Sonnet is a Rugged Portable Device Creating Mesh Networks for Smartphones

Cellular networks are available in most places, but not always, and you may not have connectivity while climbing mountains or other remote locations, when going abroad, during natural disaster, in very crowded places where network capacity is exceeded, or when your government decides to cut it off for “national stability and harmony”.  Wouldn’t it be great if you were still able to contact with your friend in such cases, and create your own mesh networks expanding over several kilometers? That’s exactly what Sonnet does by connecting to your smartphone over WiFi, and to other Sonnet nodes over ISM frequencies (433, 868 and 925 MHz).

Sonnet hardware specifications:

  • Connectivity
    • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi with up to 20 dBm (max varies per country); WPA/WPA2 security
    • Long Range RF
      • Frequencies
        • 915 MHz (North America)
        • 868 MHz (Europe)
        • 433 MHz (Asia Pacific)
      • Distance – 5km typ.; up to 10km Line-of-sight; SMA connector available to extend the range with your own antenna
      • Transmit power – 1W (30 dBm)
      • Receiver Sensitivity – -148 dBm
      • Modulation Method – Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS)
  • Power Supply – micro USB port. Input: 5V / 2A; Output (e.g. to charge phone): 5.1V @ 2.1 A
  • Battery – 4,000 mAh LiPo battery good for up to 24 hours
  • Dimensions – 88 x 80 x 17 mm
  • Weight – 160 grams
  • IP Rating – IP66 rating under IEC standard 60529

Those are based on the same frequencies as LoRa, but since they don’t mention the standard at all, it must be a proprietary solution. The device should be legal in most countries, including North America, Europe, and China, but you’d still need to check, as it’s illegal in mine. I can use 433 MHz up to 10 mW only, and the 1W transmit power makes it illegal here.

The initial setup involves connecting to Sonnet access point, going to https://app.sonnetlabs.com from your web browser, and start using the app to communicate. You can chat, send pictures and voice recordings, and share your GPS coordinates. It’s like a high-end talkie walkie with higher range, and you can create a mesh network of those with up to 16 hops supported, corresponding to a 80 km range. An firmware update planned for 2018 will also allow Sonnet to create an Internet connected mesh network, with all your need is at least one Sonnet connected to the Internet over WiFi.

Smartphone vs Walkie-Talkie vs Satellite vs Sonnet + Smartphone

The web app also supports off-line maps, Panic/SOS button, and Sonnet can be used as a power bank to charge your phone too. Another use case I could envision is a city wide network for chat only, since bandwidth will be limited, for people who don’t want to pay extra for cellular connectivity, since Sonnet is free to use.

The device is now on Kickstarter with over $140,000 raised and 8 days to go. Rewards start at $89 for a pair of Sonnet devices with two power adapters and charging cables, and go up to $399 for 10 Sonnet devices. Shipping adds $10 to the US, $13 to Canada and $15 to the rest of the world, and delivery is expected for November 2017.

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Very interesting. Their prototype photos show this is based on the Onion Omega2S.

The footprint is exactly the same as the Onion2S (25 pads across, 13 pads up) and note the PCB connection for the WiFi antenna on the Sonnet matches exactly with the ANT pin on the Onion2S. They’re using SPI to communicate to the RF module.

I am a bit surprised that they chose to use a PCB WiFi antenna, since the Onion2S ships with a u.FL connector already, a whip antenna would have been cheaper, but I guess not.

Onion2S: $7.50
4000mAh LiPo: ~$6
RF module: ~$5?

Looks like the RF module used in the prototype is E32-TTL-1W

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The reason they’re using a PCB F-antenna is because it’s all you NEED for this. Model’s for the Sonnets to be next to Cell Phones. You don’t need a whip and it adds to the things that can get broken off on what’s intended to be a backpacker’s device.

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From the admin of the Kickstarter:

“A. Bandwidth is dependent on the quality of the signal between two Sonnet devices. If the signal quality is good, Sonnet can communicate use FSK modulation, which has a bitrate of around 300kbps. As the signal quality decreases, devices can switch to CSS modulation, which is much more robust to channel noise. CSS modulation has a bitrate of around 36kbps.”

300’s usable to do all of the things claimed, albeit slowly. 36? Only texting will propagate well against phones because they’re **NOT** designed to deal with such low bandwidth.

So, LoRa and NOT LoRa.