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RF Wireless Data with the Seeedstudio RFbee


In this article we examine the Seeedstudio RFbee Wireless Data Transceiver nodes. An RFbee is a small wireless data transceiver that can be used as a wireless data bridge in pairs, as well as a node in mesh networking or data broadcasting. Here is an example of an RFbee:

You may have noticed that the RFbee looks similar to the Xbee-style data transceivers – and it is, in physical size and some pinouts, for example:


However this is where the similarity ends. The RFbee is in fact a small Arduino-compatible development board based on the Atmel ATmega168 microprocessor (3.3V at 8MHz – more on this later) and uses a Texas Instruments CC1101 low-power sub1-GHz RF transceiver chip for wireless transfer. Turning over an RFbee reveals this and more:

But don’t let all this worry you, the RFbee is very simple to use once connected. As a transceiver the following specifications apply:

  • Data rate – 9600, 19200, 38400 or 115200bps
  • Adjustable transmission power in stages between -30dBm and 10 dBm
  • Operating frequency switchable between 868MHz and 915MHz
  • Data transmission can be point-to-point, or broadcast point-to-many
  • Maximum of 256 RFbees can operate in one mesh network
  • draws only 19.3mA whilst transmitting at full power

The pinout for the RFbee are similar to those of an Xbee for power and data, for example:

There is also the ICSP pins if you need to reprogram the ATmega168 direcly with an AVRISP-type programmer.

Getting Started

Getting started is simple – RFbees ship with firmware which allows them to simply send and receive data at 9600bps with full power. You are going to need two or more RFbees, as they can only communicate with their own kind. However any microcontroller with a UART can be used with RFbees – just connect 3.3V, GND, and the microcontroller’s UART TX and RX to the RFbee and you’re away. For our examples we will be using Arduino-compatible boards. If Arduino is new to you, consider our tutorials first.

If you ever need to update the firmware, or reset the RFbee to factory default after some wayward experimenting – download the firmware which is in the form of an Arduino sketch (RFBee_v1_1.pde) which can be downloaded from the repository. (This has been tested with Arduino v23). In the Arduino IDE, set the board type to “Arduino Pro or Pro Mini (3.3V, 8MHz) w/ATmega168”. From a hardware perspective, the easiest way to update the firmware is via a 3.3V FTDI cable or an UartSBee board, such as:


You will also find a USB interface useful for controlling your RFbee via a PC or configuration (see below). In order to do this,  you will need some basic terminal software. A favourite and simple example is called … “Terminal“. (Please donate to the author for their efforts).

Initial Testing

After connecting your RFbee to a PC, run your terminal software and set it for 9600 bps – 8 – None – no handshaking, and click the check box next to “+CR”. For example:


Select your COM: port (or click “ReScan” to find it) and then “Connect”. After a moment “OK” should appear in the received text area. Now, get yourself an Arduino or compatible board of some sort that has the LED on D13 (or substitute your own) and upload the following sketch:

Finally, connect the Arduino board to an RFbee in this manner:

  • Arduino D0 to RFbee TX
  • Arduino D1 to RFbee RX
  • Arduino 3.3V to RFbee Vcc
  • Arduino GND to RFbee GND
and the other RFbee to your PC and check it is connected using the terminal software described earlier. Now check the terminal is communicating with the PC-end RFbee, and then send the character ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’. Note that the LED on the Arduino board will blink one, two or three times respectively – or five times if another character is received. It then reports back “Blinking completed!” to the host PC. For example (click to enlarge):

Although that was a very simple demonstration, in doing so you can prove that your RFbees are working and can send and receive serial data. If you need more than basic data transmission, it would be wise to get a pair of RFbees to experiment with before committing to a project, to ensure you are confident they will solve your problem.

