The Internet of Things was supposed to create a connected world. Sure, we have Wi-Fi-enabled doorbells and Bluetooth-connected water bottles, but the promise of IoT still seems quite disconnected from the current reality. Many agricultural, manufacturing, and retail applications that could benefit tremendously from connectivity still lack it due to logistical and cost issues. Blues Wireless has finally emerged from stealth mode to announce the Notecard — a $50 LTE modem with 10 years of prepaid service.
One of the biggest pain points with existing cellular solutions is the lack of predictability in billing. Maybe the base plan is just a few dollars per month, for a few MB, and then the overage fees kick in. Should you hold off using it until you're "ready," in order to prevent the clock from ticking down and the bills from racking up? Should you limit the amount of data you collect in order to prevent surprise overages? What if you don't want to collect data every month, do you have to go in and manually pause your account, just to save a few bucks? Blues eliminates all of these headaches with a single, flat fee that includes not just a 10-year global data plan with 500MB, but also the hardware itself!
"Bee-doo bee-dooo beep beep ghcghchgchg" ... uhhh, what is that ? Oh, that's the sound of a 1980s modem that uses the same AT command set that most cellular modems still use four decades later. But thankfully Blues developers can stay blissfully ignorant of this blast from the past, thanks to a wonderfully modern, JSON-based interface. And as much as many of us love CLI tools, Blues' docs actually contain an in-browser terminal that lets you interact with the Notecard via the Web Serial API.
The Notecard is available in LTE Cat-M and Cat-1 versions for the North American market, as well as a Global model capable of using LTE-M, NB-IoT and GSM networks. All models also incorporate an onboard accelerometer and temperature sensor, as well as GPS capabilities. A built-in secure element ensures security and eliminates the hassle of certificate provisioning. An embedded SIM arrives pre-provisioned as well, meaning no annoying SIM management or micro SIMs falling out and getting lost. The board includes a Cortex-M4 microcontroller, but it is not available for customer code — instead the board connects to a carrier via M.2 edge connector.
While many customers will develop their own carrier boards, the Blues team have a selection of Notecarrier development boards to help make prototyping easier. The Notecarrier AF includes 28-pin Adafruit Feather-compatible headers to support the ever-increasing range of boards that conform to the Feather form factor. The board includes embedded cellular and GPS/GNSS antennas, Quiic/STEMMA QT and Grove connectors, and JST connectors for LiPo and solar power. The Notecarrier Pi features a 40-pin stackable header for use with Raspberry Pi and Pi-compatible devices. Finally, the Notecarrier A breaks out the Notecard edge connector pins as a 22-pin female header, and is available in LiPo/solar power, AA battery power, or un-powered variants, the latter with a castellated edge connector for direct soldering onto a parent board.
The ecosystem is completed by Notehub.io, Blues' cloud data and fleet management service. Notecards send and receive Notes from Notehub, which can also act as a bridge to external cloud services via "Routes." Routes can be used to forward Notecard events to an MQTT server, ThingWorx, or Azure — or pretty much any service that speaks JSON, thanks to integrated JSONata support, which allows data to be transformed into whatever structure the target is expecting.
The Blues Notecard and Notecarrier lines, with included service, are now available for purchase directly from the Blues Wireless Shop, starting at $49 for the LTE Cat-M Notecard with 10 years/500MB of cellular data. Check back soon for our complete hands-on review of the all-inclusive Feather Starter Kit and bring-your-own-Pi Raspberry Pi Starter Kit, and take a look at Blues' Reindeer Recon Notecard-powered Tracker project right here on Hackster!