iOT Development Boards

When it comes to creating a new IoT product, development boards and shields are invaluable tools. In this post, we’ll look at what these products can do and review our top choices for 2022.

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What are IoT development boards?

What are IoT shields?

3 types of IoT development boards

What to look for in an IoT development board

13 best IoT development boards and breakout boards

Microcontrollers and SBCs:

Breakout boards:

What are IoT development boards?

IoT development boards are driving IoT innovation today. These low-power, low-profile computers are portable and flexible, giving developers and hobbyists a great starting point for creating and testing mobile IoT devices. Several of the more popular boards, such as Raspberry Pi, have active online communities where developers can share successes, ask questions, or collaborate on projects. This kind of atmosphere fuels rapid growth in the development of new IoT solutions.

Recommended reading: What is an IoT platform and how do you choose the right one for your business?

What are IoT shields?

Most IoT development boards include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, but if you want to add cellular connectivity to an IoT development board, you might need an IoT shield. Breakout boards (sometimes called shields, HATs, or bonnets) are add-on devices that make it possible to control an IoT device via cellular protocols such as 4G, NB-IoT, or LTE Cat M-1.

3 types of IoT development boards

Not all IoT development boards include the same capabilities. Let’s take a closer look at these components:

Single board computers (SBC)

SBCs offer the power and capabilities of a computer on a single circuit board. Typically, an SBC includes a microprocessor, memory, input/output (I/O), and sometimes read-only memory (ROM). IoT development boards cannot be upgraded like full-size PCs, but they give developers a lot of flexibility because they’re small (some even pocket-sized) and power efficient.

Single board microcontrollers

While microcontrollers are technically computers, with the same microprocessor, memory, and I/O components, they differ from SBCs in that they’re typically programmed directly without the use of an operating system (OS). A microcontroller typically has much less RAM than an SBC, with more limited storage and speed. However, microcontrollers use much less power, meaning they can achieve a much longer battery life and are better suited to certain IoT applications as a result.

IoT breakout boards

IoT shields are add-on boards that grant further connectivity capabilities to microcontrollers and SBCs. For example, if you have a Raspberry Pi, you can purchase add-on cards to allow your SBC to connect via different cellular protocols, such as GPRS, 3G, 4G/LTE, LTE-M, and NB-IoT.

What to look for in an IoT development board

With so many boards and kits on the market today, choosing the best one for your project can be a daunting task. Start by considering your specific needs. For example, if you want to build a smart home device that controls both the lighting and HVAC settings throughout your house, you’ll need more computing power than if you want the device to manage a single switch. Here are a few variables to consider when you’re shopping for the perfect IoT board:

Size

IoT boards range from about one inch to several inches across. The ideal size of your IoT board depends on its intended use case — if you need to embed it in a watch or other wearable device, for example, you’ll want to choose a smaller board such as the PocketBeagle.

Features

Most current cellular IoT boards include industrial modems, advanced firmware, power management, and full certification. As such, the top cellular boards can meet demands both large and small — hobbyists and those who hope to move to production at scale could use the same technology.

Still, you’ll want to make sure your board of choice has the technical capabilities you need. Look at variables such as battery life, programming language, and access to tutorials and a developer community where you can find support as you build a device.

Cost

Today’s high-quality IoT development boards are quite affordable, with an average cost of around $100. If your board doesn’t include cellular connectivity and you want to add it, make sure to consider the additional cost of an IoT shield. Shield costs range from around $20 to $100, depending on the brand and cellular standard(s) it enables.

Connectivity

Decide which connectivity protocol or standard you’ll need for your project and look for a board that provides it or is compatible with an add-on shield. Most of the boards on our list below include support for LTE-M and NB-IoT, but with the lack of ubiquitous NB-IoT and LTE-M coverage, we see more manufacturers releasing new boards that support 4G Cat-1.

13 best IoT development boards and breakout boards

To help you decide which cellular board is right for your project, we’ve compiled the following list of the best cellular IoT development boards and shields available. For convenience, the list is grouped according to type.

