Over the course of 2023, ipXchange received a number of requests for samples or more information regarding both Libelium’s Waspmote IoT platform and RAKwireless’ WisBlock IoT system. Both are modular systems that enable fast development of IoT end nodes as the bulk of the design is done for you, and both come from official partners of ipXchange, so the agnosticism here is in everyone’s best interest.
Occasionally, however, we’ve found that engineers prefer the alternative option when we bring it up to them in conversations about their project requirements, so let’s focus on what made these engineers change their mind and which modular IoT system is best for you and your use case. You can learn about each of them individually in the original interviews we conducted about Waspmote and WisBlock by following these links.
The MCU heart
On the surface of it, both WisBlock and Waspmote offer a vast number of wireless connectivity options, sensor boards, and ways to expand the system beyond just these key components. That said, a key difference between them is that RAKwireless offers several different Core blocks to base your IoT system around, with familiar microcontroller and processing chipsets inside the flagship wireless modules such as the RAK3172 (STMicroelectronics MCU) or RAK11720 (Ambiq MCU).
This is in contrast to the ATmega1281 MCU at the heart of every Waspmote build, though this may be the key to Waspmote’s ultra-low power consumption at 7 µA for the complete system when asleep, which Libelium claims is the lowest on the market for a full IoT system.
This leads on nicely to a closer look at the connectivity options offered by both systems. Since RAKwireless’ Core modules provide (usually) LoRa as a default, and Waspmote requires additional boards to add this connectivity, WisBlock can provide a more fully featured system in a smaller form factor – this is a general point that could be argued for WisBlock for a reasonable number of additional modules.
Libelium’s solution, however, appears to have many more options for wireless protocols for your design, including 4G, NB-IoT, Cat-M, LoRa, Sigfox, 868 MHz, 900 MHz, ZigBee, 802.15.4, DigiMesh, Wi-Fi, RFID-NFC, and Bluetooth; WisBlock covers some of these, but RAKwireless is often updating its product range, so this may no longer be an issue in the future.
Sensors and other peripherals
Here’s where things get interesting. WisBlock’s number of sensors and peripherals, like physical connections to industrial protocols, is constantly growing, and there are options for audiovisual blocks and keypads for creating IoT end nodes with great standalone HMIs, without requiring an app to view data or control the device.
Additionally, there are blocks to expand the memory, add cryptographic security, digital signal processing and more. Many of these blocks have equivalent versions on the main control board for Waspmote, meaning that WisBlock can be much more streamlined and compact, or do a lot more than what Waspmote is expected to with the options available.
That said, Waspmote’s control board – and perhaps full system – is likely more compact than an equivalent made from WisBlocks. Libelium has over 120 sensor options and boards that are preconfigured for use in applications like smart city, smart agriculture, pollution detection, and more.
One may be able to summarise that as long as you do not require specialist sensors, WisBlock is far more customisable and compact, but at the same time, Waspmote brings you far more convenience, which is a great segue onto the next point.
Deployment and ease of implementation
For the most part, you know what your Waspmote build will eventually look like because of the relatively standard form factor. Libelium also provides preconfigured, encapsulated options that are certified for the task you require them for, and that’s a big plus for fast time to market.
Conversely, WisBlock may seem like it could turn out in a variety of form factors, but thankfully, RAKwireless makes several standard cases and compatible baseplates to build your complete IoT node without having to worry about custom encapsulation.
For both of these solutions, no soldering is required to assemble the system, which makes for a great development playground as well as an easy-to-assemble final product. Solar power can be implemented where required/possible, and the cases can be easily mounted to poles and other structures to suit indoor or outdoor deployments.
Unfortunately for WisBlock, it is not obvious to us at ipXchange whether there is any level of precertification for certain application areas, so this may be something to consider.
Additionally, while Libelium provides the ultimate compatibility and software/firmware preprogramming to make your Waspmote system ready to deploy out of the box, with cloud infrastructure to back it up, WisBlock – as much as there is ample support and software libraries to help you – is not ready to go as soon as you put it together; it will require programming.
Price and minimum orders
But with Waspmote’s extreme convenience comes a much larger price tag than WisBlock, and that may be – and has been – the clincher for some of the engineers that ipXchange has talked to. ipXchange cannot determine any concrete numbers, but we estimate that a single or pair of Waspmote units can cost at least twice the price of a typical WisBlock system at the evaluate or small-scale deployment pricing, based on previous discussions and the transparency of RAKwireless’ website.
Where RAKwireless’ solution might truly win over Libelium’s is the ultimate flexibility and zero minimum order requirements for a complete WisBlock project. With WisBlock, you are free to have a completely customisable IoT with every node tailored to its deployment, and costs can be easily saved by only purchasing the modules required for each node. This is not to say that Libelium would not ease pricing for multiple different units, but RAKwireless have made it very easy if that’s what you’re looking for.
In some ways, we at ipXchange can see why RAKwireless’ WisBlock may seem to be the better of these two solutions from the way the article has turned out, but that may be a reflection of our own biases to best serve the ipXchange community at the time of writing.
In short, Libelium’s Waspmote provides a more comprehensive IoT platform that is optimised for key markets with a power consumption and broad variety of options that is difficult to beat. It is also a complete, certified solution for those looking to control their IoT from the cloud, with all the hardware and software aspects of the design taken care of. You just need to have a vision.
RAKwireless’ WisBlock system provides a hardware solution to IoT developers who want a greater level of playfulness and flexibility than Waspmote offers, as well as an IoT that can provide feedback to users without the requirement for logging into an app or web server. More work is required to configure WisBlock for an end use case, but the pricing is more economical, and the customisability of your complete IoT project cannot be overstated.
If you wish to use either of these solutions for a commercial IoT project, follow the links above to the dedicated board pages to learn more and apply to evaluate the technology. There has to be a main board attached to this article, so after flipping a coin, we’re giving the board box below to RAKwireless.
(Images sourced from Libelium and RAKwireless)