europe, vs USA, are:

  • Verizon does not operate here. The modem is pre-configured for them, and a ThingSpace SIM card is pre-installed
  • The bands used are different. Verizon in the US uses band 13. In my area, band 1, 3, 7, 8 and 20 are used.
    The 2 providers I've tested, both operate on band 3.

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LTE_frequency_bands#Deployments_by_region

 

This requires reconfiguration of the Sequans Monarch Go modem, and fitting the SIM card of the local providers.

The kit's hardware, NXP MCUXpresso firmware and Azure IoT Central cloud example don't require changes. As long as you manage to connect, these work as-is.

 

Changing the SIM card in the Monarch Go modem

 

The Monarch Go is pre-installed on Avnet's Arduino shield. The Verizon SIM card sits within that modem.

Exchanging it for another SIM is easy. There are no advanced skills needed. Just a little care - and no force.

 

First remove any power. Unscrew the modem and lift it off the shield.

There are two screws, I used a Philips 0 driver (Wera 030111).

When both screws are out, you can lift the modem (perfectly) vertically off the board. It's only held on the board by a connector that's on the left underside, when the modem's label is facing you.

On the bottom side of the modem is a little cover. It hides the SIM slot. You can remove it with a nail or a flat screwdriver. No force is needed.

Once open, you can unlock the SIM slot by putting your index finger on it, and sliding it in the direction of the arrow labeled OPEN.

You then flip the lock mechanism up, and swap the SIMs.

When you break your new SIM card out of the plastic, take care that you select the medium outline:

Replace the card, push the lid back and shift it to the locked position.

Take care that the card is properly seated when doing this.

Replace the cover, gently place the modem on the shield and place the screws back.

 

Provision your SIM card

It may be necessary to activate your SIM card before first use. How you do that is provider specific.

For the Verizon card that is pre-loaded, the instructions are in the kit's user guide.

 

In Europe, I tested two providers: Mobile Vikings and BICS.

 

Mobile Vikings is a common mobile network operator. I purchased one of their pre-paid offerings.

Additional to the data services that I need for this exercise, it also has voice and SMS.

Before using the card in the Monarch modem, I activated it with a phone and tested that I could reach the internet. I deactivate the PIN.

The provider has a portal where you can view the credit and use of the card. The portal is designed for mobile phone users.

 

BICS is a provider specialised in industry mobile data use. They are an Avnet partner. BICS sent me SIM cards to assist with this test. These cards offer data, SMS and narrow band IoT (NB-IOT).

They are pre-configured. Costs and data use are available in a customer portal. The portal is designed for companies that manage many assets.

 

 

Set the modem into Europe mode

 

Out of the box, the modem is configured for Verizon. You have to reconfigure it for Europe.

You can do this from within the firmware, by adding four "AT" commands:

 

AT+SQNCTM="standard"
AT+CFUN=0
AT+SQNBANDSEL=0,"standard","3,20"
AT+CFUN=1

 

If you adapt the example that comes with the kit, you can add the calls right after the AT library initialisation:

 

    AT_PORT_SEND_BEGIN_AT();
    AT_PORT_SEND_CONST_STR("+SQNCTM=\"standard\"");
    AT_PORT_SEND_END_AT();

    AT_PORT_SEND_BEGIN_AT();
    AT_PORT_SEND_CONST_STR("+CFUN=0");
    AT_PORT_SEND_END_AT();

    AT_PORT_SEND_BEGIN_AT();
    AT_PORT_SEND_CONST_STR("+SQNCTM=?");
    AT_PORT_SEND_END_AT();

    AT_PORT_SEND_BEGIN_AT();
    AT_PORT_SEND_CONST_STR("+SQNBANDSEL=0,\"standard\",\"3, 20\"");
    AT_PORT_SEND_END_AT();

    AT_PORT_SEND_BEGIN_AT();
    AT_PORT_SEND_CONST_STR("+CFUN=1");
    AT_PORT_SEND_END_AT();

 

It may take several minutes before the modem makes its first successful contact with the provider.

Once the modem + SIM combination established a connection once, subsequent connections tend to be much faster.

 

With the modem that I received, switching from Verizon to Standard wasn't happening. The modem reported an error: +CME ERROR: operation not supported.

This was resolved by updating the modem firmware to GM01Q-GO_VERIZON_SR1.2.0.0-10865. I will write a separate post with the instructions.

 

Results

 

When you have an active data connection, the internet is reacheable.

The next thing the Avnet example application does, is connect to an example Azure IoT Central application.

It the sends telemetry data to Azure, and listens for commands from the cloud. The protocol is MQTT.

 

 

Here is part of the log when the application managed to set up a successful exchage:

 

+COPS: 0,2,"20610",7
OK
AT+CSQ
8 6769 [USART_Handler_T] Operator number: 20610
+CSQ: 25,99
OK
9 6788 [USART_Handler_T] Network operator RSSI: -63 dBm
AT+SQNCTM="standard"
OK
AT+SQNCTM?
+SQNCTM: standard
OK
10 8015 [Microsoft Azure] [INFO ][INIT][8015] SDK successfully initialized.
11 8022 [Microsoft Azure] [INFO ][MQTT][8022] MQTT library successfully initialized.
AT+SQNSCFG=1,1,1450,0,600,50
OK
AT+SQNSCFGEXT=1,1,1,0,1,1
OK
AT+SQNDNSLKUP="global.azure-devices-provisioning.net"
+SQNDNSLKUP: global.azure-devices-provisioning.net,23.100.8.130
OK
12 8511 [Microsoft Azure] Looked up global.azure-devices-provisioning.net as 23.100.8.130
AT+SQNSD=1,0,8883,"23.100.8.130",0,0,1,0

 

Odds and Ends

 

When you use an industrial SIM card provider, you get all the tools and info you need to set up and manage your connections and subscriptions.

For proof-of-concepts, standard mobile phone SIM cards work too. But it may be hard to get info. They rely on the phone OS to set everything correctly.

I used two smart phone apps, Network Cell Info Lite and Signal Spy to spoof the necessary connection info. You put the SIM card in a smart phone and execute the apps.

They reveal a wealth of information. Here are a few captures from when I tried to get as much info from a Mobile Vikings connection as I could get.

 

 

Summary

 

The kit works in Europe, with European mobile data providers .

Because you don't use the pre-installed card and provider, there are additional activities.

Installing the SIM of the provider of your choice will be manual work. The other activities can be automated at production / assembly.

 

The example firmware and Azure IoT demo are a good showcase of a real world design.

The Sequans Monarch Go modem can be easily integrated in custom designs. Both the hardware and software parts.

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