22 Dec

Cheap Wifi – The ESP8266

As someone who loves making WiFi enabled projects one of the gotchas is the cost of the WiFi chip! I have used a few different ones, each with their advantages.

  • ElectricImp (~$40) – Closed source, own cloud
  • SparkCore (~$40) – Open source, own cloud.
  • RN-XV WiFly (~$50) – Proprietary, no cloud.

But something else has come on the scene! The ESP8266 is a WiFi module coming in at the low cost of $5! What the! I am sure that at industrial scale $5 or cheaper WiFi chips are standard but from my knowledge this is a bit of a first for the Maker scene. To me this will open up the Internet of Things (IoT) to get past the barrier of cost making devices more pervasive!

ESP8266 WiFi Serial Transceiver Module

The ESP8266 (ESP-01) – Cheap WiFi for Makers

Now, even though it comes at a cheap financial cost it is now without its issues.

Cons:

  • Power draw can be large and fluctuates – need a separate regulator than Arduino
  • Not 5V tolerant – 3.3v logic needs you to interface correctly to 5v Arduinos
  • No FCC / CE certification – i.e. not for commercial sale
  • Non breadboard friendly header – need an adapter
  • No HTTPS support

Pros:

  • $5 – Cheap!
  • Different models – Footprints, Antenna and pinout configurations to suit different applications
  • Chip itself is programmable – can avoid additional microcontroller/Arduino
  • Large WiFi range

 

Initially I was thinking to use it for the Facebook Like Counter I make. One of the major problems in that project is Cost of Goods (CoGs). This chip was a perfect price point so I did some more research. I slowly find that it doesn’t have FCC or CE certification. Hopes… dashed =(

But wait! There are many models… And even some marked ‘FCC’!

ESP8266 Models

ESP8266 – Various models. With different antenna, footprint and pin exposures.

 

ESP-07 Fits my needs. Chip antenna, FCC marking, castellated pads. What more could you want!?

Then I hit another stumbling block. Turns out the FCC marking is not quite true. The module itself is certified but not as a product itself. You can cotton onto this because it doesn’t have an FCC ID printed on it. In the above photo the ESP 6,7 and 8 have potential to be FCC compliant because of the slight conformance though the shielding.

Googling tells me that it may be possible but you will need to certify your final product which can not only cost some $$$ but also ensuring you get it right will take time.

My next post will be on getting started with the ESP8266.

 

Conclusion:

  • Cheap WiFi, $5!
  • Great for makers, not quite ready for commercial applications out of the box
  • Many models to choose from
  • Great step forward to Internet of Things!

 

 

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