Custom Library Rescues Good LoRa Hardware From Bad Firmware

The range of hardware that comes on some dev boards these days is truly staggering. Those little LoRa boards are a prime example — ESP32 with WiFi and Bluetooth, a transceiver that covers a big chunk of the UHF band, and niceties like OLED displays and plenty of GPIO. But the firmware and docs? Well, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Or better yet, just roll your own.

Of course that doesn’t hold true for all the LoRa dev boards on the market, but [Rop] certainly found it to be the case for the Heltec HTIT-WB32LA. This board has all the bells and whistles and would be perfect for LoraWAN and Meshtastic applications, but it needed a little help getting it over the line. [Rop]’s contribution to this end is pretty comprehensive and is based on his fork of the RadioLib library, which incorporates a library that greatly reduces wear on the ESP32’s flash memory. In addition to full radio support, the library supports all the hardware on the board from the pushbutton to the display, power management and battery charging, and of course the blinkenlights.

[Jop] includes quite a few example applications, from the bare minimum needed to get the board spun up to a full-blown spectrum analyzer. It’s a nice piece of work, and a great give-back to the LoRa community. And if you want to put one of these modules to work, you’re certainly in the right place. We’ve got everything from LoRaWAN networks to the magic of Meshtastic, so take your pick and get hacking.

17 thoughts on “Custom Library Rescues Good LoRa Hardware From Bad Firmware

      1. Aha …… well spotted. Tried getting one of these boards working a few months ago. Wasted about 3 hours in the process, but glad to see someone has managed to do so.

      1. Most of the firmware/documentation is ExpressIF. Heltec could do better with their side of things, sure, but you get what you pay for. For the price point, it’s hard to be too upset — it’s hard to find a cheaper dev board than theirs. I’ve at least never run into any serious build quality issues with the Heltec boards I’ve used over the past few years.

    1. Looks like it. I just finished a project with this little guy. My company acquired a second hand server lift that was completely fried from control panel to motor controller. Previous owner hooked the battery up in reverse. I ended up gutting the whole thing and replacing it with this and a PWM motor driver. It was more of a science experiment getting this board to play nice with the arduino IDE than it was making it work with the remaining lift hardware.

  1. There is significant differences between V2 and V3 of this boards and bunch of weird quirks. I was able to complete my project but wouldn’t recommend this for other people.

    1. I thought the entire point was to get good at building a dev env, figuring the hardware, learning where to find examples, adding all your past code. Watch the magic or 0.6 miles communication. Then, throw it in a box, go find another one, grab a brand new 256 GB RPI sdcard. And start all over again.

      That’s how I do this.

      It would be neat if there was a long chain to pass to and get from. Like what do i do with these cool pine64s? Pass them on! Ha.

    1. Well, somewhat. It’s a complicated situation. We (hackers) want cheap stuff, so the manufacturers will skimp on documentation to keep it as cheap as possible. If you want really good documentation buy like from Adafruit and you will need very little time to get started (but more money); however if you want the cheapest and are willing to put more efforts into then you can buy from random Aliexpress sellers.

      (But of course there is really well documented stuff on Aliexpress too.)

  2. Everyone here who says “don’t buy these” heltec v3’s, didn’t buy them for meshtastic. These are selling like hotcakes in the USA/915 mhz. They are amazing for meshtastic and are getting sold out everywhere. If you do get them, the stubby and weird looking uncircumcised antennas they come with are hot garbage. There is a bundle with a pigtail that is decent. But I’d buy a legit tuned antenna if you want distance. Dozens of STLs popping up recently for printing cases all over the place right now because everyone is buying them for meshtastic. The web installer on meshtastic’s site worked flawlessly for these, but you need the driver for the cp210x. Configuring each radio can be done via Bluetooth or wifi, so the espressif side is working flawlessly.

    1. I have a Heltec V3 and there’s loads on my local Meshtastic network here in South London. I am still using the stubby antenna which to be fair is working OK (maybe it’s tuned to 868?). I’m only connected directly to 2 local peers but 16 out of 62 discovered peers are online. I’m looking for a bigger antenna.

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