More Control

If you are looking to use your RFbees in a more detailed way than just sending data at 9600 bps at full power, you will need to  control and alter the parameters of your RFbees using the terminal software and simple AT-style commands. If you have not already done so, download and review the RFbee data sheet downloadable from the “Resources” section of this page. You can use the AT commands to easily change the data speed, power output (to reduce current draw), change the frequency, set transmission mode (one way or transceive) and more.

Reading and writing AT commands is simple, however at first you need to switch the RFbee into ‘command mode’ by sending +++ to it. (When sending +++ or AT commands, each must be followed with a carriage return (ASCII 13)). Then you can send commands or read parameter status. To send a command, just send AT then the command then the parameter. For example, to set the data rate (page ten of the data sheet) to 115200 bps, send ATBD3 and the RFbee will respond with OK.

You can again use the terminal software to easily send and receive the commands. To switch the RFbee from command mode back to normal data mode, use ATO0 (that’s AT then the letter O then zero) or power-cycle the RFbee.

RFbee as an Arduino-compatible board with inbuilt wireless

As mentioned previously the RFbee is based around an Atmel ATmega168 running at 8MHz with the Arduino bootloader. In other words, we have a tiny Arduino-compatible board in there to do our bidding. If you are unfamiliar with the Arduino system please see the tutorials listed here. However there are a couple of limitations to note – you will need an external USB-serial interface (as noted in Getting Started above), and not all the standard Arduino-type pins are available. Please review page four of the data sheet to see which RFbee pins match up to which Arduino pins.

If for some reason you just want to use your RFbee as an Arduino-compatible board, you can do so. However if you upload your own sketch you will lose the wireless capability. To restore your RFbee follow the instructions in Getting Started above.

The firmware that allows data transmission is also an Arduino sketch. So if you need to include RF operation in your sketch, first use a copy of the RFBee_v1_1.pde included in the repository – with all the included files. Then save this somewhere else under a different name, then work your code into the main sketch. To save you the effort you can download a fresh set of files which are used for our demonstration. But before moving forward, we need to learn about controlling data flow and device addresses…

Controlling data flow

As mentioned previously, each RFbee can have it’s own numerical address which falls between zero and 255. Giving each RFbee an address allows you to select which RFbee to exchange data with when there is more than two in the area. This is ideal for remote control and sensing applications, or to create a group of autonomous robots that can poll each other for status and so on.

To enable this method of communication in a simple form several things need to be done. First, you set the address of each RFbee with the AT command ATMAx (x=address). Then set each RFbee with ATOF2. This causes data transmitted to be formatted in a certain method – you send a byte which is the address of the transmitting RFbee, then another byte which is the address of the intended receipient RFbee, then follow with the data to send. Finally send command ATAC2 – which enables address checking between RFbees. Data is then sent using the command

Where data is … the data to send. You can send a single byte, or an array of bytes. length is the number of bytes you are sending. sourceAddress and destinationAddress are relevant to the RFbees being used – you set these addresses using the ATMAx described earlier in this section.

If you open the file rfbeewireless.pde in the download bundle, scroll to the end of the sketch which contains the following code:

This is a simple example of sending data out from the RFbee. The RFbee with this sketch (address 1) sends the array of bytes (testdata[]) to another RFbee with address 2.  You can disable address checking by a receiving RFbee with ATAC0 – then it will receive any data send by other RFbees.

To receive data use the following function:

The variable result will hold the incoming data, len is the number of bytes to expect, sourceAddress and destinationAddress are the source (transmitting RFbee) and destination addresses (receiving RFbee). rssi and lqi are the signal strength and link quality indicator – see the TI CC1101 datasheet for more information about these. By using more than two RFbees set with addresses you can selectively send and receive data between devices or control them remotely. Finally, please note that RFbees are still capable of sending and receiving data via the TX/RX pins as long as the sketch is not executing the sendTestData() loop.

I hope you found this introduction interesting and useful. The RFbees are an inexpensive and useful alternative to the popular Xbee modules and with the addition of the Arduino-compatible board certainly useful for portable devices, remote sensor applications or other data-gathering exercises.

