Sunday, December 10, 2017

Using LoRaWAN in South Africa

How do I connect to LoRaWAN in South Africa?

LoRaWAN is getting a lot of attention. A common question from users of our devices is "how do I use LoRaWAN?"

It's interesting to compare this to Sigfox. They are masters of simplicity, branding and publicity. How do I use Sigfox? Step 1: buy a device. Step 2: speak to the SNO (Sigfox Network Operator - Sqwidnet in SA) and sign up. Step 3: link the device. Step 4: turn it on and use it. Ok, maybe Step 0 is to check that you have coverage, and ask the SNO some serious questions about coverage in your area, and outside of metro areas. This coverage comment applies to LoRaWAN too, but is more complex.

Right, how do I use LoRaWAN? To start with, you have a few options for networks:

  1. Use a public LoRaWAN operator and use their base stations
  2. Use a public LoRaWAN operator and extend their coverage with your own base stations.
  3. Use crowd sourced option like The Things Network. Chances are, you'll need to extend their coverage with your own base stations.
  4. Put down your own network software and base stations.

1. Public Operators

In SA, there are 2 public operators that I know of:
  1. FastNet - owned by Telkom. 
  2. Comsol
Based on our testing so far, both have decent metro coverage in Joburg. 

You'd need to make contact with them and sign up for a test account. Make sure you have coverage. Get a device, and link it to their backend. And get started.

2. Extend a public operator's coverage with your own base stations

This is an option with Comsol, but it's not free. There is a fee to add a base station to their network. You'll also still pay for the "airtime". You will get to use their Actility backend.

Other operators around the world do this too. I'm not sure about FastNet yet. Contact the operator and find out. 

You'll also need a base station. Read about that below. Then you can get a device and link it to the operators backend.

3. Crowd sourced network

The only example I know of for now is The Things Network. They run the network server infrastructure. The public connects base stations up to their network. Anyone can link devices to the network. And anyone can add base stations. It's free. There are paid plans too.

You may have coverage, if someone else is running a base station near you. If not, you'll need a base station and you'll link it to the network. Read about that below.

4. Your own network software and base stations

This isn't very practical for most users, but it is possible. Multi-tech offer some software that you can run on their gateway that does a stand-alone (single gateway) network server. I don't know enough about this to comment further. The use of multiple gateways makes this option more complex. Many public operators don't even do this, so it is probably complex and expensive for anything more than a single gateway.

Base stations

We have some experience with the Multi-tech Conduit. We have linked it to the The Things Network (option 3). And we have linked it to some public operators, by running their software image on the gateway.

Kerlink also offer network hardware. This is often used by the public operators to setup their own network.

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