Wollongong takes the lead with LoRaWAN

Given the interminable dumpster fire that is Australia’s NBN rollout, we’ll forgive you if you haven’t paid attention to the recent local developments with the low-power, low bit-rate, wide-area networks that are vital to the IoT.

But, should you happen to find yourself in Wollongong, you should know you’ll have free access to LoRaWAN, which utilises the proprietary, chirp spread spectrum (CSS) radio modulation technology LoRa to connect devices to the internet. Before you get distracted by why that’s a promising development, let’s delve a little deeper into history first.

The ‘Gong achieves IoT self-awareness

Emerging out of a Kickstarter campaign run in late 2015, The Things Network is a community of 20,000 odd geeks who set out, with no small degree of success, to create a global IoT data network—one that uses LoRaWAN to allow devices to talk to the internet without requiring 3G or Wi-Fi.

Meshed is a Sydney-based business that launched in 2015 with the ambition to be “an Internet of Things Integrator for the connected world.” Wollongong is Australia’s tenth largest city, and it seems to be the city most determined to establish itself as a “smart city.” In fact, the University of Wollongong (UOW) is so serious about innovation that it has an “Innovation Campus.”

Long story short: Meshed, The Things Network, and UOW came together in early 2016 to start rolling out a LoRaWAN network freely available to Wollongong’s businesses, community groups, and individuals. The citywide network—the first of its scope in Australia—will become fully operational soon.

Australia’s unevenly distributed future

In July 2016, some Australian universities, tech companies, and government entities came together to form the Internet of Things Alliance Australia (IoTAA). Here’s why IoTAA thinks initiatives, such as Wollongong’s LoRaWAN network, are a big deal: “IoT seems certain to transform sectors and economies by revolutionising industry methods and supply chains, unleashing analytical power undreamt of until now, and enhancing our ability to predict and control the future … more than 14 billion devices are connected to the internet worldwide and the trend line suggests a move to about 26 billion installed units by 2020 and—some forecast—1 trillion by 2035.”

This isn’t breathless techno-utopian babble. Smart-sensor networks connected to web portals are increasingly used in Australia. They’re doing everything from nudging consumers to reduce their consumption of water and electricity to laying the groundwork for autonomous vehicles. The Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative, a 40-km freight corridor test facility located near Wollongong, allows vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure, such as traffic signals, as well as receive warnings about upcoming hazards.

Capitalizing on the first-mover advantage

Plenty of cities around the world already have LoRaWAN networks, and other Australian metropolises, notably Sydney, are starting to roll them out. Nonetheless, Wollongong has stolen a march on its rivals, a ballsy move that could pay big dividends.

As Professor Pascal Perez, director of UOW’s SMART Infrastructure Facility, stated, “We have a unique opportunity to make this city a leader in the digital world. Through the IoT and its potential applications across such a broad stream of projects and groups, we will have the ability to attract the brightest students, entrepreneurs, and associations from around the globe.”

That might sound a tad dramatic, but nonetheless, Wollongong’s academics, businesspeople, council staff, and residents have brainstormed ways to use their new LoRaWAN network to improve their region’s mobility, air quality, crop and livestock monitoring, flood mapping, parking availability, street lighting, traffic control, and wheelchair accessibility.

To quote Professor Perez one final time, “We may be looking to the future but there’s no science fiction involved. The application of IoT technology is a reality and it starts in Wollongong today. The possibilities are endless.”