The Things Conference 2018
February 1st through 3rd, 2018 our very own Lennart Lachmeijer, active as board member of TTN Flevoland, attended The Things Conference in Amsterdam. This was the first conference ever organised by the community initiators from The Things Network.
For those that have no clue what The Things Network is, this is the short description from their website:
The Things Network is building a network for the Internet of Things by creating abundant data connectivity, so applications and businesses can flourish. The technology we use is called LoRaWAN and it allows for things to talk to the internet without 3G or WiFi. So no WiFi codes and no mobile subscriptions. It features low battery usage, long range and low bandwidth. Perfect for the internet of things.
More details about The Things Network can be found on their website.
Breaking down the Hype
As member and contributor of this community I attended the conference to meet some people I only knew from the community, learn some new tech and be inspired. My expectations where not that high, mostly because I had no clue what to expect and it was their first conference ever. It turned out that the attendance was way above everyone’s expectations. The tickets were sold out and there where over 700 attendees. During the opening where Wienke Giezeman (one of the founders of TTN) told his story on stage I realised how special this community already is. Of course I knew the numbers (a growth from zero to 30.000 developers worldwide in just two years), but seeing Wienke, I realised what he — together with Johan and the rest of their team — achieved was really beautiful. Visiting conferences for me is mostly about getting inspired and this was already achieved in the first hour.
Future of LoRa
After his keynote I had a similar experience where Semtech’s Nicolas Sornin spoke about The Future of Lora and LoRaWAN. Nicolas Sornin is one of the fathers of the LoRa technology and the respect for him one could feel in the hall. He walked on the stage a bit uncomfortable, but nobody cared, this was Mr. LoRa and he couldn’t do anything wrong. He gave a great overview of all the relevant topics that nowadays matter in the world of LoRa: geolocation, multi-region devices, security, the LoRaWAN 1.0.2 stack, firmware updates over-the-air, energy usage, packet brokers and last but not least LoRa in space. Actually, a great intro for all the speakers that would follow him. Answering the question of the host where he was most proud of he answered: being here today actually. He got a big applause and shared that he could never have predicted this to become so big. When they invented LoRa the IoT world didn’t even exist. Amazing :-)
LoraWAN From Space
Another amazing topic: LoRaWan in space. Thomas Telkamp, a very well-known member of the community and an active contributor of TTN itself. His talk was about coverage, or actually, the lack of it. If you know a bit of the technology itself, you know that it requires gateways on well-positioned locations to be able to transfer data. But what about deserts, oceans or any other outstretched areas in the world. Sending data from a freight-container that is overseas for instance could be problematic. So how do you solve this problem? With satellites! He explained really well how they approached their project to be able to send a LoRa data packet from a satellite to earth. I never thought about how satellites work and about the in-depth technology challenges with the orbit. At least now, I got a grasp of it. In a later session on Saturday he did a live demo of receiving a data packet that was received at the moment that the satellite was above Amsterdam.
Firmware Updates Over The Air
A topic that had my interest ever since I’ve heard from LoRa is updating firmware. When I think of devices in the field and I think of what it takes to make them operate and communicate, one of my first thoughts is: what if the software needs to be updated? With IoT devices we are talking about devices that are deployed in the field with the purpose to stay there for years. Sometimes even up to ten years. In these ten years devices could get a new purpose — and also requirements and standards can change and new vulnerabilities can be found (think of Heartbleed). Being able to update the software becomes quite relevant then. But updating software via a Low Power Wide Area Network brings a lot of challenges. Jan Jongboom, a developer and evangelist for ARM, worked together with Nicolas Sornin and Johan Stokking on a solution for firmware updates. He described how to update all devices in one receive window (a multicast way) while dealing with time sync, shared security sessions, low quality of service, uni-directional messaging and battery consumption. Quite a few things to cover, but it gave me a good and clear overview of the possibilities and where we stand right now with the technology.
When I speak to people trying to explain what LoRa is and what potential use-cases are, I very often end up in speaking about geolocation alternatives and explaining the possibilities and impossibilities of LoRa. It seems this is a hot topic and the need in the market to offer geolocation possibilities additionally to the currently existing ones is there for sure. This was also something that was emphasized during this conference by different speakers.
Richard Lansdowne from Semtech had a great talk about this topic. He made clear that there is not a perfect solution for accurate geolocation. It’s about combining technologies like WiFi, Bluetooth Beacons, Cellular networks, GNSS (GPS) and LoRaWAN in a smarter way and understanding what every technology can do while making sure that all the pros and cons of the technologies can be combined together. Understand your applications’ true needs and then make them more intelligent.
He announced a new platform called Collos (Collaborative Location Service). The platform offers features to combine different sources that together offer location services for your applications. The Collos platform has been made available as an integration of The Thing Network platform. I can’t wait to start playing with it and see what it can really bring.
Building the Network: Why, How and What’s Next
Johan Stokking, founder and techlead of TTN, held an amazing talk about the new v3 stack and its architecture andhow to bring all potential use cases of the The Things Network software to the next level. Bringing a more complete software solution for public clusters, private clusters, on-prem clusters, offline and development purposes.
If you want to know more where the platform is heading for, watch the following video:
Building serverless end-to-end LoRaWAN solutions
A talk that was a bit different from the others but really inspired me was “Building serverless end to end LoraWan solutions” from Sander van de Graaf. It was mainly about how to use AWS Lambda and how IoT solutions can benefit from this. I was already familiar with the concept of building serverless applications, but never took the chance to actually do something with it. This talk inspired me to start getting my hands dirty, which in the meantime I already started doing.
If you also want to start playing with this, the following Github repository could serve as a good staring point for you: https://github.com/svdgraaf/the-things-network-serverless-example
Without summing up the whole agenda of the conference here — I really enjoyed a few nice use-cases that are currently in the field or to be such as:
- Olga Willner from Deutsche Bahn explaining about large scale LoRa deployment for station clocks in Germany;
- Maarten Creeze from Xignal explaining how to go from a prototype to a mass production;
- Tim van Dam about protecting wildlife with IoT;
- Reinier van der Lee from Vinduina about precision irrigation for Fineyards;
- Pieter Franken from SafeCast explaining how they measure radiation starting after the Fukushima disaster;
- Joost Wesseling from the RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) explained about air quality measurements using cheap sensors.
Alongside all the talks a great variety of technological partners and sponsors where available in the main hall. Not with some standard booths showing their product and handing out t-shirts but giving workshops. This encouraged to actually get things done instead of sit-back and listen only.
For me it was an amazing conference that gave me lots of insights and motivated me even more to contribute to this community and technology. The second edition for next year is already announced and I will attend this one for sure.
If you are interested to see more of the talks, you can view them all on YouTube.
Originally published at www.elements.nl on February 22, 2018.