Adventures in LoRaWan & TTN - Part 3, Experience So Far

This is a shortish blogpost about my experiences with LoRa and more so LoRaWan and The Things Network and includes more realistic figures so might be a bit of "myth busting".

I repeat these are experiences and my views & interpretations. I am not guaranteeing it's accurate.

Point 1 - Range is Good, But not Great

The range of my LoRa Gateway is good. It gets hundreds of meters further than my wi-fi does. But it's not as good as advertised.

You'll see claims of most gateway hardware reaching 10-15KM in perfect conditions. Ideally I wanted my gateway to cover Yarmouth town from where I am in Gorleston, Around 6KM away however am about 3.5KM off.

While it doesn't sound a lot it changes 1-2 gateways covering a town to 4-5 to cover the same distance. Or better put a price difference from say £300-600 to £1,200-1,500 assuming a cost of £300 a gateway. (However this is lower).

Now there are possible things to blame and possible solutions I'm looking into. For example is my concentrator not as good as other options? My antenna not quite right or high enough? It's hard to tell without either buying them or somehow getting an official The Things Network gateway or RAK831 sponsored . (Sidenote if I do get one of these you'll get a review out of it :) )

Point 2 - Nano Gateways are worse than a full concentrator

This is a point that has never quite made sense to me and partially this theoretical setup would be better in my view based on the range.

Nano Gateways only run on radio frequency at a time, a concentrator however has two radio chips with a third that can allow them together to cover the 8 bands.

However Nano Gateways could be theoretically as low as £20-30 each. Say £30 could cover £10 gateways which could be more dispersed in a community potentially getting greater range than the one main one.

I'd say they're still ideal in any case as one you could take around with you to demonstrate it or for meetups etc.

Point 3 - It's not for beginners

So far my experience hasn't been great, it seems more suited to people who have a lot of radio experience already to setup and plan a gateway.

Mainly in the sense of for example I'm not sure if there is something wrong with my antenna as it seems that if I'm understanding it correctly I'm getting an RSSI of around -40 when standing next to it where as my cheap antenna gets around -20. But I'm getting further away? To do this I believe I need a SWR Meter. Another piece of kit which is in turn more money.

Trying to plan out how far the radio should theoretically reach is also poor, there's some free software which lacks documentation to the point where I can't figure it out (and I don't usually need much). Or it's all high end commercial. A tool I can use which allows me to put my antenna on a map, input details in simple terms and then see a rough radius would be ideal. So far while being told sometimes that my antenna is still not high enough at the same time then the tools say its more than high enough. All rather confusing for someone who's new at it!

Point 4 - Too many confusing restrictions

A bit which confuses me is the restrictions. In basic terms you can transmit on different spreading factors of which the higher the spreading factor while slower to transmit data can reach a longer distance.

But you should only transmit at SF12 with certain periods of frequencies. Furthermore you're only ideally allowed to transmit for 30 Seconds a day. So at SF12 with an airtime of around 1.5 Seconds for one byte I can only transmit 20 messages a day, that's less than once an hour. But currently with me being the only one using my gateway why can't I transmit when I like?

Along with this you also shouldn't use settings 11 & 12 all of the time for your device. But if these are the only options you can use for the device to be able to transmit from where it's located why not?

Conclusion

As you can see I've had what I'd call a disappointing experience, Nothing has gone like I expected based on all of the advertising. Weather this is me at fault and improvements can be made or if it is the realistic. For now my target will be to try and improve my gateway more while starting up a community for Great Yarmouth,

As always you can get in contact with me on twitter @Ryanteck, Or now catch me on Discord either on the MarkersWorldWide group or Gadgetoid servers both setup by @Gadgetoid. You can also donate via my patreon over at https://www.patreon.com/Ryanteck for more blogposts and some upcoming reviews.