Simple BLE bridge to TTN Lora using the TTGO ESP32 LoRa32 board

The TTGO LoRa32 is an ESP32 based board that features Wifi and BlueTooth low energy but also includes an external Lora chip, in my case the SX1276 868Mhz version.

The following code/hack is just to test the feasibility of bridging BLE devices over the ESP32 and then to Lorawan, more specifically sending BLE data to the LoraWan TTN network.

I’m using Neil Koban ESP32 BLE library, that under platformIO is library number 1841 and the base ABP code for connecting to TTN.

In simple terms this code just makes the ESP32 to emulate a BLE UART device for sending and receiving data. It does that by using the Nordic UART known UUID for specifying the BLE UART service and using also the Nordic mobile applications, that supports such device, for sending/receiving data.

Using the Nordic mobile Android phone applications, data can be sent to the Lora32 board either by using the excellent Nordic Connect application or by also using the simpler and direct Nordic UART application.

The tests program just receives data through BLE and buffers it onto an internal message buffer that, periodically, is sent through Lora to the TTN network. I’ve decided arbitrary that the buffer is 32 bytes maximum. We should keep our message size to the necessary minimum, and also just send few messages to keep the lorawan duty factor usage within the required limits.

So, using the following code we can use our phone to scan from the ESP32 BLE device named TTGOLORAESP32 connect to it and send data to the device.

After a while, when the transmission event fires up, data is transmitted, and the BLE device just receives a simple notification with the EV_TXCOMPLETE message.

That’s it.

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The ESP32 Oled Lora TTGO LoRa32 board and connecting it to TTN

The TTGO LoRa32 board is an ESP32 based board that has both an Oled and a Lora transceiver, in my case, the SX1276 transceiver for the 868Mhz band. So it is very similar to some of the ESP32 Oled boards available on the Internet. The board looks like this:

And the interesting part of this board is the new Wifi antenna located in the back that is made of bend metal:

The board also has a LiPo connector, and probably a charger circuit, since I haven’t tried it yet, a user controlled blue led, and a very dim red power led. The led is so dim that at first I thought the board was broken/short circuited, but it is normal.
The Lora Antenna is connected by U.FL/IPEX connector. Both a U.FL to SMA adapter cable is provided and also a cable to connect to the LiPo connector.

An important information to use this board for the LMIC LoraWan based communication is the location of the Lora transceiver DI01 and DIO2 pins. Fortunately they are exposed and connected internally to the ESP32 processor GPIO33 and GPIO32 pins respectively. I’ve updated the pin out for this board:

TTGOESP32Lora_wrongPins

EDIT: Thanks to Andreas on the comment section to point out that this image, while is correct for my board version (with the “3D” metal antenna under the board), the pin labels ARE WRONG. So much for copy it from the seller page.

The (so far yet…) pins mapping are on the bellow image. I’ve checked with my physical board and it seems right now. Notice that the board rotated 180 degrees.

TTGOESP32Lora_Correct_Pins

I hope this corrects definitely the issue.

So back to basics, the LMIC definition pins for using this board are:

const lmic_pinmap lmic_pins = {
    .nss = 18,
    .rxtx = LMIC_UNUSED_PIN,
    .rst = 14,
    .dio = {26, 33, 32}  // Pins for the Heltec ESP32 Lora board/ TTGO Lora32 with 3D metal antenna
};

The Blue Led Pin is at Pin 2, and according to the sample code the Oled Display is at I2C address 0x3C. The I2C bus where the OLed is at SDA pin 4 and SCLK pin 15.

Also it seems there are at least two revisions for the ESP32 silicon, Revision 0 (Zero) for the initial one, and the latest, at the current date, Revision one.

By executing the Andreas Spiess revision check code it seems that my board is using the latest revision:

REG_READ(EFUSE_BLK0_RDATA3_REG) 1000000000000000
EFUSE_RD_CHIP_VER_RESERVE_S 1100
EFUSE_RD_CHIP_VER_RESERVE_V 111

Chip Revision (official version): 1
Chip Revision from shift Operation 1

Programming the board:
The board can be programmed easily with Platformio IDE by selecting as the target board the Heltec Wifi Lora board. Probably both boards are identical.

