So I am working on a project where I have torn away all the RC related parts of an older 1/10 scale Racing Buggy I had as a kid and replacing said parts with some Arduinos and a GPS to create a super rudimentary autonomous vehicle. I want to add in the Raspberry Pi Zero W as an on board base station for data logging and network control through a web app I'll design later on with my server.

My concern is that short of getting some kind of data-box from Verizon or AT&T and paying a terribly large monthly bill on a contract I don't want, I'm not sure of any other cheap options.

So what options do I have available to get the Pi on the cellular network that won't cost me an arm and a leg?

  • 1
    Can't you just put your ‘phone on the buggy? Use it as a hotspot, and let the Pi connect through it using your ‘phone’s existing data plan?
    – Mawg
    Jul 11, 2017 at 10:36
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    I could but part of the whole point is that I'd be using my phone to access the web app, by putting the phone on board I remove any reason to have built that piece out
    – Mike
    Jul 11, 2017 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


I think that Electron by Particle may be something what you are looking for. Electron allows you to build device that can connect to 2G or 3G mobile wireless network.

In one of the previous comments you mentioned that your data usage probably will not exceed a megabyte of data per month. With Electron you are charged monthly for the base rate which is $2.99 (includes first megabyte) and then $0.99 per any additional MB.

From technical point of view, Electron is connected to Particle's cloud and exchanges messages with it. Then you can control Electron through your web-app by sending HTTP requests from your web-app to Particle's cloud. Electron has GPIO pins (also for Serial/UART communication) so depends on your needs you can connect it with your Raspberry Pi - for more information go here.

In a general scenario communication between you and Electron should look like that:

  1. write a function which handles command on Electron:
int callRaspberry(String command) {
    //handle communication here
  1. register previous function during setup:
void setup()
  1. make a request to Particle's cloud, to call the function on Electron:
curl https://api.particle.io/v1/devices/<DEVICE_ID>/callRaspberry \
  -d access_token=<YOUR_ACCESS_TOKEN> \
  -d arg=<COMMAND_VALUE>

More code examples can be found here.

I've also seen that Hologram provides similar devices to Electron and their service price is also cheaper. You can find some comparison here.

  • Yea I think that is what I am going to go with. Wide enough support to be useful while not breaking the bank. Like I've said, initial costs for parts are fine and I can eat those, I just don't want an expensive monthly
    – Mike
    Jul 10, 2017 at 14:42
  • Oh wow, actually that helps a lot. I didn't realize particle used the cloud service like that and actually that solves a huge hiccup I wasn't sure how to deal with. Thanks for the explanation
    – Mike
    Jul 11, 2017 at 13:55
  • Low-usage pricing of mobile data services is indeed attractive, however be careful to check how your actual usage will be billed - for example if the data you use gets rounded up to some granularity unit, a megabyte is only a thousand one kilobyte sessions. Particle doesn't presently seem to make details of how they calculate usage for billing readily available on their website. Jul 11, 2017 at 16:31

You got Sigfox or Lora that can be a possibility but, it's limited to few messages per day, so you wont be able to stream or to send real time command. And it's also not free, but it's cheap. But you can't have connection if you don't have an Internet provider or GSM provider.

I did a project once doing the same kind of stuff you want to do with Sigfox network, I had a server and send data to it with GPS location and sensors data. The location was shown using google map's javascript API. It wasn't hard work but it wasn't "streaming" location since Sigfox network isn't design for it. (count at least 15s per message)

  • I don't mind paying for it, I understand that to get on the network, someone's going to stand in your way because that's how the world works unfortunately. My only goal is not to spend $50 a month on a carrier for what will probably be no more than a megabyte of data/month usage. Probably even less since that assumes it runs 24/7 every month, which it definitely won't A friend of mine just shared this (popsci.com/…) article with me, any experience with this? I'll look into Sigfox as well and compare the pricing models
    – Turk
    Jun 29, 2017 at 14:20
  • I did use once one of their boards and it was working well, but never that specific one. Could be a nice way to go ! store.particle.io/… but it's still 69$ the board + 3$ / month. I'm not sure it's that cheap.
    – YCN-
    Jun 29, 2017 at 14:27
  • These will be insufficient for the data volumes typically used by systems such as those in the question. Jul 11, 2017 at 2:44
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    @ChrisStratton Well the OP doesn't want to drive the car but to know where it stand and have data sensors value, that does not mean he needs a big stream of data...
    – YCN-
    Jul 11, 2017 at 8:40
  • That still a huge stream of data compared to the recommended network usage limits of these things. Think of them like your device sending the equivalent of maybe 5 SMS messages a day, 10 tops. Jul 11, 2017 at 13:52

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