FAQ

GENERAL PROJECT

Q1: Why is this project happening?
According to McKinsey’s 2016 global report, ‘Unlocking the Potential of the Internet of Things’, the value of IoT services could reach between $100bn and $300bn for the UK by 2025. Of that, it is estimated that the proportion of IoT services delivered over LPWAN is likely to be around 25% of this figure.

Recently, Digital Catapult was awarded funding from Innovate UK for its bid to expand the Things Connected network to cover up to five additional large-scale regional network deployments. This contributes to fulfilling the strategic goal of accelerating the demand and innovation of industrial IoT with the adoption of the LPWAN nationwide, enabling the UK to assert its status as global leader within the IoT space. This, in turn, should help lower the barrier to access of the technology, market and innovation in IoT across the UK.

Q2: What is the purpose of the project?
Digital Catapult have stated that the regional project has the following goals;

  • Implement and operate a free-to-use regional LPWAN network for the use of testing, experimentation, demonstration and piloting of IoT products and services.
  • Run, test, provide technical support, and maintain their portion of the Things Connected network and gateways.
  • Build and support an ecosystem across industry and academia to innovate, experiment and prototype new products and services to market.
  • Bring large scale challenges with the potential for commercialisation to the programme.
  • Identify and recruit SME cohorts to address the challenges and experiment with solutions.
  • Run regular meet-ups for local businesses and develop the local LPWAN community.
  • Provide first line technical support to the users of the network.

Q3: Who are Digital Catapult?
Digital Catapult’s goal is to drive the UK economy through the practical application of digital innovation to make UK businesses more competitive, more productive and to drive regional growth. They do this by focusing on sectors with the most untapped potential to deliver future economic growth, where digital innovation can make the greatest impact, to increase productivity, efficiency and scale.

Q4: How long does this project run for?
The network is being built from December 2017 to March 2018, then the Challenges will run from March 2018 to March 2019. We expect there to be further funding available for development work after this date, however we encourage SMEs and other businesses to engage early to get the greatest benefit.

Q5: Who can get involved with the project?
Any SME or business who wish to explore LPWAN products, services, or solutions. The goal is to help the SMEs to develop something that they can make money from (either by integrating it into their own services/devices/etc. to enhance their offering, or by selling the new service/solution directly to a customer for their own development (knowledge transfer)).

LoRaWAN

Q1: What is “LoRaWAN”?
https://www.link-labs.com/blog/what-is-lorawan is an excellent external resource.

LoRaWAN is the Wide Area Network application of LoRa technology. In the EU the 868Mhz band (865MHz – 870MHz) has been allocated for LoRaWAN. LoRa is a long-range radio technology developed by Semtech. Semtech define LoRa (Long Range) as a modulation technique (based on spread-spectrum techniques and a variation of chirp spread spectrum (CSS)) that provides significantly longer range than competing technologies. LoRa significantly improves the receiver sensitivity and uses the entire channel bandwidth to broadcast a signal, making it robust to channel noise and insensitive to frequency offsets. LoRa can demodulate signals 19.5dB below the noise floor. The LoRa modulation is the physical layer (PHY), which can be utilized with different protocols and in different network architecture – Mesh, Star, point to point, etc. LoRaWAN is typically only a Star network topology (like Wi-Fi or 3/4G).

Throughput and range depend on 3 main LoRa parameters: BandWidth (BW), Coding Rate(CR) and Spreading Factor (SF). BW is the physical bandwidth for RF modulation (e.g. 125kHz). Larger signal bandwidth allows for higher effective data rate, thus reducing transmission time at the expense of reduced sensitivity. CR, the coding rate for forward error detection and correction. Such coding incurs a transmission overhead and the lower the coding rate, the higher the coding rate overhead ratio, e.g. with coding_rate=4/(4+CR) the overhead ratio is 1.25 for CR=1 which is the minimum value. Finally SF, the spreading factor, which can be set from 6 to 12. The lower the SF, the higher the data rate transmission but the lower the immunity to interference thus the smaller is the range.

LoRaWAN defines common data and control channels (frequency and spreading factors), packet format, MAC commands, etc. It also defines several classes (A, B, or C) for the end-device depending on the communication needs. Each class has its own requirements and are defined by LoRaWAN specifications. See https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/wiki/LoRaWAN/Home for more information.

