The Things Network Reading - LoraWAN
TTN Reading is a community-led initiative to establish a free to use long range, low powered wireless data network across the Reading area. It is an IoT -"Internet of Things" enabler – it allows people to connect their “Things” to the Internet.
We are affiliated with (and frankly inspired by) The Things Network, which has been set up in Amsterdam by a handful of people and provides IoT connectivity across the whole city.
The technology we are using is LoraWAN. Its big advantages are:
It is long range – each gateway has a theoretical range of 15km. In built up areas 1-2km is more realistic.>It is low-powered – devices can be battery operated, and batteries can last several years for devices that are sending data a few times a day, for example a parking sensor in a car park, or a sensor that measures water levels and provides early warning of floods.
It is low cost – LoraWAN gateways can be bought for around £400, or made for £200. This means an area like Reading can be covered for just a few thousand pounds. LoraWAN operates in the 868MHz frequency, so there are no licence fees and no need to pay telecoms companies for sending and receiving data.
Its main constraint is the low data transfer rate. You will never browse the web on LoraWAN, nor will you be streaming CCTV, or even sending images. A device can send and receive up to 242 bytes of data at a time. This is perfectly adequate for many use cases where sensors are sending data to web apps, for example a pet tracker that updates position every few minutes.
Building devices for The Things Network is relatively easy and low cost. RS Components sells LoraWAN radio modules from Microchip, and you can be sure that example code exists for Arduino, mBed, Raspberry Pi, and other development platforms.
The TTN Reading community is currently working on a few use cases, including:
- Flood alerts
- A smarter car alarm
- Hedgehog tracking – in association with Smart Earth Network
If you would like to work on these, or have other ideas you’d like to develop then we’d love to hear from you.
We are especially keen to find individuals and organisations willing to buy/build gateways and so increase the coverage of the network across Reading.
The really exciting prospect of The Things Network is when the coverage spans whole regions. For example there are TTN gateways going up in Thatcham and other areas in Berkshire, and it is easy to imagine the entire county covered within a couple of years. There are other TTN initiatives in Bristol, Guildford, Manchester, Newcastle. Why not start one in your area?
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As I have noted elsewhere, I do not see how in regulatory and risk terms this is any different to operating an open WiFi hotspot, as is done in public spaces, cafes and hotels etc. the world over — and has been for many years now.
I would note also that as far as risk is concerned, we are talking about far lower bandwidth than WiFi. With the possibility also to derive location via GPS-enabled LoRaWAN gateways and time difference of arrival (TDOA). However, I cannot see WiFi hotspots becoming GPS enabled any time soon.
As we discussed at the Hardware Pioneers, I'm slightly worried about the Things Network in terms of regulatory.
a) It may not be legal to connect an open network 'on top' of your existing ISP network/connection.
b) If providing an 'open network' or at least a network the public can connect to, then you potentially become a Public Electronic Communications Network under the auspices of the Communications Act 2003 and therefore have obligations under it (and ignorance is no excuse). This may include data logging, connection logging etc.
c) A completely open network may have potentially huge risks in terms of terrorism and other forms of unsuitable use.