For more information and product support, visit the Seeedstudio product pages.

RFbees are available from Seeedstudio and their network of distributors.

Disclaimer – RFbee products used in this article are promotional considerations made available by Seeedstudio.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, education, lesson, RF, rfbee, seeedstudio, tutorial, wireless, WLS126E1P, xbee

Review – CD4047 Astable/Monostable Multivibrator

Hello readers!

Today we are going to examine an older but still highly useful integrated circuit – the 4047 Astable/Monostable multivibrator:


My reason for doing this is to demonstrate another way to create a square-wave output for digital circuits (astable mode) and also generate single pulses (monostable mode). Sometimes one can get carried away with using a microcontroller by default – and forget that there often can be simpler and much cheaper ways of doing things. And finally, the two can often work together to solve a problem.

What is a multivibrator? In electronics terms this means more than one vibrator. It creates an electrical signal that changes state on a regular basis (astable) or on demand (monostable). You may recall creating monostable and astable timers using the 555 timer described in an earlier article. One of the benefits of the 4047 is being able to do so as well, but with fewer external components. Here is the pinout diagram for a 4047 (from the Fairchild data sheet):

Note that there are three outputs, Q, Q and OSC out. Q is the normal output, Q is the inverse of Q – that is if Q is high, Q is low – at the same frequency. OSC output provides a signal that is very close to twice the frequency of Q. We will consider the other pins as we go along. In the following small video, we have LEDs connected to all three outputs – you can see how Q and Q alternate, and the increased frequency of OSC out:

That was an example of the astable mode.  The circuit used is shown below. The only drawback of using a 4047 is that you cannot alter the duty cycle of your astable output – it will always be 50% high and 50% low. The oscillator output is not guaranteed to have a 50% duty cycle, but comes close. The time period (and therefore the frequency) is determined by two components – R1 and the capacitor:

[Quick update – in the schematic below, also connect 4047 pin 14 to +5V]


The values for R2~R4 are 560 ohms, for the LEDs. R1 and the capacitor form an RC circuit, which controls the oscillation frequency. How can we calculate the frequency? The data sheet tells us that time (period of time the oscillator is ‘high’) is equal to 4.4 multiplied by the value of R1 and the capacitor. As the duty cycle is always 50%, we double this value, then divide the result into one. In other words:

And as the frequency from the OSC out pin is twice that of Q or Q, the formula for the OSC out frequency is:

However the most useful formula would allow you to work with the values of R and C to use for a desired frequency f:

When calculating your values, remember that you need to work with whole units, such as Farads and Ohms- not microfarads, mega-ohms, etc. This chart of SI prefixes may be useful for conversions.

The only thing to take note of is the tolerance of your resistor and capacitor. If you require a certain, exact frequency try to use some low-tolerance capacitors, or replace the resistor with a trimpot of a value just over your required resistor value. Then you can make adjustments and measure the result with a frequency counter. For example, when using a value of 0.1uF for C and 15 k ohm for R, the theoretical frequency is 151.51 Hz; however in practice this resulted with a frequency of 144.78 Hz.

Don’t forget that the duty cycle is not guaranteed to be 50% from the OSC out pin. This is shown in the following demonstration video. We measure the frequency from all three output pins, then measure the duty cycle from the same pins:

(The auto-ranging on that multimeter is somewhat annoying).

Now for some more more explanation about the 4047. You can activate the oscillations in two ways, via a high signal into pin 5 (pin 4 must then be low) or via a low signal into pin 4 (and pin 5 must be low). Setting pin 9 high will reset the oscillator, so Q is low and Q is high.

The monostable mode is also simple to create and activate. I have not made a video clip of monstable operation, as this would only comprise of staring at an LED. However, here is an example circuit with two buttons added, one to trigger the pulse (or start it), and another to reset the timer (cancel any pulse and start again):

[Quick update – in the schematic below, also connect 4047 pin 14 to +5V]


The following formula is used to calculate the duration of the pulse time:

Where time is in seconds, R is Ohms, and C is Farads. Once again, the OSC output pin also has a modified output – it’s time period will be 1.2RC.

