Setting Up a Cellular-Based Particle Electron

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SETTING UP A PARTICLE ELECTRON

I talk a lot about Particle Photons, which are great when you have a WiFi network handy.  But what if you don’t?  Well, the Photon has a cellular-enabled brother called the Electron. (Apparently, the team over at Particle is really fond of physics terms.)  If you’ve purchased one and are ready to do the setup, then this article will help you do just that.

Particle Electron – The Photon’s fraternal (and cellular-based) twin

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

Before you sit down, make sure you have all of the following handy:

  • Your Electron, it’s battery pack, sim card and antenna.
  • USB cable with a micro Type-B connector on one end and full-sized Type-A connector on the other.
  • Power supply.  This can be your laptop, a USB wall adapter or a portable USB battery.
  • Laptop or cell phone with access to the web.

 

Key components of your Particle Electron kit

 

To get things started, you’ll first want to set up a Particle account if you don’t already have one.  This is the tool that allows you to program your devices, as well as check their status.  Click HERE for the Particle setup/login page.  Select the “create account” option below and to the right of the password box.

Since we’re setting up an Electron with a new sim card, choose the option on the left.  The instructions on the site are pretty decent, so follow the prompts to activate your device.

The setup page for the Particle Electron

 

DATA AND YOUR NEW CELLULAR PLAN

If you’re like me, you probably have some questions about the whole cell phone plan thingy.  When I first saw the mention of a data plan, my mind immediately thought of expensive phone bills and charges for exceeding my monthly limits.  I have two teenagers, so I’m all too familiar with data overages.  The good news is Particle’s plans are very reasonable.  They charge a base $2.99 for 1 MB of data, which is likely all you’ll need for the projects we’ll be building.  If you do go over, there’s a $0.99 charge for each extra MB, but … they have a default cap of 5 MB.  So let’s say you go wild and max out your plan, the most you’re on the hook for is $6.95.  Particle provides a convenient billing/usage dashboard within their console so you can keep tabs on how much data you’re using.  I recommend checking this for the first few months after deploying your first project.

 

You can view your data usage in the Particle console

 

NOW LET’S GIVE IT A WHIRL

Once you’ve finished setting up your Electron, you should see two lights.  A red LED that shows your battery is charging.  And a cyan one, which should be slowly fading in and out.

The two LEDs you should see on your Particle Electron

 

Now let’s take the next step and blink one of the Electron’s LEDs.  We’re going to do this by using a tool in the Particle app called Tinker. Tinker allows you to control your Electron (or Photons) directly from your phone.  And while this may sound simple, you’re actually using a genuine IoT device!

Download the Particle app to your phone, if you haven’t done that already.  It’s the one by Particle Industries, Inc.  Then log in.  You’ll see the Electron you just set up along with any other devices you may have. Tap on the name of your board, and you’ll see the Tinker app and all of your device’s pins (see below).  I’ll cover what all the device pins mean in a later article.  For now. all you need to know is that we’re going to be using pin D7 since it comes pre-wired to an LED.  To activate it, tap on pin D7 and select “digitalWrite” from the pop up.  Tap on it again, and again, and you’ll see the blue LED go on and off.  Congratulations!  You’re now the proud owner over your very own Particle Photon!  To upload your first program, check out this post.

 

Screenshot of the Tinker app

 

A FINAL THOUGHT

We’ve just touched on the basics of how to get your Electron up and running.  The next step is to tap into its full potential.  I’ll cover that and more in a future article.  In it, we’ll talk about what all the other pins on the Electron do, and how to connect them to other devices.  This will open up a world of possibilities.

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