The platformio.ini file is as follows:

[env:heltec_wifi_lora_32]
platform = espressif32
board = heltec_wifi_lora_32
framework = arduino

For supporting the OLed and the Lora transceiver we also need to install the ESP8266_SSD1306 lib (ID: 562) and the IBM LMIC library (ID: 852) by either manually installing them on the project root or by adding the following line to the platformio.ini file:

[env:heltec_wifi_lora_32]
platform = espressif32
board = heltec_wifi_lora_32
framework = arduino
lib_deps= 852, 562

With this, the sample TTN INO sketchs for connecting either through ABP or OTAA work flawlessly without any issue by using the above LMIC pins configuration.

The sample sketch for the board: Connecting to TTN and display the packet RSSI:
Since we have the OLed, we can use the RX window to display the received RSSI of our messages on the gateway. This only works if the downlink messages from the gateway can reach back our node, so it might not work always. In my case, I’m about 3Km from the gateway in dense urban area, and not always I can display the packet RSSI.

How this works? Simple, just send our packet, and on the backend we send back the received RSSI as downlink message by using Node-Red, the TTN nodes, and some code:

Since our packet can be received by several gateways, we iterate over the TTN message and calculate the better RSSI and SNR:

// Build an object that allows us to track
// node data better than just having the payload

//For the debug inject node. Comment out when in real use
//var inmsg = msg.payload;
var inmsg = msg;  // from the TTN node

var newmsg = {};
var devicedata = {};
var betterRSSI = -1000;  // Start with a low impossible value
var betterSNR = -1000;

// WARNING only works with String data
// Use TTN decode functions is a better idea
var nodercvdata = inmsg.payload.toString("utf-8");

devicedata.device = inmsg.dev_id;
devicedata.deviceserial = inmsg.hardware_serial;
devicedata.rcvtime = inmsg.metadata.time;
devicedata.nodedata = nodercvdata;

// Iterate over the gateway data to get the best RSSI and SNR data
var gws = inmsg.metadata.gateways;

for ( var i = 0 ; i  betterRSSI )
        betterRSSI = gw.rssi;
        
    if ( gw.snr > betterSNR )
        betterSNR = gw.snr;
}

devicedata.rssi = betterRSSI;
devicedata.snr = betterSNR;

newmsg.payload = devicedata;

return newmsg;

We build then the response object and send it back to the TTN servers that send it to our node. The received data is then displayed on the Oled.

The Node-Red code is as follows:

[{"id":"d4536a72.6e6d7","type":"ttn message","z":"66b897a.7ab5c68","name":"TTN APP Uplink","app":"b59d5696.cde318","dev_id":"","field":"","x":140,"y":220,"wires":[["facbde95.14894"]]},{"id":"facbde95.14894","type":"function","z":"66b897a.7ab5c68","name":"Calculate better RSSI","func":"// Build an object that allows us to track\n// node data better than just having the payload\n\n//For the debug inject node. Comment out when in real use\n//var inmsg = msg.payload;\nvar inmsg = msg;  // from the TTN node\n\nvar newmsg = {};\nvar devicedata = {};\nvar betterRSSI = -1000;  // Start with a low impossible value\nvar betterSNR = -1000;\n\n// WARNING only works with String data\n// Use TTN decode functions is a better idea\nvar nodercvdata = inmsg.payload.toString(\"utf-8\");\n\ndevicedata.device = inmsg.dev_id;\ndevicedata.deviceserial = inmsg.hardware_serial;\ndevicedata.rcvtime = inmsg.metadata.time;\ndevicedata.nodedata = nodercvdata;\n\n// Iterate over the gateway data to get the best RSSI and SNR data\nvar gws = inmsg.metadata.gateways;\n\nfor ( var i = 0 ; i  betterRSSI )\n        betterRSSI = gw.rssi;\n        \n    if ( gw.snr > betterSNR )\n        betterSNR = gw.snr;\n}\n\ndevicedata.rssi = betterRSSI;\ndevicedata.snr = betterSNR;\n\nnewmsg.payload = devicedata;\n\nreturn newmsg;","outputs":1,"noerr":0,"x":400,"y":220,"wires":[["1ac970ec.4cfabf","94515e56.904228"]]},{"id":"1ac970ec.4cfabf","type":"debug","z":"66b897a.7ab5c68","name":"","active":false,"console":"false","complete":"payload","x":670,"y":260,"wires":[]},{"id":"2bea15d8.18f88a","type":"ttn send","z":"66b897a.7ab5c68","name":"TTN APP Downlink","app":"b59d5696.cde318","dev_id":"","port":"","x":970,"y":100,"wires":[]},{"id":"94515e56.904228","type":"function","z":"66b897a.7ab5c68","name":"set Payload","func":"msg.dev_id  = msg.payload.device;\nmsg.payload = Buffer.from(\"RSSI: \" + msg.payload.rssi);\n\nreturn msg;","outputs":1,"noerr":0,"x":670,"y":100,"wires":[["2bea15d8.18f88a","cd04abb9.ccd278"]]},{"id":"cd04abb9.ccd278","type":"debug","z":"66b897a.7ab5c68","name":"","active":true,"console":"false","complete":"true","x":930,"y":200,"wires":[]},{"id":"b59d5696.cde318","type":"ttn app","z":"","appId":"TTNAPPLICATIONID","region":"eu","accessKey":"ttn-account-v2.CHANGEMECHANGEME"}]

Just make sure that we have the TTN nodes installed, and change the credentials for your TTN Application.

On the TTGO ESP32 Lora32 board we just modify the event handling code to display the downlink message:

void onEvent (ev_t ev) {
    if (ev == EV_TXCOMPLETE) {
        display.clear();
        display.drawString (0, 0, "EV_TXCOMPLETE event!");


        Serial.println(F("EV_TXCOMPLETE (includes waiting for RX windows)"));
        if (LMIC.txrxFlags & TXRX_ACK) {
          Serial.println(F("Received ack"));
          display.drawString (0, 20, "Received ACK.");
        }

        if (LMIC.dataLen) {
          int i = 0;
          // data received in rx slot after tx
          Serial.print(F("Data Received: "));
          Serial.write(LMIC.frame+LMIC.dataBeg, LMIC.dataLen);
          Serial.println();

          display.drawString (0, 20, "Received DATA.");
          for ( i = 0 ; i < LMIC.dataLen ; i++ )
            TTN_response[i] = LMIC.frame[LMIC.dataBeg+i];
          TTN_response[i] = 0;
          display.drawString (0, 32, String(TTN_response));
        }

        // Schedule next transmission
        os_setTimedCallback(&sendjob, os_getTime()+sec2osticks(TX_INTERVAL), do_send);
        digitalWrite(LEDPIN, LOW);
        display.drawString (0, 50, String (counter));
        display.display ();
    }
}

For example we can now see on the serial port monitor:

EV_TXCOMPLETE (includes waiting for RX windows)
Sending uplink packet...
EV_TXCOMPLETE (includes waiting for RX windows)
Sending uplink packet...
EV_TXCOMPLETE (includes waiting for RX windows)
Sending uplink packet...
EV_TXCOMPLETE (includes waiting for RX windows)
Data Received: RSSI: -118
Sending uplink packet...
EV_TXCOMPLETE (includes waiting for RX windows)
Data Received: RSSI: -114
Sending uplink packet...
EV_TXCOMPLETE (includes waiting for RX windows)
Data Received: RSSI: -105

Thats it!

