The only 4G modem designed for the MakerSpace - enabling direct connection to single-board computers and microcontrollers.
The only 4G modem designed for the MakerSpace - enabling direct connection to single-board computers and microcontrollers. Read more
Meet the Maker Modem:
The Maker Modem is an exciting new device for connecting your electronics to the internet using the 4G LTE cellular network. The communications methodology employed by the Maker Modem represents a paradigm shift for M2M applications and is the very first specifically targeted towards the Maker community. We believe this will pave the way towards how people implement the Internet Of Things in getting machines to talk to each other.
What makes this modem different is that it uses the USA's largest 4G cellular networks, thereby maximizing coverage, and it works using both simple text messaging and high-speed data over TCP/IP. The Maker Modem is ready to roll right out of the box using its internal antenna system. Of course, you can also connect an external antenna if necessary for more rural applications—and that is precisely where our story begins…
Two years ago I (Jesse) wanted to help my father-in-law manage the workload of monitoring over 40 water wells on his farmland out in West Texas. When I saw how Pop would spend hours driving around in his truck checking the wells one by one, I realized the opportunity being presented. I began buying every cellular network modem I could find to try and implement a command-and-control system for him that was both reasonably priced and easy to operate. I wanted to use text messaging, but no certified boards were available in the USA, and they didn’t have sufficient range to be able to access the network out on the farm. I then switched to trying a single-board computer and expensive modems to send control data over the internet, but soon realized that monthly costs were going to rise significantly since Machine-2-Machine charges are billed out by the megabyte. I finally reached out to the local MakerSpace community in Plano, Texas for some new ideas and met Don. The end result of that conversation was the formation of M2M Circuits, Inc.
Don and I decided to develop our own solution—a brand new modem that uses simple texts for command and control of remote devices while still offering high-speed TCP/IP over the LTE network for higher data-rate applications and broader coverage.
Being provisioned for SMS means that anyone can keep their data-plan costs low by communicating over text messages. Using SMS for basic command and control, a user simply sends a short command via text to a designated phone number. The Maker Modem receives that text through the 4G network and forwards it to your host electronics. A confirmation response can then be sent back as a reply text that appears on the originating phone.
The Maker Modem has two interfaces: a high-speed USB interface for streaming audio and video, and a simple two-wire serial interface for low-bandwidth applications such as SMS or web service calls. These interfaces make it easy to connect to a host PC, a small microcontroller or a variety of small development platforms.
While sending and receiving texts to control a remote device is a great way to save data (and money), sometimes you need to send a large amount of data. In order to demonstrate the throughput capabilities of the Maker Modem in a real-world application, we engaged some brilliant young minds at a major university in Dallas, Texas, and asked them to create a demonstration platform that would provide a basic interface to a radio-controlled device over the 4G LTE network. What they came up with was nothing short of amazing! After abstracting the extensive AT command set that controls the Maker Modem into an API, the team combined a single-board computer with a small HDMI display and formed a generic interface to remotely control a flying drone. (All of the source code that is being generated by this project—including the API—will be open source and available to anyone at no cost.)
1. First off, the Maker Modem uses 4G which maximizes both speed and coverage.
2. The device is provisioned for SMS, meaning that data-plan costs can be kept as low as possible by communicating over text messages.
3. There are two data-port connections: one to allow for direct connection via USB for computers of all shapes and sizes; and a second, two-wire wire serial interface for small, low-power microcontrollers. (Both data interfaces can be used concurrently.)
4. The Maker Modem's built-in antenna system makes it ready to roll right out of the box, and it has the added advantage of being able to accommodate the connection of external antennas for applications that operate in rural areas. (The host controller can select internal or external antennas on the fly, which means that the user can programmatically choose which antenna is used.)
5. The Maker Modem enables immediate connectivity in the United States, but we also have a near-term opportunity to expand into both Mexico and Canada.
6. Currently available domestic data plans for the Maker Modem are not on a roaming network; as such, they provide a reliable and consistent quality of service.
7. With the Maker Modem, the team created an open-source API making it easier for developers to use their favorite single-board computers or microcontrollers (the source code for which will be available for free download).
M2M data plans are relatively expensive compared to the average data costs for cellular devices. A few of the reasons behind this are:
* Device Volume - The mobile device market operates in large volume. As such, US carriers can offer better deals on data. The M2M market is still in its infancy.
* Emerging Market - M2M and the Internet of Things represent an emerging market, and carriers are still trying to figure out the specifics of management and pricing. Because of this, the user is currently having to incur exorbitant costs.
* Lack of Competition - Both the low volume of cellular IoT and the lack of competition for cellular connectivity in the US drive up the cost of M2M data plans.
* Barrier to Entry - The barrier to entry in getting a cellular product approved on the US carriers is cost. That cost is then passed down to both the manufacturers and end users through data plans.
What is M2M Circuits, Inc. doing about it?
First, M2M Circuits believes that producing the Maker Modem will help increase overall volume. As volume increases, data-plan costs will decrease.
Second, M2M Circuits has an opportunity to have the Maker Modem certified by both of the largest 4G carriers in the USA. Depending upon the amount raised, backer preferences and competitiveness of available data plans; M2M Circuits will make a strategic decision as to which network to be certifed on first. The greater the demand for the Maker Modem, the better the opportunity we will have to negotiate for better rates.
Third, M2M Circuits has been busy building relationships with carriers and testing their direct data-plan portals. We've uncovered both opportunities and risks ahead of time that will enable a better and more cost-effective experience than what is currently available.
Fourth, M2M Circuits made sure that the Maker Modem was provisioned for SMS. The API being built enhances the ease of using text messages as a command, control and communications mechanism. This was designed in specifically to keep costs low on existing data plans.
Finally, once demand is sufficiently high, M2M Circuits has strategic plans to expand into other countries in the Americas and Europe. This, too, will increase competition and drive M2M data rates lower.
$200,000: Develop and produce an LTE Maker Modem with a smaller footprint using external antennas only
$300,000: Develop and produce an LTE Maker Modem for the European market
Risks and challenges
Bringing a 4G modem to market is neither easy nor cheap. While our team has more than 30 years of combined experience in RF design, volume manufacturing of electronic products and network-enabled systems; the process of getting approved to operate our modem on the USA's largest 4G networks requires a device-certification process that costs a significant amount of money--anywhere from $50,000 to $90,000. Between certification, initial production costs and fulfillment costs; we need your help to raise funds. For this reason, we are hoping you will join us in this effort and become a backer for the Maker Modem. Together we can change the way the internet communicates for M2M users!
When it comes to fulfillment, every project has potential obstacles from production delays to permits to collaborator mishaps. Some unique challenges we might face after our project is successfully funded are completion of the certification process and providing our user base with the best way to connect to the largest networks. M2M Circuits is mitigating these obstacles by hiring a well-experienced certification test lab to conduct a pre-scan of the device prior to engaging in the actual certification testing and by maintaining positive personal relationships with representatives of the nation's largest networks in order to work out the logistics of connectivity.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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