A free network of Smart Things: TTN.

Communication is one of the most important part in IoT. Today we have several fighting technologies: NB-IoT, Sigfox, LoRA, 5G. Which will be the winner? Well, more than one. In this story, I will point you to a very nice Community-based network, based on LoRA.

What is the difference between LoRA and the others? Well, apart from tech details, NB-IOT, 5G use licensed part of the spectrum. Therefore you need to pay for it. It has advantages and disadvantages.

Sigfox is a different story. But again, it is a commercial product (let us simplify our view this way). Cheap, widely available, but you pay for each device an annual fee.

LoRA (or LoraWAN if you want to be more precise) is a totally different story.

It operates using an un-licensed band of the spectrum (electromagnetic, not the one that frightens your dreams).

If you want, you can build your own wireless Long-Range network and use it for you wide-area IoT applications. Or, if you prefer, you can buy the services from a company offering them. You have the choice. Well, for sure you need at the gateway point a cabled connection to Internet, if you want to reliably connect to some Cloud services. But that is nowadays, at least in our part of the world, granted.

You want to start prototyping? Arduino, as always, has a nice board for you:

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Arduino MKR WAN 1300

The Things Network (TTN)

So, if it is a free portion of the spectrum, someone has already done some great thing with it. Yes: The Things Network (TTN).

Well the best option, if you want to understand what it really is, is to have a close look at their TTN site.

I’ll only try to scrape the surface and tell you what I understood:

  • It is a great idea born in the mind of a small team of dutch guys
  • They started from Amsterdam; Well, it is easy to start something there
  • They made a successful Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2015
  • They have created a global community and most of the important towns in Europe and outside have their community-based network.

Yes, the last point is the most important: in many towns (see the picture) , they have created community-based networks where they offer LoRAWAN connectivity, on metropolitan range, for those that wants to develop IoT solutions.

Yes, all around the world. Unbelievable.

Wait a minute. What does it mean? (I see from the Clouds G. Marconi that is smiling). Are you telling me that we can have this Thing-of-connected-things all around the world?

Well, go and have a look: you find here the link with the list of all the towns where TTN is working. Just one example: in Zurich they have 121 gateway, enough to guarantee coverage for the entire city. They have in Amsterdam, Berlin. The list is long. At the moment of writing they have 4042 gateways connected! About 43000 people registered!

For example, this is the coverage in Berlin

Berlin TTN gateways coverage.

But, wait, don’t go too fast, I want to understand more. What does it mean to build such a network in your city?

I’ll make short and easy: you can buy your electronics pieces (300 euro and you’re happy). You spend a weekend remembering the nice University days, better if in your garage. You build your LoRA Gateway and put it on the roof of your house. You register (for free) with TNN, some configuration steps and you’re connected. You can then start creating your low-power, wide-area IoT solution connected to the Cloud. But, what is more, you will be offering portion of the connectivity to other people that don’t have a LoRA gateway, but wants to develop solutions for your Smart-to-be City.

You offer something, but, if a community of forward-thinking people is with you, others will give a portion of their connectivity to guarantee a coverage for the entire urban area. And you can start offering services.


There are hundreds of examples.

Do you want to build a Smart Parking Solution? They have developed one for the Port of Amsterdam

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Placement of the sensor.

More details: https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/marketplace/solution/the-things-industries-smart-parking-truck

One of the important feature of these low-power wide-area connectivity solutions (LoRA, NB-IoT, Sigfox) is that you can build cheap sensor nodes (the black small one in the picture) powered with a small lithium battery, working for several years (say 5). No cable, no maintenance.

A very long list here: https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/marketplace/

Obviously, the Solution Area that fits most is the area of Smart City Solutions. And if you have such a Community-based network, you can build Community-based solutions. For example, you could think of a network of sensors to provide a fine-grained monitoring solution for the air quality and pollution.

TTN obviously is trying to find an economical model that will help their initiators to develop also a business and have a way to continue supporting ad innovate TTN. For this reason they’re also developing commercial solutions and have a marketplace.

Some tech details

Yes, we’re also tech guys. Need details.

To join TTN you need a LoRA Gateway. If you want you can buy the one they developed for the Kickstarter campaign. But the project is OpenSource and therefore you can build yours.

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Gateways and nodes.

The Gateway needs to be connected to Internet and registered with TTN. All the configuration steps are well detailed on their site.

If you want, you can build a TTN gateway using a Raspberry PI 3. This is the picture of the assemble designed by TTN Zurich

Project by TTN Zurich

and here you find the link to their documentation: https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/docs/gateways/start/build.html

Then you need LoRA nodes: you can buy the MKR WAN 1300 from Arduino, or you can buy a shield for other Arduino boards.

Here you find the Arduino libray to connect to TTN: https://github.com/thethingsnetwork/arduino-device-lib

The end for now.

Ok, in Rome is 11.30 PM, it is a free day, and I want to do some other things.

Don’t you think this is a great idea? You can see that in Italy we have done something. Could we do more?

I’ll return back on this idea: a Community-based network of Things.

Written by

Born in the wonderful city of Naples, but living in Rome. Always curious about new technologies and new things. I work in a big Cloud Company.

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