The Things Industry is taking the lead on LoRaWAN ecosystem

Today was the first day of The Things Conference (TTC) 2020 in Amsterdam. TTC is the yearly event organized by The Things Network initiative. Years after years this event is becoming THE world LoRaWan event. The Things Network let the floor to The Things Industry, all the LoRaWan industrial ecosystem is coming to Amsterdam to discuss about the future of this LPWAn technology. The community spirit is still here, strong and awesome: I had plenty of discussions with many tech & business guy I never met before ; I’ve learned a lot of thing through the high quality conferences. Two days of conference will be too short for meeting people I’ve listed and follow the conference track.

So let’s talk a bit about the content of this first days and the direction The Things Industry is giving to LoRaWan ecosystem. Because, trust me or not, even if the LoRaWan alliance is full of big telecom companies, it really seems that, this small group of 20 awesome people from TTN are taking the lead.

At first, let’s talk about the growth of TheThingsNetwork, even if I do not really like numbers of gateways (18.000) or numbers of devices (500.000) because they are registered not necessarily active, there is one number I like: the number of messages processed per day. This number is now 25.000.000 and that’s a huge number for crowdsourced network. Congratulation guys !

One of the main goal for The Things Network is to deliver and open-source Network Server. This is The Things Stack and main business of The Things Industry to run it for private companies. In LPWAn technologies, the network servers are central. They are receiving the frames from the gateway, check the identity, subscription, decrypt the messages and route them to the right destination. The Things Stack provides all these components and is open-source. It’s one of the most powerful stack available, and the most innovative one. In my point of view, there was two major announcement made this morning, with a strong and visible support of Semtech all along the event.

Packet Broker to bring them all together

The packet broker is a response to the roaming problem LoRaWan is facing from its start. As LoRaWan is a mix of different private and public network with different operators, most of the traffic is captured by a gateway but many time by the gateway of someone else. As a conclusion the quality of service and coverage could be improve if the traffic received by the gateway, transferred to the Network Server, would have been route to the right network server instead of being trashed. This is the role of the Packet Broker: to route and save packets from being lost. This components, more than a technical component is looking like a market place to exchange traffic between operators. It’s already the way the Lacuna Space Satellite is connected to The Things Network if I understood well. In my point of view this could be a real game changer. if any private network can get in interest in routing the traffic they are capturing to the right network, LoRaWan could really become a tangible global IoT network all around the world. Coming from The Things Industry as a neutral tiers between the telecom operators is also a good way to facilitate the deal. On top of this, larger The Things Stack is deployed, larger this component is easy to activate.

Make device configuration secured and easy

One of the pain of LoRaWan is the device settings, you have a device ID, an application ID and application KEY to manipulate, setup for each of the device you want to activate. They are provided by your network provider. These elements are critical in term of security, difficult to type by the end-user.

The Things Industry is solving this problem with an identity server protecting these sensitive information. The Things Industry offer a global solution, accessible to all the network operator, to reserve these setting with a one time cost. The device maker will be able to print a QR Code corresponding to the identity of the device. Then the chosen network operator will be able to claim for the device information from the Identity Server. That way the keys will never be manipulated by the end-user and the registration will be as easy as reading a QR code. All of this also works with Secure Elements.

Once again, this is a game changer in the LoRaWan industry placing The Things Industry and The Things Stack in the center of the LoRaWan ecosystem. Great ! Guys you rock.

LoRa is going to 2.4GHz band

The first 2.4GHz gateway has been shown on stage. By going to 2.4GHz, LoRaWan is looking to the WiFi and BLE band where there is no question of country local frequency plan adaptation. That way it is going easy to make devices targeting a worldwide deployment. This choice is not without consequence and basically the coverage will be reduced. No information has been given about this reduction but it seems that this technology is mostly targeting smart home and smart building. So it’s like a super zigbee with a better infrastructure for a better management and better scalability. I see a lot of use cases in the industry so that’s great even if it is not really looking a LPWAn solution.

The 2.4Ghz is based on a specific Semtech chip dedicated for it.

New devices has been announced

Murata has announced that day a new module based on a STM32 and a SX1262 transceiver. That device will replace the ABZ devices proposing a smaller size and better performance thanks to the new Semtech chip. It’s not clear when it will available on the market and who will be able to get the first pieces. Price is not yet detailed also. I really loved the Murata ABZ but it was a bit big so that module is a good progress. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it will have a great success because ST Microelectronics has announced, a couple of weeks ago, the STM32WL.

This chip is not a module, it’s not a SIP, this is a real chip where you have on the same die a STM32L4 device with a Semtech LoRa transceiver. Thanks to this, the price will be really agressive. ST said “it will be not really more expensive than the transceiver alone”, understand 1-2$. It also means that chip is really small. Something like 5x5mm but I may be wrong on that point. I’ve seen it, it is really, really small. Unfortunately, you will have to be patient to get it. Apparently the devkit will only be available after summer 2020 and the device availability is not yet totally clear. That said, this component could be one of the ultimate solution to implement 0G. Supporting LoRaWan + Sigfox worldwide, it could be a best seller is a quickly growing market.

To get on this, ST has acquired a special licence to Semtech (something funny as LoRa was born with Cyclo a company located at 1-2 km from ST) to be able to produce the transceiver part directly on its die. Thanks to it they can achieve this breakthrough in terms of size and price.

The only negative point I’ve seen on this chip, but it should be fixed before the real launch, is the large number of passive components needed around the RF line. The footprint of these components is currently larger than the chip itself.

To be continued

The first day was rich of many other things but It’s running a bit late now and I need to prepare for my tomorrow talk on stage… So take a look later in the week-end or early in the week to get the next day details and some other really cool conference learning I’ve got from today.

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