“There’s a LoRa LoRA…WAN in Liverpool”

We are the initiator for the Things Network Liverpool community and we shall be launching in February 2017, at the IoT Liverpool event , our first outdoor LoRaWAN gateway, offering enhanced coverage across Liverpool. We would love to hear from anyone looking to start their own gateway, especially if they have a high roof offering a greater range for the service.

Connecting a device to the Internet has become easier in recent years. Now we see appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines offering online connectivity to fit into our ever busy lives. Typically these devices need an always on connection to the Internet via WiFi or Ethernet, but one network offers long range connectivity using radio, and can be powered for upto 10 years using a battery!

The Things Network a project that started life in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, was founded to create a community led city wide Internet of things network using approximately ten LoRaWAN (Long Range Wireless Area Network) gateways that provide a connection back to the Internet. These gateways offered long distance connections for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, often referred to as “nodes” that can report data from many types of sensors and then transmit the information using a LoRaWAN radio to the nearest gateway. The project then crowdsourced funds to produce lower cost hardware, lowering the barrier of entry for those interested in connecting their devices to the network. By encouraging the public to fund the project, it helped the community take ownership of the gateways, providing a low cost point of entry where the community provide access to other projects using the LoRaWAN platform.

Getting on to the Things Network using LoRaWAN is becoming simpler, and now you just need the right hardware, which can be powered by Arduino or Raspberry Pi, and an account on the Things Network website where you can setup a receiving channel, enabling your device to broadcast to the nearest Things Network gateway, which then handles sending the data over the network, via a simple console or something more advanced such as MQTT, to listening devices.

But what if there isn’t a gateway near you? Well the cost of the equipment is a one off expense, you can buy a prebuilt unit from The Things Network for around £300, or build your own using a Raspberry Pi and an add on condenser board for around £500, this is for an external unit with a waterproof case and antenna, but you can get the internal version for around £300. A Raspberry Pi based gateway can comfortably handle up to 20000 nodes! Enough capacity for a town or a small city. There are also units available from companies such as Microchip but at a much higher cost.

Liverpool has had their own LoRaWAN gateway for nine months, “soft launched” as part of an IoT Liverpool event in March 2016. For 2017 we see more gateways being added to the Liverpool network, but this time they will mounted outdoors and used by interested parties and as part of making Liverpool “sensor city”. We are helping businesses and interested parties to take their first steps using LoRaWAN in their projects, so that everyone can get their device on the network and benefit from additional gateways.

But why does Liverpool need LoRaWAN? Well LoRaWAN is the easiest option as the hardware does not require a special NDA, and you can deploy your own gateway for easy access to the Internet. Others such as Sigbox, and another solution called NarrowBand IOT, offer similar services but can involve proprietary technologies protected by NDA (Non Disclosure Agreements). For Liverpool the LoRaWAN option was the ideal solution, offering low power radio connections between 2km (urban) and 12km (line of sight) and an easy method where the devices connect using a predefined code, without the need for passwords or login, the devices connect by themselves and can be moved from one gateway to another with no changes to their setup, truly remarkable and once again lowering the barrier to entry!

So using LoRaWAN what can you send over the network? Well being a low bandwidth platform, video and voice data are out of the question, but you can easily send up to a maximum of 60 bytes, but ideally 12 bytes of data, plenty of capacity for sensor data to be transmitted to The Things Network where it can be translated into JSON data. Data can also be sent back to devices on the LoRaWAN network, though there is a slight delay.

The need for a large LoRaWAN network in Liverpool exists for businesses looking to use LoRaWAN in their products, and this is something that can be easily addressed with a small amount of investment and it would benefit businesses and interested individuals accordingly. There are services that operate a “paid for” model, but there are also free services available. Currently we are standardising a build process that uses the Raspberry Pi computer housed inside of a waterproof container with an aerial to make it even easier to deploy your own outdoor gateway. If there isn’t access near you then we can help you setup access!