Decentralised IoT Network Gets Tencent Investment

Article By : Nitin Dahad

Wienke Giezeman, founder of The Things Industries, announced several breakthroughs that could tip the balance for mass deployment of LoRaWAN devices and gateways.

AMSTERDAM — Wienke Giezeman is a man on a mission: since 2015, he’s been busy creating a decentralized LoRaWAN based internet of things (IoT) network which has no single owner and no single point of control. His goal is to make it easy for people to focus on the business value created by IoT, and not have to worry about the technology.

Giezeman stood on the stage at his The Things Conference here earlier this month to announce some major breakthroughs that could just tip the balance for mass deployment of LoRaWAN devices and gateways. This includes a very low cost $69 indoor gateway, a generic software defined IoT node device incorporating multiple sensors, a security chip in conjunction with Microchip Technology, and a partnership with Tencent to accelerate LoRaWAN network expansion among the Chinese developer community.

The slick, well-coordinated announcements were right out of the textbook of Steve Jobs’ Apple in the early days. The 1,300 or so members of the excited audience gasped, cheered and applauded at each of piece of news. It almost felt like Giezeman was the Pied Piper, leading his dedicated followers, all determined to join him on his mission to democratize the IoT.

As CEO of The Things Industries (TTI), Giezeman has been building an open community LoRaWAN network called The Things Network (TTN). He wants to break the hold of operators of proprietary closed networks, many of whom were using subscriptions per device as their revenue model. To highlight the problem, one senior executive at the conference privately described to me how after Arm bought Stream Technologies, their customers were left stranded without any support.

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*Wienke Giezeman on stage at The Things Conference earlier this month. *

Giezeman told EE Times that silicon and telco companies are entering the IoT with a zero-sum game approach, which effectively restricts market growth. What he has done with TTI and TTN is to focus on growing the network using open source code.

“This is why all the announcements we made have an open version you can use without us," Giezeman said. "So, the security solution we sell with Microchip comes with a re-keying mechanism. It basically allows users to move to another service provider for their LoRaWAN network and gives them the freedom to choose their own vendor. Or with the gateway, it is able to connect to the service of any of our competitors.”

He believes this will only increase the adoption and hence increase the size of the LoRaWAN market.

From a small network covering Amsterdam with a handful of gateways back in 2015, The Things Network is now an open LoRaWAN network with more than 6,200 gateways in over 130 countries, all powered by a community very much with an open source philosophy.

New Hardware

The big announcement was the $69 eight-channel LoRaWAN indoor gateway, available in the U.S. and European Union initially, followed by Japan, India and Australia. This is part of TTI’s broader mission of making LoRaWAN more affordable, more accessible, less complex and more integrated.

The gateway comes out-of-the-box configured to a SLA-backed network by TTI for network and gateway management. Gateway owners can connect to any network through a new open source gateway protocol created by Semtech. The indoor gateway is designed to be a fully compliant LoRaWAN gateway with WiFi as the backhaul. It comes with a wall plug and can be powered over USB-C on 900mA, features a transmit power up to +27 dBm and already has FCC and EC certifications.

On the device front, TTI revealed a new LoRaWAN generic node based on a "software defined internet of things" concept. The generic node has multiple sensors to support numerous use cases in a single unit with just one supply chain. Whether it is an application for retail, smart buildings, smart cities, agriculture or smart offices, it can support these with an easy to use provisioning process using Arm’s Mbed OS. The application running on the generic node is provisioned remotely over LoRaWAN or the firmware can be updated over the air, while the device is in field.

At the core of the generic node is Microchip’s SAM R34/R35, a system-in-package combining a sub-GHz LoRa radio and ultra-low-power MCU. The device has a secure element allowing it to join any LoRaWAN network in the world which supports the latest specifications set by the LoRa Alliance. As the applications can be loaded on the device later, it can be used in many different use cases.

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The new LoRaWAN generic node from TTI based on a "software defined internet of things" concept (Source: TTI).

Building Security into LoRaWAN

Security vulnerabilities can leave the network and application server keys accessible in the memory of modules and microcontrollers paired with a LoRaWAN stack. If keys are accessed in a LoRaWAN device, a hacker can impersonate it and authorize fraudulent transactions, which can result in a scalable attack with substantial losses in service revenue, recovery costs and brand equity.

Microchip in partnership with TTI announced their hardware-based security solution for the LoRa ecosystem, combining the MCU- and radio-agnostic ATECC608A-MAHTN-T CryptoAuthentication device with TTI’s managed join servers and Microchip’s secure provisioning service. This adds secure, trusted and managed authentication to LoRaWAN devices at a global scale.

The solution works similarly to prepaid data plan for mobile devices: each purchase of an ATECC608A-MAHTN-T device comes with one year of managed LoRaWAN join server service through TTI. Once a device identifies itself to a LoRaWAN network, the network contacts TTI’s join server to verify that the identity comes from a trusted device and not a fraudulent one. The temporary session keys are then sent securely to the network server and application server of choice.

Security, Tencent Partnership

TTI’s join server supports any LoRaWAN network, from commercially operated networks to private networks built on open-source components. After the one-year period, TTI provides the option to extend the service.

The onboarding process of LoRaWAN devices using this solution is seamless and secure — LoRaWAN device identities are claimed by TTI’s join server with minimal intervention, alleviating the need for developers from needing security expertise. Customers can migrate to any other LoRaWAN join server by rekeying the device, which means there is not a vendor lock-in and customers have full control over where and how the device keys are stored.

The ATECC608A can be paired with any MCU and LoRa radio. Developers can deploy secure LoRaWAN devices by combining the ATECC608A with the SAM L21 MCU, supported by the Arm Mbed OS LoRaWAN stack, or the SAM R34 system-in-package with Microchip’s LoRaWAN stack.

For rapid prototyping, designers can use the CryptoAuthoXPRO socket board and TTI’s provisioned parts in samples with the SAM L21 Xplained Pro (atsamd21-xpro) or SAM R34 Xplained Pro (DM320111). The ATECC608A-MAHTN-T device for TTI, including the initial year of prepaid TTN service, is available in volume production for $0.81 each in 10,000-unit quantities.

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Microchip’s SAM R34 Xplained Pro (DM320111) (Source: TTI).

Tencent and TTI to Expand China IoT

Targeting the Chinese developer community, Tencent announced its partnership with TTN to expand the LoRaWAN ecosystem in the country, combining TTN’s existing software stack with Tencent’s well-established network infrastructure and distribution channels for IoT providers to rapidly develop and commercialize LoRaWAN solutions. They’ll do this with both tools and events targeting embedded and application engineers, device makers, cloud service providers and systems integrators.

Last year, Tencent joined the LoRa Alliance and launched a LoRaWAN network in Shenzhen along with a comprehensive toolset for its users. Through this new collaboration with Tencent, TTN said it will replicate and extend its portfolio of developer engagement assets and open up mutual networks for communities to use.

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