Q2: So is “LoRaWAN” the same as “LoRa”?
No, Semtech state that “The LoRa modulation is the PHY, and LoRaWAN is a MAC protocol”. However, it has become common practice however to say “LoRa” when we really mean “LoRaWAN”, even the manufacturers do this! It is a bad practice and bad habit, but when people talk about LoRa they usually mean LoRaWAN.

Q3: What is the difference between a LoRaWAN gateway and a LoRaWAN base station?
They are the same thing, Semtech call them gateways, but the Wi-Fi and 3/4G moniker of “base station” has crept in and seems to be commonly used.

Q4: What is a typical operating distance from a LoRaWAN gateway?
This is highly context-dependent! Flat rural areas can get 30+Km ranges, dense urban areas can get as little as 1Km.

Q5: What is a typical data rate for a LoRaWAN connection?
It is a message based system; messages should be a few kilobits and message frequency should be every 10 minutes or so (the FCC have rules on this, also the more you transmit the quicker your battery goes flat).

Q6: What is a LoRaWAN server?
Perhaps a gross oversimplification, but a LoRaWAN Network Server (sometimes called the “Backend”) is the entity that speaks LoRaWAN to the Gateway and gets the data from your device into the cloud/internet.

Q7: What sort of applications can these devices and networks be used for?
https://www.lora-alliance.org/faq may offer some guidance on potential applications, although the potential applications are only bounded by time, money, and imagination! The main IoT applications for LPWA technology need a long battery life to enable ‘fit and forget’ or disposable end devices, a low cost sensor or end-device BOM, and long range connectivity.

From https://www.lora-alliance.org/faq – The applications where LPWAN’s are applicable is endless, but the main applications driving the current network deployments is intelligent building, supply chain, Smart City and agriculture. In intelligent building the main value driver is in insurance premiums and servicing. In cold regions a broken water pipe has an approximate insurance claim of $50K so insurance companies offer a premium discount if a building management solution is utilized. Having sensors know if the building or room was used can have significant reductions in service management and related expenses. In supply chain any application that has a delivery or pick-up with associated inventory can have huge savings in inventory management and delivery route optimization. A smart trash monitoring solution reduces pick-ups by 40%. In agriculture the needs are driven by growing food demands whereas 80% percent of water usage is by agriculture and the value of crops is extremely high so having sensors to determine water usage, health of soil/crop, etc. Accurate irrigation and soil monitoring translates into significant cost savings in resource usage and improved profit with improved yields.

Q8: If this is a free to use open network then what about security?
LoRaWAN networks inherently have 3 layers on encryption. The network and the data on the network is  considered secure.

Q9: What is APB and OTAA?
These are 2 differing methods used to connect your device to the back-end server. APB stands for “Activation By Personalisation”, while OTAA stands for “Over The Air Association”.

Q10: What are the LoRa security keys?
Depending on the type of connection you are making you need to provide the correct security keys to allow your device to talk to the server (and vice-versa). These keys are all 128-bit and are as follows;

The Network Session Key (NwkSKey) , the Application Session Key (AppSKey) and the application key (AppKey)

The network session key (NwkSKey) is used for interaction between the Node and the Network. This key is used to check the validity of messages.

The application session key (AppSKey) is used for encryption and decryption of the payload. This means that nobody except you is able to read the contents of messages you send or receive.

These two session keys (NwkSKey and AppSKey) are unique per device, per session. If you dynamically activate your device (OTAA), these keys are re-generated on every activation. If you statically activate your device (ABP), these keys stay the same until you change them.

Dynamically activated devices (OTAA) use the application key (AppKey) to derive the two session keys during the activation procedure. In The Things Network you can have a default AppKey which will be used to activate all devices, or customize the AppKey per device.

It is considered that OTAA is the preferred and more secure way to connect, where devices perform a join-procedure with the network during which a dynamic DevAddr is assigned and security keys are negotiated with the device. OTAA also gives the potential to switch networks.

Q11: Can I broadcast as I wish?
No, there are strict transmission rules:

Transmission power – it is the maximum power an emitter can use on the channel when it is communicating. 25mW (eq 14dB) is the usual power the LPWAN uses for communicating.

The duty cycle – it is defined as the maximum ratio of time on the air per hour. Basically, 1% means you can speak 36s per hour, not more. Duty Cycle is applicable for the sub-band. This “36s per hour” seems like a tiny amount but if you are sending machine temperature you don’t need to send this information continually (in fact, setting a threshold value to trigger an alert message is much better than trying to send temperature readings). Intelligent design is required to develop intelligent solutions; devices should be designed to send “Outcome” only, not just transmit all the data that a sensor collects.

