IOT-BOTS.com's qTop Cell BG96 Shield Adds LTE, NB-IoT, and GNSS Connectivity to Your Feather Board

Designed with the Internet of Things in mind, this low-cost board only needs a Feather and a nano-SIM to get your project online.

IOT-BOTS.com has launched a crowdfunding campaign for a Feather-compatible shield designed to bring Long Term Evolution (LTE) and NB-IoT connectivity, plus global navigation satellite system (GNSS) location tracking, to any Feather format board.

"[The IOT-BOTS.com] qTop BG96 LTE/GNSS AFC Shield is [a] Feather-compatible shield to be used for DIY IoT project together with Adafruit Feather compatible IoT board to get cellular connectivity and location info for the system developed," the company writes of the add-on board. "This qTop cell modem shield works 'out of the box' with all ESP32 Feather-like boards — for basic operations it uses as default connection two control GPIOs (PWR_ON and MODEM_ON), and regular Feather UART pins and power for sure."

The board is built around the Quectel BG96 modem module, which offers LTE Cat. M1, LTE Cat NB1, and EGPRS cellular connectivity alongside a GNSS receiver — with the board breaking out to two separate Hirose uFL connectors for the modem and GNSS antennas, plus offering 3.3V DC power for an active GNSS antenna. A nano-SIM slot is provided at the top of the PCB, with full ESD protection across all traces.

The company has put considerable thought into the design of the board: A buck-boost converter provides power to the modem module, allowing it to work even with an input voltage from the microcontroller host as low as 3.3V; a level shifter also converts between 3.3V logic on the microcontroller side and 1.8V logic on the modem.

The add-on also conforms to IOT-BOTS.com qTop standard, meaning it include an EEPROM with unique identifier and shield identification pre-programmed. "[An] IoT controller with appropriate FW [firmware] loaded, at power up time could identify [the] type of the shield and configures FW to work with [it]," the company explains. "So, no needs to re-flash [the] IoT controller with new FW if you want to change shield, for example, to change wireless connectivity from LTE to LoRa: Just turn power off, replace a shield and turn power on — system will recognize new HW connected and start working with that device."

The design also includes qJam, the company's I2C connectivity system. Using a six-pin header, a range of add-on hardware devices can be connected directly to the board as a piggyback module — no cables or soldering required. The qJam connector includes 3.3 power, connectivity to the I2C bus, an open-drain interrupt, and a general-purpose input/output (GPIO) pin for use as a control or status signal.

The qTop BG96 LTE/GNSS AFC Shield has launched on GroupGets as part of our Hackster Launch program, with pricing set at $49.99 per unit plus shipping. Additional information is available on the company website.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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