‘The Things Network’ or How to Build An Open And Decentralized ‘IoT’ Connectivity

‘The Things Network’ or How to Build An Open And Decentralized ‘IoT’ Connectivity

Let’s imagine a world where connectivity is not provided but shared, a world where instead of operators allowing access to the web there are just users opening it up for the rest. Let’s picture that hypothetical reality where connectivity doesn’t belong to a few but to all of us.

Network providers have been living relatively comfortable all along these years, shielded by multimillionaire logistic efforts in infrastructure and under the governments indulgence. Very few outcasts have dared to challenge such privileged position. In fact, the network cake was already split and operators were only to struggle for the biggest slice, knowing that at the very least, they were going to taste a bit of it.

However, nothing in this world we live in is permanent, and talking about technology that statement has become almost a law. Indeed, there are a few specific ones, a reluctant Netherlanders, that have come up with an idea to challenge the throne of the connectivity providers. No offence intended.

These Netherlanders, business partners and friends Wienke Giezeman and Johan Stokking, thought about connectivity very basis: the capacity for the interconnection of platforms, systems, and applications through devices. There is no need for instance in that definition for a third party to make you connected if the user has the means to do so by itself.

And beyond that, what if all those users and devices can build themselves a network, open and decentralized for everyone, to gain access to a internet of things interconnectivity?

The possible answers were found by friends Giezeman and Stokking on what they called “The Things Network”. In their own words, “a network for the Internet of Things by creating abundant data connectivity, so applications and businesses can flourish.”

Inside that network, empowering by their own-developed technology named LoRaWAN, things would be able to talk to each other without the need of WiFi or 3G tech, which would leave aside any network provider to actually being able to operate inside the LoRaWan.

In a recent article written by Martijn Arets, both founders tell the story of how everything started in a meeting in Amsterdam. “We saw how this technology offered the potential to build a decentralized Internet of Things data network,” Giezeman said. “At the end of the presentation, we invited the attendees to come over for a brainstorm on how to realize this, scheduled in our office the next morning.”

In a day’s time the idea to build an Internet of Things for Amsterdam was born. Stokking booted up his computer to write the software code and Wienke contacted 10 companies, ranging from startups like Peerby to corporations like KPMG and Deloitte, as well as the Port of Amsterdam, to ask them if they would be willing to buy a router and place it on the roof of their office buildings.

The Things Network from Soda Content on Vimeo.

Once Amsterdam was conquered, the world opened up widely. They decided to share their experience and development plans for the rest of the world to replicate them.

“As a first step, we built our own community platform and made documentation to keep it simple for everyone to replicate our success,” Giezeman said. The formula worked, and the number of active communities grew rapidly. Soon the first use cases surfaced. “By opening up our network, we went from a ‘technology push’ to an ‘idea push.’ The solutions from the community serve as inspiration for other developers,” he said.

In this storm of attention, facilitation is the magic word. “We didn’t grow to 500 communities in 90 countries, because we supplied everyone with our support,” Giezeman said. “We offered them content and a platform to get started. We even noticed that the more we support personally, the less sustainable our community becomes.” Members of the platform answered questions from the community, which helped direct an international group with minimal resources.

Now, The Things Network connectivity is open for everyone who wishes to participate in it, or even to build their own one. It is as easy as placing a low battery usage, long range and low bandwidth gateway to expand the network. The more gateways are placed, the larger the coverage.

At this moment, there are 2850 gateways up and running all around the globe, and the movement has just started.

Let’s imagine a world where connectivity is not provided by operators but shared by users.