Recommended reading: IoT architecture explained: What is it and how does it work?

13 best microcontrollers and SBCs IoT development boards 

1. Arduino MKR GSM 1400

Arduino is no stranger to cellular. They've created three generations of the GSM Shield and maintained an official GSM Arduino library. Looking at the MKR 1400 specs, we find the popular SAMD21 chip, which integrates seamlessly with the Arduino IDE and online Code Editor. For cellular connectivity, Arduino integrated the automotive grade U-Blox SARA-U201 which provides worldwide 2G/3G compatibility. We enjoyed the integrated LiPo battery support, although the MKR 1400 can also be powered by the USB. 

  • Price: $69
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: 2G and 3G

2. Shiratech Stinger96

The Stinger96 board from Shiratech supports 96Boards IoT Edition (IE) comes equipped with the energy-efficient and performance-rich STM32MP157 SoC with dual Arm Cortex-A7 and Cortex-M4 Cores, along with Running Yocto, a Linux distribution designed for IoT and embedded software. It also includes 2 Micro USB connectors, a micro SIM connector, and a micro SD card connector.

  • Price: $144
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE-M, NB-IoT, 3G, and 2G

3. Pycom GPy

Pycom is well known for its WiPy and LoPy boards, which pack a ton of functionality into a tiny package. The Pycom GPy is a little powerhouse containing an Espressif ESP32 microcontroller, Sequans Monarch cellular chipset, 8MB of flash, and 4MB of RAM. The GPy was the first small footprint development board to offer support for the new LTE-M and NB-IoT cellular networks. 

  • Price: $60
  • Language: MicroPython
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE-M and NB-IoT

4. Sodaq SARA SFF R412M

The R412M is a tiny IoT development board — roughly the size of a matchbox. It supports LTE-M and NB-IoT and Arduino compatible, providing coverage across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa with EGPRS fallback available in other regions. The power consumption is so low it can be supported by solar and has a wide range of quality modules that make the board versatile across many different applications.

5. Nordic nRF9160-DK

Nordic has a history of providing low-power, robust, and developer-friendly IoT modules. The nRF9160 module itself is built specifically for energy efficiency, making it perfect for battery-driven use cases. The nRF9160-DK is a single-board cellular IoT development kit for LTE-M, NB-IoT, GPS, and Bluetooth LE and supports a wide range of applications, from asset tracking and smart ag to wearables and medical. This kit uses the nRF9160 SiP, is hardware compatible with Arduino Uno, and allows access to all I/O and interfaces via connectors. It has four LEDs, two buttons, and two switches, which are user-programmable.

  • Price: $186
  • Language: C
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE-M, NB-IoT, GPS, Bluetooth LE

6. Poem DASH

The Poem DASH (formerly the Hologram DASH) gives developers a fully open-source platform for testing low-energy applications and moving them to market. The DASH simplifies connectivity, using GPIO pins and serial interfaces to grant embedded applications access to sensors and peripherals. You can choose from two versions — one certified on all major cellular carriers with the exception of Verizon, and the other version on all carriers, including Verizon. Both DASH versions include a Hologram IoT SIM card and access to a free developer account to test and develop your portal.

  • Price: $115
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: 2G, 3G, NB-IoT, LTE Cat-M1

7. The nRF9160 Feather IoT Development Board

Created by developer Jared Wolff, the nRF9160 Feather IoT Development Board allows engineers to create IoT projects of all kinds, including remote monitoring and control, pet tracking, and air quality detection. The board is compatible with Zephyr RTOS, ideal for embedded development, and it’s a low-energy computer that can be put into “sleep” mode to save power. The Feather also works without batteries when connected to AC/DC power via micro-USB cable or 5V pin. It also comes with a 4MB external flash drive for storing data while the device is offline, a Hologram Hyper Nano SIM (4FF), and a cellular flex antenna.