To conclude, the 4047 offers a simple and cheap way to generate a 50% duty cycle  square wave or use as a monostable timer. The cost is low and the part is easy to source. As always, avoid the risk of counterfeit ICs and get yours from a reputable distributor. Living in Australia, mine came from element-14. Thanks to Fairchild Semiconductor for product information from their 4047 data sheet.

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in 4047, education, learning electronics, lesson, part review, tutorialComments (41)

Part review – Linear Technology LTC6991 “Timerblox” low frequency oscillator

Hello Readers

Time for a new component review – the Linear Technology LTC6991 low frequency oscillator. This is part of Linear‘s Timerblox series of tiny timing devices. The full range is described on their web site. It is available in DFN or SOT-23 (below)  packaging. Our example for today:

The graph paper in the image is 5mm square, so the IC itself is tiny yet worthwhile challenge. Although reading the data sheet may convince you it is a difficult part to use, it is actually quite simple. This article will give you the “simple way”. Once again I have lashed out and will hand-solder an SMD onto a SOT-23 board:

Messy, but it works. Moving along…

My reason for examining the LTC6991 was as a lower-power substitute to using a 555 timer to create a square wave at various frequencies. Normally I wouldn’t give two hoots about the current draw, as everything on my bench is powered from a lab supply.

However when designing things for external use, they are usually powered by a battery of some sort or solar – so the less current drawn the better. The bog-standard TI NE555 has a current draw (with output high) of between two and five milliamps (at 5V). Which doesn’t sound like much – but our 6991 is around 100 to 170 microamps at 5V. These figures are for the respective timers without an output load. You can source up to 20mA from the output of the 6991, and when doing so will naturally increase the current load – but still it will be less than our triple-nickel.

The LTC6991 offers a period range of 1 millisecond to 9.5 hours; which translates to a frequency range of 29.1 microhertz to 977 Hz, with a maximum frequency error or <1.5%. Only one to three external resistors are required to setup your timing requirements. For a more detailed explanation, please see the data sheet.pdf. The duty cycle defaults to 50% however this can be altered by using the IC in voltage-controlled period mode.

Linear have made using the IC very easy by providing an Excel spreadsheet you can use to make your required calculations, available from this page. For example, to create a 1 Hz oscillator, we enter our figures in as such:

and the macro returns the following details:


Very convenient – a schematic, the required resistors, and example timing diagram. I recreated this example, however not having the exact values in stock caused a slight increase in frequency – with Rset at 750k,  Rdiv1 at 910k and Rdiv2 at 180k my frequency was 3.1 Hz. Therefore to match the accuracy of the LTC6991 you need to ensure a your external components are close to spec and a very low tolerance. It produces a good square-wave:


If you cannot use the exact resistor values recommended, use resistors in series or parallel to achieve the desired values. Don’t forget to measure them in real life if possible to ensure your accuracy does not suffer.

Pin one (RST) can be left floating for nomal oscillation, when high it resets the IC and forces output (pin six) low. As you can see, it is very simple to use especially with the provided spreadsheet. The required formulae are also provided in the data sheet if you wish to do your own calculations. Pulse width can be controlled with a fourth resistor Rpw, and is explained on page sixteen of the data sheet.

Although physically it may be difficult to use as it is SMD, the power requirements and the ability to generate such a wide range of oscillations with so few external parts makes the LTC6991 an attractive proposition.

The LTC6991 and the Timerblox series are new to market and should be available from the usual suppliers in the very near future such as RS and element-14.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our Google Group.

[Note – The LTC6991was a personally-ordered sample unit from Linear and reviewed without notification]

Posted in education, LTC6991, part review, tutorialComments (4)

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