Some final notes:
Probably not related to the board, but when connecting it to an USB3 port, the Linux Operating system was unable to configure a device for the board. Connecting it to an USB2 port worked flawlessly:

usb 2-1: new full-speed USB device number 2 using xhci_hcd
usb 2-1: string descriptor 0 read error: -71
usb 2-1: can't set config #1, error -71      

As additional information the serial chip on this board is an umarked CP210x chip:

usb 4-1.3: new full-speed USB device number 6 using ehci-pci
cp210x 4-1.3:1.0: cp210x converter detected
usb 4-1.3: cp210x converter now attached to ttyUSB0

lsusb:

Bus 004 Device 006: ID 10c4:ea60 Cygnal Integrated Products, Inc. CP2102/CP2109 UART Bridge Controller [CP210x family]

I haven’t yet tried the WiFi and checked if the metal antenna is any good, but with my preliminary tests, it seems it’s not very good.

Sample code:

Sample code for the board is on this github link: https://github.com/fcgdam/TTGO_LoRa32

Using the BSFrance Lora32U4 board to connect to the Things Network Lorawan

The BSFrance Lora32u4 II (Lora32U4II for helping Google out) board is an Atmega32U4 processor with a HDP13 Lora transceiver on the same board. As far as I’m aware, the HDP13 is similar to the RFM95W (including pinout), and in my case it seems it has an original Semtech SX1276 (868Mhz radio transceiver) chip installed on the HDP13 module.
This board is similar to the Adafruit 32U4 Lora feather, if not equal… (possible schematics for the Lora32u4 board)

The board hardware includes beside the Lora HDP13 module a LiPo connector with an 2 pin JST PH 2.0mm pin spacing connector and the power supporting electronics.
There are two leds: one orange LED for LiPo and charger status, that blinks very fast when no LiPo is connected, and a very bright white led that fades in and out when the bootloader is in the programming mode or programming is ongoing. After the bootloader exits and starts the main program, the led shuts off.
This led, as usual in Arduino boards, is connected to I/O pin 13, so it is software controllable.

Also the only way to power up the board is either trough the USB port, LiPo battery or 5V to an input pin. No other voltages, like RAW voltages above 5V are supported.

As a final note, the board that I’ve bought also came with an uFL adapter cable for SMA, an antenna and a link for accessing documentation, so, excluding the LiPo battery, the complete kit.

Starting up using the board:

I’m testing the board to send data to the Things Network and doing so by using PlatformioIO as the developing IDE. Platformio IDE is much better than the Arduino IDE, since each project has it’s own depending libraries directory .piolibdeps which we can modify and edit the library code without breaking other projects.

The platformio.ini board definition for the Lora32u4II board is just a clone of Adafruit feather 32u4:

[env:feather32u4]
platform = atmelavr
board = feather32u4
framework = arduino

As the code to send data to the TTN network, I’ve just used ABP lorawan device connection that I’ve used on my previous hand build node.

I’m testing the node with both the IBM LMIC Library (ID: 852) and the Arduino LMIC Library (ID: 1729).

After setting the correct keys and device ID, all we need is to change the LMIC pins configuration for this board: LoRa32u4II pinout diagram

According to documentation the pins are:

  1. nss (SS – Chip Select): Pin 8
  2. rst (Reset): Pin 4
  3. DIO (Lora TX/RX indicator): Pin 7

So the LMIC Pins configuration is:

const lmic_pinmap lmic_pins = {
    .nss = 8,
    .rxtx = LMIC_UNUSED_PIN,
    .rst = 4,
    .dio = {7, 6 , LMIC_UNUSED_PIN}
};

Regarding Pin 6, is the chosen pin to connect to the DIO1 pin. This pin signals receive timeouts generated by the radio module.

The connection of this pin is required for LMIC and for the onEvent() function signaling of EV_TXCOMPLETE to be triggered/fired, otherwise the onEvent() funciton is never called.

Since this is a LoraWan Class A node, after the transmission, two receive windows are opened for any downlink data that might be sent to the node.

The DIO1 pin signals the receive timeout, and at the end of the receive windows, triggers the EV_TXCOMPLETE event.

I’ve tried to use other pins, for example, pin 3, but then the EV_TXCOMPLETE event was never fired… Strange.

Anyway, with the above configuration and with DIO1 connected through a wire bridge to pin 6 works fine.

