Semtech Launches LoRa Basics

Article By : Rick Merritt

Semtech rolled out two open-source software modules to ease the path of deploying LoRa networks, as NB-IoT and Sigfox rivals expand in IoT

Semtech released the first batch of open source code it is developing to ease the job of creating new LoRa networks. The arrival of LoRa Basics marks the start of a developer program fostered by the company behind LoRa chips.

The news comes as AT&T announced its Narrowband-IoT version of 4G is now available across the U.S. For its part, Sigfox said its low-end unlicensed technology now has more than six million nodes in operation with plans for starting services in China, India and Russia over the next 18 months.

The so-called low-power, wide-area (LPWA) networks are emerging alternatives to traditional Bluetooth and Wi-Fi links. They target a wide variety of uses in the Internet of Things that need longer range but require as little as a few bits or kilobits a day.

To boost adoption of its approach, Semtech released LoRa Basics Station, code for Linux gateways, and LoRa Basics MAC, RF firmware for end nodes. In the future, it plans to release open-source software for over-the-air firmware updates based on MAC as well as a package supporting data analytics.

The software aims to eliminate the need for programing in embedded C in order to install a LoRa network, easing the job especially for small IT departments.

“Most people are working with Web services in Python or js.node, and programming devices is last hurdle for them – embedded C developers are a dying breed,” said Steven Hegenderfer, who joined Semtech eight months ago to help it expand its LoRa developer community.

“Basics takes the plumbing out of the way and helps users get up and running with a process that looks more like device configuration than coding,” he added.

The gateway software may eventually be expanded to run on RTOSes. The MAC firmware runs on a 32-bit, 50 MHz MCU with at least 64KB RAM and less than 30 KB flash. Both open-source packages are available free under a BSD 3.0 license.

At the same time, Semtech launched a Web site for LoRa developers. It includes training materials it shared since 2017 with more than a dozen universities around the world.

LoRa has a community of as many as 8,000 active software developers, Hegenderfer estimates. Semtech is considering hosting a developer day at a future LoRa Alliance event.

The LoRa news came one day after AT&T announced its 4G networks in the U.S. are now enabled for NB-IoT. The company aims to certify modules costing as little as $5 and data plans as low as $5 per year per device. Costs range up to $30/year for unlimited data on devices that also support LTE-M, capable of rates of megabits per second.

At the low end, Sigfox announced in February it now has more than six million nodes running its network that charges as little as $1 a year for up to two messages a day. Chips and modules cost $2-$3 in low volumes and services supporting up to 140 messages a day cost $12/year.

The company that was early to market, taking in $115 million in venture capital, hopes to turn a profit this year. To better compete with LoRa it released its specifications in February. It struck a partnership with Eutelsat to extend its coverage to rural areas and maritime uses with low-earth orbit satellites expected to be in operation next year.

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