You know that feeling, the anxiety when something great is about to happen? In July, at the monthly Internet of Things Meetup in Amsterdam, one guy pitched the idea of crowdfunding an open Internet of Things network that would be free for all. Why, he asked, should we again become dependent on the big Telco’s or other companies that charge subscription fees and take our data, when the cost of setting up a LoRa-network is so low? His initiative was met with great enthusiasm, and I felt thrilled. A free and open IoT-network for all, this could be a tipping point! Think about the possibilities: it now becomes affordable to attach a tracking sensor to all your things. And even though my dog is not a real “thing”, she does tend to get lost chasing the rabbits…
Not even 6 weeks later a network covering Amsterdam was launched. The core team of enthusiasts had found enough companies willing to invest in and host gateways on their buildings. The Things Network was a fact. Their goal now is to conquer the world, and a variety of cities in different countries have already joined the initiative.
An impressive accomplishment like this seems very disruptive for Telco’s like KPN and Sigfox. KPN has long prepared to roll out its network and now a crowdsourced one becomes available for free in Amsterdam within 6 weeks. And although it will still take some time before The Things Network will be easy to use, making money on infrastructure is becoming increasingly difficult, and it’s becoming a commodity.
Having an open network available will be a great boost for innovative startups—several use cases can already be found on the website. One example is a sensor that notifies the boat owners about the water influx, which is very handy in the canals of Amsterdam. The sensor can either text the owner or a service company that comes to clean out your boat. As far as the Internet of Things is concerned, the only limitation is our own imagination!
What makes The Things Network also special is their dedication to realize a network architecture that provides real privacy by routing the data directly from sender to receiver instead of via a central entity. Having the gateways in place was just the first step and enough of a challenge, but realizing a decentralized architecture and an easy interface are the challenges that still lie ahead—challenges to which everybody can contribute! And that is the beauty of the initiative—this modern David is an open international community. My Advice to the Goliaths of this world is to join them and make a business model out of the services that can be provided on top of the network.
by Manon den Dunnen. Manon currently works as a strategic advisor on aspects related to the digital transformation of society. Apart from this, she enjoys being a freelance blogger and covers topics like Smart Cities and emerging technologies.