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Freely-available crowd-sourced IoT networks on the rise

Posted: 13 Nov 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:The Things Network? IoT? data network? open source? LoRa?

The Things Network foundation has revealed its goal to provide the entire world with a free and open source IoT data network. Pretty soon, there would no longer be any expensive infrastructure deployments, data plans and monthly subscriptions to connect your IoT devices.

The not-for-profit foundation has just launched a kickstarter campaign to build the basic elements (LoRa-based gateways and sensor nodes) at BOM cost, promising to share as open-source all the necessary code and circuit schematics for makers and entrepreneurs to build their own bricks and add them to the network.

By doing so, The Things Network's Founder and initiator of the project Wienke Giezeman hopes that small businesses who may want to set up an IoT network on the cheap, for their own needs, will effectively contribute to a growing IoT network open for anyone to use. The foundation is developing automatic network management algorithms so that every new gateway can be discovered and configured in real-time as the crowd-sourced network grows, building redundancy in densely networked areas while increasing data throughput across reduced communication distances.

The Things Network

When asked about the reliability of such a decentralised network versus competing IoT infrastructures being setup and maintained by network operators over the world, Giezeman makes an analogy with the Linux movement, well documented, strong and reliable although it is decentralised.

"If you have thousands of individual users, from consumers to small businesses to city organisers adding their brick to the network, all for different purposes, you end up with a lot of built-in redundancy that naturally compensates for eventual drop-outs when a gateway is not maintained or taken out of the network," he stated.

Co-founder and Tech Lead Johan Stokking revealed more about the actual implementation of such a crowd-sourced IoT network. The Things Gateway put forward by the foundation does not discriminate between the data it collects from the nodes, it relies on an agent-based infrastructure to pass-on the data to the foundation's cloud server or to a private router if this is how the gateway has been setup.

But even a router at a company's premises could see when the data is not aimed at the company's business and would then pass it on to The Things Network foundation (and vice-versa), where brokers would discover the data and make decisions on where to route it. For each node, the data is end-to-end encrypted, nor the gateway or the broker can decrypt it, only the application handler that acts on behalf of the application can decrypt the data associated to any given node (for any number of nodes registered by the application developer).

One gateway will only set you back about $216, about a fifth of what would typically cost today's commercial LoRa implementations, while being easy to install by just anyone. It connects to the cloud through a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection and includes a GPS chip to determine the gateway's location and node's location later. It can serve up to 60,000 nodes within a radius up to 10km according to the rules and guidelines for using The Things Network. The foundation said it has been working with Semtech and has made extensive simulation models to define these rules.

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