If we do not connect DIO1 by removing the DIO1 pin configuration:

 .dio = {7, LMIC_UNUSED_PIN , LMIC_UNUSED_PIN}

with the platformio IBM Lmic library (Id: 852), or with the Arduino LMIC Library the LMIC fails. An example:

pio device monitor --port /dev/ttyACM0 --baud 115200
[cortex@brightlight:TTN32u4ABP]$ pio device monitor --port /dev/ttyACM0 --baud 115200
--- Miniterm on /dev/ttyACM0  115200,8,N,1 ---
--- Quit: Ctrl+C | Menu: Ctrl+T | Help: Ctrl+T followed by Ctrl+H ---
Starting...
FAILURE
.piolibdeps/IBM LMIC framework_ID852/src/hal/hal.cpp:24

The line hal.cpp:24 point to an ASSERT that doesn’t allow a LMIC_UNUSED_PIN for DIO1.

Putting pin 6 and making sure that it is connected to DIO1 is required. Otherwise if the pin is defined but not connected we have the following behaviour:

--- Miniterm on /dev/ttyACM0  115200,8,N,1 ---
--- Quit: Ctrl+C | Menu: Ctrl+T | Help: Ctrl+T followed by Ctrl+H ---
Starting...
Sending uplink packet...

As we can see the EV_TXCOMPLETE event is never fired, and the associated reschedule of another transmission never happens, since the code that triggers the next transmission is inside the code for the EV_TXCOMPLETE event. The only way, in this case, to exit this situation is to reset the board so another transmission can happen.

So if using the above LMIC pins configuration and connecting DIO1 to pin 6, sending data to the The Things Network works just fine:

Data received at the TTN side

Some final notes, tips and tricks:

The ATMega 32U4 USB Serial port:
The ATMega 32U4 USB serial port is a bit fiddly when using it from the Arduino framework. At reset or connection first the USB port is used by the bootloader (white led fading in and out). After a while the board starts to execute the flash program (white led off), but it resets the USB port. The host computer might have an issue with this and fails to assign an USB address.

The solution is just to add at the start of the setup function a delay:

void setup() {
  delay(2500);   // Give time to the ATMega32u4 port to wake up and be recognized by the OS.
  
  Serial.begin(115200);
...
...

Using minicom instead of PlatformIO serial monitor:
This one is quite simple to explain, since minicom survives to the USB port resets since they appear and disappear through the board reset.
Against it, is that we need to explicitly exit minicom to be able to program the board.

# minicom -D /dev/ttyACM0 -b 115200

The PlatformIO Arduino LMIC library is outdated:
This is solved now. Lib 852 is now updated.
The Arduino LMIC version (1729) on the PlatformIO is outdated, since, for example doesn’t have neither the LMIC_UNUSED_PIN definition and the LMIC_setClockError function needed for a successful OTAA TTN network join.

The solution is just clone the Arduino LMIC library and copy the src folder to .piolibdeps/IBM LMIC framework_ID852/ removing the original src folder version.

Comparing Library sizes:

Using the IBM LMIC Library (ID:852) with PINGS and BEACONS disabled on the config.h file, otherwise it doesn’t fit on the 32u4 32K flash space, our sketch uses the following space:

AVR Memory Usage
----------------
Device: atmega32u4

Program:   26040 bytes (79.5% Full)
(.text + .data + .bootloader)

Data:       1014 bytes (39.6% Full)
(.data + .bss + .noinit)

Using the Arduino LMIC library (ID: 1729) with PINGS and BEACONS enabled, but a more efficient AES implementation, we get:

AVR Memory Usage
----------------
Device: atmega32u4

Program:   22776 bytes (69.5% Full)
(.text + .data + .bootloader)

Data:        954 bytes (37.3% Full)
(.data + .bss + .noinit)

With PINGS and BEACONS disabled we get:

AVR Memory Usage
----------------
Device: atmega32u4

Program:   19032 bytes (58.1% Full)
(.text + .data + .bootloader)

Data:        903 bytes (35.3% Full)
(.data + .bss + .noinit)

So we get, with this last change, and while keeping support for OTTA, at least 8K/9K for program space not related to the Lorawan/TTN code support.