  • Price: $99
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE Cat-M1, NB-IoT

8. Icarus IoT Board

A low-cost IoT board in Adafruit’s FeatherWing form factor, the Icarus from Actinius is built on Nordic Semi’s nRF9160 modem. It includes LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT cellular connectivity, along with GPS, accelerometer, USB connection, a LiPo charger, an eSIM with three months of free data (in countries they support), and a Nano SIM connector. The Icarus is a good choice for applications that require both GPS and cellular data, and you can add additional components using extension pins.

The best breakout boards 

9. Advanced BLE-CELL (ABC Board)

The ABC Board from Contextual Electronics builds out a Raspberry Pi HAT with Bluetooth and cellular on it. This board provides support for the Nordic Semiconductor nRF52840 ARM Cortex-M4F CPU, and supports a range of hardware features, including gpio, flash, i2c, and spi. Developers can take a course through Contextual Electronics and learn how to build it out or choose to purchase the pre-assembled board.

  • Language: C
  • Compatibility: BLE and cellular

10. Botletics SIM7000 Arduino Shield

The Botletics SIM7000 is an Arduino compatible shield providing 4G LTE-M, NB-IoT, and 2G connectivity along with LiPo/Solar support, GPS, and an MCP9808 high-accuracy temperature sensor. At its core, the GPS and cellular support come from a SimCOM7000 module. Botletics SIM7000 comes in 4 different versions for regional compatibility — SIM7000A (America), SIM7000C (Asia), SIM7000E (Europe), and SIM7000G (Global). The board is compatible with all Arduino Uno, Arduino Mega, and Arduino Leonardo boards natively and any 1.8-5V microcontroller if wired externally. 

  • Price $69
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: Global or Regional
  • Compatibility: LTE-M, NB-IoT, 2G (GSM/GPRS), and 2.5G (EDGE)

11. SparkFun LTE CAT M1/NB-IoT Shield

The SparkFun LTE CAT M1/NB-IoT Shield is a great way to add wireless, high-bandwidth cellular IoT to a project while keeping power consumption low. It is also easily incorporated with Arduino-based devices. This shield comes with a Hologram SIM and includes a u-blox SARA-R4 modem that can perform a variety of functions via AT commands like SMS and server communication. The SparkFun LTE CAT M1/NB-IoT shield supports U-blox-based GPS modules but does not support other GPS modules or sensors.

  • Price: $85
  • Language: C/C++
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE Cat-M1, NB-IoT

12. Mikroe LTE IoT 2 Click

The LTE IoT 2 Click is a Click Board™ built for wireless connectivity, offering LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT functionality to support a variety of M2M and IoT applications. It offers two SMA connectors, the ability to run AT commands via UART, USB connector, and more. The LTE IoT 2 Click can support EGPRS at 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, giving it global applications from smart metering to IoT networking to remote monitoring automation.

  • Price: $69
  • Language: microC
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT

13. Hologram Nova

A cellular modem built for IoT development with single board computer compatibility, the Hologram Nova includes access to Hologram developer tools for easy modem and data management. With an open-source design and industrial grade modules, the Nova platform is fully hackable and scalable for integrating cellular connectivity into your product for 2G/3G/LTE-Cat-M1 and beyond.

  • Price: $83
  • Coverage: Global
  • Compatibility: 3G, 2G, LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT

Recommended reading: IoT device management: What it is and why it’s important

Stay connected with Hologram

No matter which IoT boards and shields you use to develop your project, Hologram is ready to help with the connectivity component as you move into production. For IoT, cellular connectivity provides the broadest, most secure option for most device deployments — and at Hologram, we make cellular connectivity incredibly easy. You’ll be able to incorporate our IoT SIM card with seamless, global coverage for LTE/4G/3G/2G IoT devices in 200 countries around the world with more than 470 carriers to rely on. And with our Hyper eUICC-enabled SIMs, you’ll gain access to new connectivity partnerships without any additional carrier negotiations, integrations, or hardware swaps.

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