TheThingsConference 2021

New year, new edition of TheThingsConference, the main LPWan event now.

As this event is a big community event including industries, silicon providers, service providers, operator, integrator… It’s a big opportunity for all these people to meet altogether. 2021 due to covid-19 pandemic is online as most of the IoT events currently. Question were, how will be the quality, how will be the interaction within the community ?

TheThingsConference already had a virtual event in 2020 some month after the yearly physical conference and basically it has been a success. It also has been a good training or this 2021 event. As a consequence the event quality (platform, keynote video, talk video) have a really good quality. They basically taken benefit of the new capabilities of the recorded video like to play with a 3D device in the middle of the scene. So that really cool.

They have also taken into account the different time-shift and replaying all the conferences on different slots to allows people to follow it on normal hour. That’s great a better than the previous edition (a 24h non stop event… fun but difficult). The conference is taking place on a whole week

Interaction between the community, at least over the chat is really good and this is also a success… I’ll complete that post all along the conference but we can start seing what has been announced during the keynote.

TTN LoRaWAN growth acceleration

Even if the 2020 has been a difficult year in many businesses, it seems it has been a good one for TheThingsNetwork and TheThingsIndustry, basically for the whole LoRaWan ecosystem.

The number of gateways has jumped from 15.000 to 30.000 including TheThingsIndustry gateways. But the most interesting growth is about the messages sent, by certified devices, over the network as this one has doubled in the past 6 months to reach 600msg/s. This is an exponential growth and it is really promising.

In this landscape, the market share of TheThingIndustry is also impressive. You need to understand that any of the gateways in LoRaWan reports to the network servers all the messages over the air, including private and competitors one. Then the network server filter its own. You also need to understand that gateway only capture messages where they are, so the statistics are limited by TheThingsNetwork coverage. You also need consider the frequency plan, here the statistics are based on TTN frequency plan but private and other public networks can use other channels. 3 of the 8 channel are common by-the-way. The number they have captured on TheThingsNetwork area is the following:

  • 65% free operator TheThingsNetworks
  • 22% commercial operators
  • 13% unknown

As part of the commercial operators, you have the following split considering that the territory of each of the operators is different, so the number needs to be interpreted according to this also.

  • 22% TheThingsIndustries (Public World wide)
  • 13% Orbiwise (private networks WW)
  • 13% KPN (Netherlands public)
  • 10% Swisscom (public Swiss)
  • 9% Proxmus (public Belgium)
  • 8% Loriot (private networks WW)
  • 7% Objenious (public France)
  • 5% Actility (private networks WW)
  • 2% Orange (public France)
  • 2% A2A Smart City ( private Italian)
  • 2% Digimondo Gmbh (private germany)
  • 7% Others

These numbers are interesting as it means that currently the crowdsourced approach really makes sense in term of market share showing the data-volume currently mostly comes from that model. It also means that this freemium approach works to transform it into business. It also shows that global WW operators also make sense as the public operator are relayed to limited traffic according to theses statistics. Even if the statistics are limited by the different points I listed above, they are showing some interesting trends for LoRaWAN. Next years will be decisive about the working LoRaWan operator business models.

Packet broker is now live to link all the TTx networks and route the traffic from all of them. This is interesting also because it could be extended to other networks easily and create a real roaming solution for other private & public networks.

Generic node

LoRaWAN now have its Sens’it device, it name is “Generic Node“; there is in it basic and useful sensors for covering a lot of different use-cases. It has an accelerator, T° en Hygro sensor. The plus are a buzzer, IP65 and the choice of using 2xAA batteries. I have not been able to get its price yet. A version including the LR110 solution is on its way : it could allows GPS/WiFi localization at low energy and cost.

This kind of tool is really interesting for conducting POC or for small IoT fleets. The previous version TheThingsNode was a bit obsolete now. In another hand, I assume there are many equivalent on the LoRaWan market and solutions like Rak WisBlock also complete the solution panel.

The Things Stack v3 – a big migration, with a large impact on the field

The new version of TheThingsStack has been released for the conference. As a consequence the portal is moving to a new interface ! That’s a big update as there was a while it has not been updated. (Even if the v2 was still really good).

What is more a problem it that this new version is not transparent for users: gateway setup needs to be updated (not a good things when your gateways are well deployed on a roof top… you just not want to touch it, particularly to play with firmware upgrade). The devices also need to be restarted to rejoin, so it basically means we are going to have device disconnection during this migration phase as the a public network can’t synchronize unknown devices restart. I’m afraid the network will loose a part of the community gateways.

By-the-way, in a technical point of view, this switch is a good thing and at a time we need to move to a fresh new system getting benefits of all the new features developed by TheThingsIndustry. I’ll surely make a post later on that new version and the gateway migration process.

New MikroTik gateway

A new version of the MikroTik outdoor gateway is this time including LTE-M connectivity has been announced. This is a good news as it was one of my expectations when having tested the LoRa8 previous version. This gateway is outdoor and as usual, really low cost with an announced price of $209.

