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Updating electricity meter to communicate via WLAN

RN-XV image (c) Sparkfun

A while ago Farnell sent email to me and offered one (inexpensive) product  as a sample in exchange for mentioning it at this blog. I browsed for a while for an interesting part and settled with Microchip MRF24WB0MA/RM WiFi module (Order code 1823142). This module is quite inexpensive and is used in products like WiShield and thus has good Arduino support.

I wanted to upgrade my electricity meter to communicate with WLAN to get rid of XBee receiver at the back of my server. After some prototyping I ended up using RN-XV module from Roving Networks. Since my application did not have to do any fancy network stuff, RN-XV was a perfect match. It has the same footprint as XBee module, which I was already using, so the hardware required no changes. The module supports WPA2 security and can remember it’s settings. Communication via HTTP request is incredibly easy, I set up the module to generate http request to my home servers address each time when AtMega output measurement data.

Unfortunately some thing are just too good to be true. The module soon proved to be quite unreliable. Each time after about 14 hours of operation the module lost connection to accesspoint for ever. I tried to solve issue with technical support. By default if module looses AP, it does not try ever to reconnect unless linkmon parameter is specified, which to me is quite braindead default setting. Even with the linkmon RN-XV did not work for long with my Cisco AP. I tried everything including rebooting the module every hour, adding commands to force reconnect and even doing hardware reboot to the module, but without much success. Eventually I changed the RN-XV to connect to different AP. It still looses the connection every now and then but it’s able to reconnect after random time. Still in every 24 hours the module is unavailable for about total of 3 hours due to lost connections. RN-XV firmware version I have is 2.36.

In the end, only changes I made was to modify server backend to accept HTTP requests and change the code running on the AtMega to output measurement data periodically instead listening request from XBee.

The RN-XV was configured with following commands:


set ip dhcp 1  # get ip from dhcp

set wlan auth 4 # use wpa2-psk encryption

set wlan phrase password # set network password

set wlan ssid network # set the name of accesspoint to connect

set wlan linkmon 5 # After 5 tries declare connection to AP lost and try to reconnect again.

set ip proto 18 // turn on HTTP mode=0x10 + TCP mode = 0x2

set ip flags 0x6 # close tcp connection if accesspoint is lost
set ip host ip # server ip address
set ip remote 8080 # server port
set com remote GET$/? # GET string to be sent to server. Any data from uart will be concatenated to this string
set uart mode 2

All in all, for simple projects, I can really recommend the RN-XV module over the MRF24 due it’s simplicity, but definitely not for reliability. Both modules cost about the same, but apart from Sparkfun I don’t know who else has them in stock. Farnell could start selling them, since ordering from Sparkfun can get expensive if you don’t live in the states.
Sources can be found from the repository: https://github.com/JanneMantyharju/electricity-monitor

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