From its start on Kickstarter, The Things Network has grown into a global crowdsourced data network for the Internet of Things, and arguably has become one of the main driving forces in making LoRaWAN the leader in the war for low-powered, long-range, but low-bandwidth wireless connectivity.
However there have been some stumbling blocks along the way, especially when it comes to the production of the the cheap gateways promised by the network’s original Kickstarter. At €200, which comes in at about $235, the promised gateways were a mere 20 percent of the cost of the then cheapest available off-the-shelf models.
Shipping of the gateways began in November of last year, about a year and a half behind the original schedule, and after their Kickstarter backers pledges had been fulfilled, they were briefly made available as a standalone purchase from the network’s shop if you wanted to get your hands on one for yourself. Unfortunately, if you want to pick one now, you’ll have to go all in, and buy the gateway as part of a larger ‘enterprise starter pack.’
All of which means that if you’re currently in the market for an inexpensive gateway, you’re pretty much going to end up having to build your own. Which is where Xose Pérez and the RAK WirelessRAK833 module comes into the picture.
Coming in three versions — operating at 868MHz, 926MHz, or 915MHz, depending on which frequency band you need for your local environment — the RAK833 SPI module is a lot cheaper than a full-blown gateway based around RAK Wireless’ other board, the RAK831. That weighs in at $199 off-the-shelf, or at $132 per piece for a bare-board, while the RAK833 can be picked up for $99 for the SPI-only module, or for $119 for an SPI-USB module.
The downside is that the RAK833 comes with a mini-PCI Express connector rather than something more maker-friendly. Which is why Pérez had to design and build a custom PCB to mount the board and connected it to a Raspberry Pi, before installing the software stack.
If you’re still looking a gateway that’ll work out of the box, the cheapest available indoor gateway that you can still pick up is probably something like the Laird Sentrius RG186 for £265 (around $350), or if you’re seeking an outdoor gateway you’re probably after the LORIX One which sells for around £590 (or $775).
But if you’re interested in following along with Pérez’s build, you can pick up a RAK833 module from AliExpress for $99 per piece plus shipping—that adds another $7 or $8 depending on your location—which is quite a saving over the off-the-shelf gateways. Pérez’s PCB design and a full bill of materials, allowing you to mount the RAK833 module as a Raspberry Pi HAT, is available from his GitHub repo, alongside the installation scripts.