LR-FHSS (Long Range-Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum)

This is not a fresh new technology as the current Semtech devices can support it and it has been announced some month ago. But we had an interesting conference by Tuofu Lu from Semtech. This radio norms is now part of the LoRaWan specification. LR-FHSS consist in breaking up each data packet into small pieces and randomly spreading them over a defined frequency bandwidth. Each of the pieces are around 50ms long. The consequence is a better scalability, up to 200x the usual uplink capacity. This is going to be really important for satellites IoT as the satellites receives data from a wide zone where many devices are. Thank to this technology, each of satellite reception capacity will be able to reach 1 million messages per day.

LR-FHSS and LoRa can coexist in LoRaWan networks. It can also be used to extend the capacity of the network in an already deployed area. In some case, it is just a software update.

What’s up with LoRaWAN 2.4GHz ?

Announced during last year event with boat use-case, we got more this year about this solution which have good points like being usable world wide. Sub Giga solutions uses specific frequencies per zone making development and deployment more complex.

We can summarize the advantages of using 2.4GHz LoRaWan like this:

  • A world wide frequency compatibility
  • No Duty-Cycle allowing more traffic
  • Larger bandwidth reducing the communication latency.

There is no magic and these advantages have some cons:

  • Range limited to 120-400m indoor / urban and 1km-7km outdoor / free field.
  • Competitions with WiFi and Bluetooth for using frequencies
  • Currently no support for multi SF gateways.

As a consequence it makes difficult to imagine public outdoor infrastructure or long range deployment with a such technology. But really suitable for smart home, smart building and some smart cities applications.

There is a really good and technical document about the coverage model for indoor and outdoor you can read here .

LoRaWan 2.4Ghz uses 3 standard channels for uplink and 1 for downlink to preserve the LoRaWan (NS) subgiga compatibility.

These channels are positioned between the WiFi channels for a better immunity.

LoRa 2.4Ghz has a 30dB interference immunity with WiFi on the same band and a 90dB immunity with a 15MHz separation. It basically makes it in difficulty if less than 20cm from a BLE device.

The Bandwidth can be from 200kHz to 800kHz with bitrate from 1200bps to 63kbps.

This is a big change compared to the SubGiga solutions. 63kbps really reduce the latency in the communications.

Multiple SF from 5 to 12 are available, but currently a gateway can only support on of them. By-the-way due to the reduced coverage and in-door / short range application, it is not a big deal.

Lacuna space update

The Lacuna Space constellation is growing. More and more experimentation has been made with the technology including a cool Lego rover, connected with the LoRaWAN satellite technology from Greenland.

The Lacuna Space has also developed its solution to use it as a gateway can be use as a relay from indoor sensors to outdoor satellites. It relays buffered sensor data when satellite is passing over.

So basically, you deploy a LoRa device indoor for getting data from it’s sensors and that one communicates with the gateway (on the top left of the photo). The gateway then transfer the data to the satellite.

The growth of Lacuna Space seem to accelerating with the announcement of a future announcement (strange sentence ;)) coming in the next month and illustrated by the following picture… I let you count the sats on it.

LoRaWan 1.0.4 is coming

No stress, it will arrive in a couple of month, revision of LoRaWAN are like winter in Game of Throne, you need to wait 8 seasons before getting it. Here the 1.0.4 is announced as the final one of the version 1.0.x before switching to the version 1.1 started 3 years ago (1.5 year after the version 1.0)… In condition the device maker and network operator are able to make the switch (most are still 1.0.2).

So we basically have a problem with LoRaWAN protocol in my point of view, lack of reactivity, job uncompleted when published and no real consideration of the as-is, like if LoRaWan is an eco-system like 3GPP where you can invest a lot to upgrade your networks and people will rush on the new IoT version like smartphones. So after sharing my point of view and encourage you (or not) to give your money to there people for getting, a stack delivered globally, certified individually, let’s be more objective and share the coming roadmap for the version 1.0.4.

So, as previous revision, Class B (most use Class B?) is improved a lot, assuming it needed it a lot.

Security will be modified, the FCnt (sequence id) will need to be stored in the NVM to maintain it over the reboot and disconnection. It means that you won’t restart at zero in case of reconnection and by-the-way, if the network see a FCnt 0, it will know it is not normal.

Currently it can just think about a reconnection. Until all the devices have been migrating (so never), the network server won’t really be able to know anything. or you will have to transmit the Minor protocol version number using an OOB frame.

Device version report from Spec 1.0.3

By-the-way, at the application level you will be able to manage this information even if you had many other ways for it. It is ok.

This comes with the DevNonce modification it reenforce the encryption and join mechanisms against attacks, this is positive. The problème is always the management of an heterogeneous device park.

DevNonce was previously randomly changed on Join Request with strange ignoring rules. Honestly, the specification in 1.0.3 was a kind of joke:

DevNonce rules from Spec 1.0.3

The others have not been detailed, so I won’t say more. I thing there are interesting things around Channel selection during join as it could avoid to use ADR just for this feature. FPort 225 to 255 that where reserved will be able to be used.

