The Things Network and ARM Bring Firmware Updates to LoRaWAN

Amsterdam, Netherlands – June 8, 2017 — The Things Network: an open, global IoT data network, and ARM mbed: a secure, scalable platform for enterprise Internet of Things, brings Firmware Updates over the air to Low Power Wide Area Networks. The demonstration will be presented to all members at the LoRa Alliance meeting in Philadelphia on June 12-14, 2017.

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Billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices are hitting the market in the next few years and industry leaders are pouring billions of dollars into the ecosystem. IoT devices require both long range communication and low power consumption where a battery life can last years. Traditional wireless network technologies, such as cellular and Wi-Fi, cannot accommodate these needs. To facilitate the requirements for these devices, new network technologies such as LoRa, have emerged in the past few years combining cheap radio chips with kilometers of range and very low battery consumption.

A downside of these network is that the data rates are much lower than those of traditional wireless networks. Data rates in LoRaWAN networks are measured in bits per second, rather than megabytes per second. This creates a big challenge when firmware needs to be updated. Large-scale IoT deployments can consist of thousands of devices placed in a variety of places. Because the costs of sending a technician to update all devices manually is quite high, it is essential to update firmware Over The Air (OTA).

Johan Stokking, Co-Founder and Tech Lead of The Things Network, and Jan Jongboom, Principal Applications Engineer at ARM have been working on a proposal to properly allow these devices to update Over The Air. An elaborate article about Firmware Updates Over The Air (FUOTA) can be found via here.

Bringing firmware updates to LoRaWAN allows device makers to ship with the confidence that they can patch security issues, add functionality, optimize power consumption and specialize devices throughout a device's lifetime: from manufacturing and distribution to deployed devices in remote locations.

Johan Stokking, Tech Lead of The Things Network

Johan and Jan overcame three main challenges to successfully update the firmware:

  1. Updating large number of IoT sensor devices simultaneously. The firmware need to be updated at the same time for multiple devices (this is called Multicast).
  2. The size of a LoRa data package is limited to 115 bytes. Larger files need to be fragmented into small data packages and sent to the devices one by one.
  3. Finally, the whole updating process need to happen in a secure way to prevent malicious coders from hijacking the firmware.

Demonstration

With the help of Andrea Corrado (Graduate Engineer, ARM), a prototyping board with LoRa radio was created, as shown in Figure 1. The development board schematics and bill of materials will be available as part of the mbed HDK.

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Fig 1: Boards straight out of the factory

Adding cryptographically secure firmware update capabilities to Low-Powered Wide Area Networks is key to ARM's philosophy to deliver products that are secure from silicon to cloud. Companies can now create cheap and power efficient designs that can be securely patched after deployment

Jan Jongboom, Principal Applications Engineer at ARM®

Conclusion

Firmware updates are a critical requirement for devices hitting the market in volume. Device makers can now ship products while assuring their customers of security updates, new functionality, optimizations and specialization throughout their lifetime. A full end-to-end live solution will be presented during the LoRa Alliance All Members Meeting and Open House in Philadelphia, June 12-14, 2017.

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About The Things Network:

The Things Network is building a global, open, crowd-sourced Internet of Things data network which is owned and operated by its users. It is based on the technology called LoRaWAN which is perfect for the Internet of Things as it is low energy, long range and low bandwidth. The entire city of Amsterdam was covered with this network in less than 6 weeks and inspired hundreds of cities around the world to do the same. For more information please visit www.thethingsnetwork.org

About ARM® mbed™:

ARM® mbed™ provides a secure, scalable platform for enterprise IoT, including the operating system, cloud services, tools and developer ecosystem necessary for the creation and deployment of commercial, standards-based IoT solutions at scale. By offering all the vital tools needed to develop these IoT solutions, combined with the support of more than 70 partners and a community of 250,000+ developers, mbed is uniquely positioned as the leading ecosystem for IoT device creation, deployment and management. With a focus on low-energy devices, connectivity and security, mbed provides a unique value proposition in the IoT market. ARM mbed Cloud easily enables organisations to securely connect to, update and provision devices agnostic to the underlying operating system. For more information visit www.mbed.com

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Nicolas Sornin from Semtech for his work on fragmentation and multicast and helping in standardizing the idea within the LoRa Alliance; Multi-Tech Systems for hosting the first public demonstration setup in Philadelphia.

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