Building a crowdsourced, decentralized IoT network around the world


The Things Network is a low-barrier way to get started with smart city projects. 


When it comes to which kind of wireless network will be the go-to choice for the Internet of Things, the jury is still out: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G LTE, 5G, 802.15.4, the possibilities go on and on. And pending experiments underway in Amsterdam go as planned, don’t be surprised to find LoRaWAN as a frontrunner on that growing list. For those uninitiated with the technology, LoRaWAN is a wide area network that boasts low battery, low bandwidth and long-range wireless communication. It enables things to talk to the Internet without the need for 3G, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — meaning, no codes, heavy battery consumption or monthly subscriptions necessary.

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This long-range WAN is a practical suitor for smart city and M2M applications, as seen throughout the Dutch capital. In this particular case, Amsterdam has tapped the open IoT data network, The Things Network. Due to its seven-mile reach and affordability, the non-profit organization has been able to cover the entire city with only 10 gateways. And unlike other similar municipality projects, this one was entirely crowdsourced and implemented in a matter of six weeks with help from third parties, such as the Port of Amsterdam, The Next Web, KPMG, Deloitte, Peerby and Trakkies. 

There is, however, one minor speed bump on the road to a distributed, citizen-owned service: each of the currently available LoRaWAN gateways cost around $1,200, which isn’t so great for global scalability. Cognizant of this, The Things Network decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign offering a consumer-friendly base station with a price tag that’s only one-fifth of other products currently on the market.

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“The Internet was created by people that connected their networks and allowed traffic from, to and over their servers and cables to pass for free. As a result, there was abundant data communication and exponential innovation. The Things Network is doing the same for the Internet of Things by creating abundant data connectivity. So applications and businesses can flourish,” the team explains.

The community-led initiative is hoping to make it easier for those looking to set up their own networks thanks to three new pieces of hardware: The Things Gateway, The Things Uno and The Things Node. The Things Gateway is at the core of it all. This small, simple-to-install gadget acts as the router between the things and the Internet. Not only does it link to your Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection, it runs open hardware, uses GPS to determine its location and the node’s whereabouts later, and serves up to 10,000 nodes.

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Meanwhile, The Thing Uno is like an Arduino Uno but with LoRaWAN capabilities. This lets you upgrade your existing Arduino projects by making wireless with a several mile radius. Compatible with existing shields and the Arduino IDE, the board includes connections for an optional external antenna on the breakout circuit to better optimize the range. What’s more, The Things Network is collaborating with 3D Hubs to make a customizable 3D-printable enclosure for your Uno.

But that’s not all. The Thing Node is a keyring remote equipped with sensors (movement, light and temperature), an RGB LED, a button and three AAA batteries, all housed inside a waterproof shell. This “matchbox of sensors” can be integrated with your IFTTT account, as well as employed to devise your own low-cost prototypes applications for a Things Network in your town. Example use cases span from bike finders and pet trackers to smart doorbells and security systems, and so far, teams in Boston, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Kochi, Sydney and Manchester have all begun actively pursuing projects.

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Interested? Head over to The Thing Network’s Kickstarter campaign, where the foundation is currently seeking $170,036. Delivery is slated for July 2016.

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