LoRa Is the Network

We’ve become used to seeing LoRa appearing in projects on these pages, doing its job as a low-bandwidth wireless data link with a significant range. Usually these LoRa projects take the form of a client that talks to a central Internet connected node, allowing a remote wireless-connected device to connect through that node to the Internet.

It’s interesting then to see a modest application from [Mark C], a chat application designed to use a set of LoRa nodes as a peer-to-peer network. In effect LoRa becomes the network, instead of simply being a tool to access it. He optimistically describes peer-to-peer LoRa networks as the new FidoNet in his tip email to us, which might be a bold statement, but we can certainly see some parallel. It’s important to note that the application is merely a demonstrable proof-of-concept as it stands, however we’d agree that it has some potential.

The hardware used for the project is the Heltec ESP32-based LoRa board, which comes with a handy OLED screen on which the messages appear. As it stands a PC connection is required to provide text input via serial, however it’s not impossible to imagine other more stand-alone interfaces. If it interests you the code can be downloaded from the GitHub repository, so maybe this can become the seed for wider peer-to-peer LoRa networks.

There have been no shortage of LoRa projects featured here over the years. Recent ones include a handy local LoRa packet sniffer, and news of an extreme distance record from a LoRa node on a balloon.

29 thoughts on “LoRa Is the Network

    1. Automated Dairy Feeding! Someone call Boumatic!

      They oft have feeders quarter mile out in the field and use a lactation based feeding cycle tailored for each individual bovine to maximize milk production. Only one can get into the feeder at a time, they are identified by rfid and fed a varying mix of several feeds, and they leave the feeder quickly when it refuses more so they can get back to the grasses. Easy to get power out there for it, but the puter has to be back in the office. In the 80’s it was 20ma current loop bi-directional communications. This would be a big upgrade if range and reliability is great enough

      Funny thing about cows is they’ll literally eat till they drop dead from too much. Feeder has to be high reliability.

      1. (Looks out of window at family herd of Welsh Blacks)

        Cattle in my experience regulate their own eating even when in times of overabundance.

        The danger period comes when they have been indoors over winter and are let out onto lush green pasture. Then they eat a lot, but that’s not in itself what is dangerous. The danger comes from all that fresh grass fermenting inside the cow and producing too much gas, “getting blown” as it’s referred to hereabouts. Thus when you bring them onto pasture after being indoors, you do it gradually, only for a short time per day, or by introducing them to a field strip by strip.

        1. Parents used to “loan me out” summers to relatives as a summer sla— err, farmhand. Know the barnyard all too well. Years later in electronics with barnyard experience I worked for Germania Dairy Automation for a couple yrs. Managed those lactation feeding systems/stations and service parts. Hired because they needed someone tech to work with vendor developing video recognition to eliminate an employee in the milking parlor that was there JUST to type in ear tag numbers of each cow and what milking stall used as they track down to the ounce each individual’s milk production when on the lactation feeding system. Got the recognition working, but then found a problem. You see… cows like to ruminate laying about in the mud…. so to get the video recognition working we had to add a man to the parlor to wash their butts off! Butts because that’s the only area with reliably different patterns, and only a limited number of breeds that have patterns at all.

          No future there anymore so went back into medical equip. But it had been fun! Several years later they went belly up.

    1. Official, but it’s like a smooth wall of marketing hype, and I can’t figure out how to climb it:

      https://www.lora-alliance.org/

      The good details — you don’t really understand something unless you can build it yourself:

      https://hackaday.com/2016/01/31/hacking-the-internet-of-things-decoding-lora/
      https://hackaday.com/2016/11/18/building-a-lora-phy-with-sdr/

      And as for getting started with practical projects — browse the LoRa tag? Buy two radios and off you go.

  1. Yes, LoRa is the network layer. LoRaWAN is a layer built on top of LoRa that involves Internet gateways, etc. People often conflate the two, but they are separate. You can use LoRa without LoRaWAN, as is the case here.

    1. This.

      I’ve been mystified at HAD falling over themselves to promote what, by my understanding, is a non-free implementation of something with plenty of free alternatives.

      I’d love to learn that I’m misinformed.

      1. C’mon now! Half of our LoRa posts are digging into the proprietary veil. Have you seen that topic covered elsewhere?

        But yeah. Some people use it for their projects, despite the trade secrets. It seems to get good range on comparatively low power. Some people use Raspberry Pis as well, despite the inavailability of real documentation without an NDA. We can’t stop ’em!

        What’s the open/free alternative that comes in at around the same price point and performance? Firms are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into SigFox and LoRa — if the hacker community could compete, it would be a gigantic coup.

  2. You know that thing on a pocket knife that nobody knows exactly what it’s for? Well I dug this out of the internet with it…
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Introducing-LoRa-/

    If that’s right, I’m not seeing “new Fidonet” more like low power packet radio. yeah, cool but it’s gonna be crippled by any longer distance links that are under a kilobit/sec. It’s like phone wires can do “up to a gigabit” now, but if you’re 10 miles out of town you’re still stuck with 56k.

    1. Actually, it seems like Fidonet inside out…. because Fidonet, you’d connect to nodes at relatively low speeds, and the nodes would attempt to use relatively high speeds between themselves. Whereas with this, close to the nodes you’d get “middling diallup” speeds, but nodes being likely more distant from each other would get few hundred bits per second… unless they ran way high power or arranged backhauls with LOS “pringle can” wifi or something.

    2. From what I have understood from my readings, FidoNet existed during times when 1200baud and 2400baud modems ware normal. And the nodes then had faster* modems to interlink each other.

      ‘Compared to the user uplinks.

  3. So, what if you need lots of range but very little bandwidth, such as passing a simple sensor reading and timestamp? It looks like the lowest bitrate you can go is 1.2kbps? Can I transmit at 300bps?

    Has anyone tested range versus bitrates? If I can go a dozen miles by dropping down to, say, 100bps – that’s pretty cool.

    Where are some good resources for low bitrate, very long distance data transmission?

    1. Yes, LoRa has the ability for crazy low bit rates and the range is extended greatly by that. The problem is that even a few bytes can take several seconds to send at those rates, and the generic modules found out there lack accurate enough clocks to keep both ends in sync at that rate for that duration. You might get lucky though, between temperature variations and module variations to get it working. I use these at ranges over 20km at lowish rates for telemetry and rarely have problems.

  4. I’ve been playing with LoRa as an alternative to packet mode radio. The same type of bulletin board interface can be used to create a store and forward network that could cover a large area relatively inexpensively.

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