Future of IoT positioning: LR110, low power GPS/WiFi solution

Conference given by Semtech to share their vision on device positioning. A major need will be on really low rate positioning as any non moving device have an interest in declaring it’s location and eventually indicate if it changes. Such use-case should not use GPS, too expensive.

A such service allows a device to be tracked over it’s different steps of its life cycle. For this, they are proposing a Cloud offering with the LoRa Egde platform. It works with subscription but also consumption based approach. LoRa Edge solution is basically based on LR110 chip-set allowing low power GPS without GPS and also WiFi positioning without WiFi.

The solution is quite interesting but not fresh new. In my point of view the question of positioning not moving devices and track them during the life cycle is really interesting but in most of the cases the network given position is good enough and free of charge and external services. If you need to locate a device precisely, the installation procedure with a smart-phone also give it to you for free. So the real plus can be to manage thief or unexpected device move.

By-the-way, the solution based on LR110 are really interesting and having a per-use cost is also really good as you can imagine to have tracker using network based solution or just sleeping being contacted for a more precise location on request and get a really low cost service.

As a complement, LR110 implementation feedback shows a certain complexity and considerations to care:

With a sensitivity of -134dBm, it really lower than a classical GPS and a good coverage is needed including 5 satellites. It has a real impact on the zone where it work. The good news is, for indoor of city application, you can rely on WiFi signal.

Reaching -141dBm (it changes a lot) you need the almanac file and here the challenge of downlink it on every 3 days it big. On top of this, you need to really good antenna and this have an important design cost.

The integration with the Semtech Cloud service is also a complexity to manage apparently, even if, I assume, it is lower than the previous hw one.

The device precision is about 150 meters, so 10x less precise than a real GPS but comparable to WiFi in places where WiFi will never, so has an interest.

The main advantage is the power consumption saved with a 1s fix allowing year range autonomy with a 2xAAA like batteries.

Market overview and forecast according to ABI Research

Usually i’m agressive with Analyst talking about IoT market as they are so much far from understanding this market. For the first time I’ve been happy about what ABI Research has shared during the conference.

Here we have a good quantitative overview of the situation today for the different solution and use-case focus related to the number of certified devices. Even if I know that for Sigfox the certified devices are not automatically published on the portal (I have some certified not yet on it) and I also know that many private LoRa network have no interest in certifying their solution for deploying it. By the way, this is representative of what I know. The missing information is the real coverage. The point of roaming has also been addressed, Sigfox is the only one really world wide but LoRaWan has announced large roaming. By-the-way, in my point of view it is currently not more than an announcement like we had many time from LoRaAlliance. so wait and see.

LPWAN growth projection is also interesting as it’s not a “one will win on all other” as we usually get but more a “all are going to win” with different speed. We can debate on LTE-M & NB-IoT large acceleration in the next 5 years, I have some doubt but there is nothing not coherent here. The missing pieces here are Amazon Sidewalk we can’t consider as “Other” and flat here.

The LoRaWan growth over territory is a really interesting forecast, we see the really large domination of Asia in this market. Not to make it but to deploy it. And this is really interesting as it shows that even if most of the previous disruptions has been firstly adopted in the USA and then in Europe. Now they are adopted in Asia ; china first and really slowly in Europe and North America the same low speed. WAKE-UP guys !! We are going to die if you continue to comfortably sleeping in your business habits ! Asian part is massive here ! This also explains the LTE-M / NB-IoT higher growth in the previous graph as there technology are mostly developed in Asia (vs Sigfox Europe and LoRa North America). So Asia have more interest in deploying NB-IoT.

The last slide is interesting for me because I’ll challenge it because it do not defines what is a public network really. Does TTN a public network here ? does Helium a public network ? does Sidewalk a public network ? all are LoRa connectivity:

If they are considered as public, I think the as-is and forecast are wrong. If they are not, the forecast seems totally wrong also. I assume these network are not considered like Gartner still not considering the non billable open-source in its radar and made a decade ton consider open-source at all.

This is, in my point of view, a big mistake. This also seems to indicate the telecom LoRaWan market share is going to grow a lot in the next 6 years. Honestly I’m not sure of this. My point of view is they have a better interest in pushing NB-IoT.

See you next year … in Amsterdam ?

This event was really cool and well organized all along the event. We had a lot of high level technical conferences, many use cases, lot’s of hands-on presentation & workshop. It has also been an accessible conference for new comers in the LoRaWan eco-system.

The virtual networking event has also been to time for discussing and sharing virtual beer with the community. Good discussion with a pretty good tool getmibo.com.

The conference content has been broadcast on different time slot to cover the multiple zone making it a global event. It was also possible to watch at nigh the talk missed during the day and this is really cool.

The main frustrating point for me, it related to problem of virtual event: you are not 100% available for the event and usually do different business-as-usual tasks in parallel. As a consequence you miss some key point of key conferences. But compare to a real event, these conferences will be soon online. As a consequence I potentially missed some conferences and missed to highlight some important news, so in the case, let me know in the comments.

Thank you TheThingsConference for this great event we had, once again !

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