CHALLENGES

Q1: What is a challenge?
A challenge is a thematic project goal that SMEs can engage with to either develop a device or solution for their own market or to develop a solution to sell into another market. The challenges will start in April 2018 (Tourism challenge in March 2018) and run through to March 2019. We will have multiple calls for the challenges as we appreciate not every SME can engage in April 2018 and some may wish to watch how others get on before engaging.

Q2: Who can apply to work on a challenge?
Any SME with a desire to develop LPWAN solutions, services, or devices. It is expected that SMEs will collaborate with other SMEs and that the funding given is used wisely. It is also expected that the SMEs will produce something (prototype, service, knowledge, etc.) that they can genuinely develop further (with either internal funding, further project funding, or other funding such as that available through InvestNI programmes, etc.) and turn into something they can make money from. Our goal would be to help SMEs;

  • Get a product to market sooner than they would have normally (that is, if they hadn’t engaged in the programme)
  • Achieve increased sales and customer base than they would have normally
  • Achieve increased investment in their company/products than they would have normally
  • Be at the forefront of the coming digital revolution

Q3: What is the progress to sign up to a challenge?
Digital Catapult (the network funder and management for the UK regional programmes) have a website  where interested SMEs can formally apply to receive funding for a challenge. We highly recommend SMEs work collaboratively to help ensure the output of the project is adequate (“if you want to go far take a team” [old African proverb])

Q4: Why are there challenges and who selected them?
NI has a varied array of industrial sectors; the challenges aim to reflect that. They have been designed and developed over a number of months by Ulster University, InvestNI, Digital Catapult, the NI Councils, Tourism NI, and a large panel of leaders and experts from international private industry.  The challenges areas are;

  • Tourism
  • Manufacturing
  • Healthcare
  • Digital/Creative media
  • Agriculture
  • Transport
  • Smart buildings/environments

Q5. How do I get more information on the challenges?
There is a wealth of information on this website (including this FAQ section).  If you can’t get your question suitably answered from this FAQ then we also have a further line of support with our online SME forum which is actively supported by University staff and selected SMEs who have significant LoRaWAN development expertise. This forum is also a great place to develop connections and partnerships with other SMEs and is a chance for peer learning as we find that if one SME has a question there are many other SMEs either with the same question or some who have already got the answer; let us share the knowledge freely for the greatest gain! There are also great opportunities to share ideas, issues, solutions, etc. as well as build face-to-face relations at one of our many meet-ups or training events (these are broadcast on the news area of this website as well as on the “meetup.com” website).

https://www.meetup.com/IOTBelfast/
https://www.meetup.com/Belfast-New-Technology-Meetup/ 

Q6. How do I get technical help for my work?
There are support resources as described in the previous question above, also there are a number of SMEs that can support your development, and typically these SMEs (or key representatives of) can join your group; to work on a challenge and can guide your technical requirements.

TECHNOLOGY

Q1: What LoRa development boards are worth using?
It is difficult to say a few are great and the rest are poor, however there are some that are more popular than others and this means there is more knowledge available regarding how to work with them. A few examples include the MicroChip collection of LoRa boards, Arduino shields, and the recent Arduino MKR WAN1300.

Q2: I have some development boards, now what?
You have some options, you can either develop the code and sensors yourself if you have the internal know-how, you can partner with other SMEs with experience of these skills, you can purchase a working solution from another SME or third party who can accelerate your development time, or you can work through the many freely available online guides, tutorials, examples, etc. which many amateur makers and start-ups have found great success in.

Q3: What are these LoRa keys I hear about?
The keys are part of the security and are essential to getting your device to talk to the server; please see the more detailed answer above in the “LoRaWAN” section of the FAQs.

Q4: I’ve tried everything I know and I cannot advance in my development or can’t get my data to appear on the ThingsConnected website, what can I do?

There is a multi-layer support network available, these FAQ may help, the forum is a superb place to ask a question with many SMEs, technical people, University staff, and general tekkies who read, post, and answer many questions.  The regular meet-ups and training events should also solve most of your headaches as well as the opportunities to have some of the advisors (SMEs who have trodden this development path many times)