Communication issue with The Things Network

Lately I was playing a lot with The Things Networks (TTN). Beside integrating it into Home Assistant (Data Storage and MQTT) I have built a couple of sensors for measuring environmental changes. I really like the idea of having sensors on remote locations where no internet connection is available.

Like for WiFi, 15 years ago, you can read quite some stories about long range connections like this one. While this is nice, it doesn’t address one of the main issue you will face with wireless communication. In an urban area it will become hard to get a connection even if the gateway is 2 km away. Rural and urban are two different pairs of shoes. No line of sight, houses, interferences, the Fresnel zone, reflections and who knows what else.

Right, now I’m sitting in front of two sensors which are both not able to join the TTN over ABP or OTAA (yes, both are working fine on a different location). According to the map is one gateway 1.1 km away, one 2 km, two around 2.4 km and one 3 km. There is another gateway 2.5 km away but I assume that this one is very limited due to the nature of the location (at least 50 m below the average altitude). And yes, you can ignore the circles around the gateways on the map. This is just a visual representation and has noting to do with the actual range of the gateway.

Unfortunately, you can’t do much to fix the issue. Changing the antenna, playing with the SF and other settings, move the sensor around (which is not always possible) or set up your own gateway. It’s kind of funny but everybody who is/was involved in the Freifunk or the Openwireless community has heard those points already more than once.

If I need to set up a LoRaWAN gateway in close range to the sensors then TTN becomes useless for me. In such a scenario using ESP 8266/32-based sensors and a wireless router is much more cost-effective and give me much more freedom because I own the complete network. The best part is that with a little MQTT magic it would be possible to transfer the values to TTN, I assume.

We all agree that more gateways will increase the possibility to get a connection to the network if they are not placed in a basement. At the moment the TTN Community overview shows a ranked list of cities with the most gateways. I would be very interested to see how many devices are actually connected to all those gateways in a second column (and maybe other details on a different page). Why? I’m pretty sure that it would show that some gateways are just lurking around because they are misplaced. This could help the owner (who doesn’t need to read the logs) of the gateway  and would represent the reality much better. 10 gateways which are just there and isolated, help the network only in a very limited way.

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