Avoid blackmail

Building smart cities on the open-source Things Network

Published on: 01/10/2018
Last update: 04/04/2019

LoRa, a low-power, long-range radio technology for networks on a municipal scale, provides a low-cost infrastructure on which municipalities can build a plethora of Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications.

Last month at the Plovdiv Conference in Bulgaria, Tsvetan Usunov, self-proclaimed hardware hacker, open-source hardware evangelist and founder of the open-source company Olimex, promoted the use of LoRa networks (LoRaWAN) for a long list of applications that he said can help make cities smart and better places to live in.

Even though the LoRaWAN chips themselves are proprietary and protected via patents, the LoRa Alliance industry consortium currently lists more than 120 affordable, certified products. Companies like Olimex are pushing down prices, while at the same time making their designs available as open source so that others can use them freely and development them further.

The Things Network

Municipal policymakers willing to start a smart city project can connect their hardware — consisting of nodes, gateways and servers — to The Things Network (TTN), a worldwide, distributed LoRaWAN infrastructure initiated and crowdfunded by Dutch civil society.

The Things Network is an open-source project, Usunov explains, which brings a lot of benefits for the cities deploying this technology. Currently most smart city projects are built on proprietary technology, which at least over here in Bulgaria causes a lot of problems. The required support and maintenance of each installation are abused by their suppliers to ask for more money. When using open-source technology, cities can avoid such blackmail. As the full source code is available, cities can issue a tender for support and maintenance independent from the company that actually built the project.

Furthermore, when a city manages to successfully solve a problem using open-source technology, other cities can benefit directly by reproducing and reusing this solution, thereby saving the money that otherwise would have been spent to solve the very same problem.

Getting started

To cover a city with a LoRaWAN network is not a large investment at all, Usunov continues. One gateway costs EUR 250-300, and most Bulgarian cities would require 10-20 of those to be covered. Comparing that to the amount of money spent on casual activities like cleaning and waste collecting, EUR 5,000-10,000 is a one-time investment any city can afford.

In Bulgaria some cities have adopted LoRa networks provided by proprietary operators, sometimes having them pay subscription fees that would allow them to set up their own network every month. Adopting an open-source software and hardware model can correct this.


The Plovdiv Conference is part of the IT Tour conference series, which comprises five annual conferences in five large Bulgarian cities. The program covers software as well as hardware.

PlofdivConf is organised by the team responsible for the annual OpenFest in Sofia, Bulgaria's largest open source software conference.