A Guide to IoT Gateways
Everything you need to know about what an IoT gateway is and how it can impact your project.
The IoT gateway you choose when building your product can have a substantial impact on your product’s functionality. It’s something that technical and non-technical stakeholders alike need to understand early on in the product development cycle.
This article is a primer on what an IoT gateway actually is, what kinds of use cases it can unlock, and how you can evaluate gateway solutions on the market today.
What Is an IoT Gateway?
In architecture, the term "gateway" is often understood to mean "entrance"—and this also applies in IoT.
"In the context of IoT infrastructure, a gateway basically takes things and connects them to the Internet via WiFi, cellular, or another connectivity technology," explained Chris Boross, senior product manager at Particle.
Usually combined with a hardware device and a software program, an IoT gateway is the connection point for a cloud platform, sensors, controllers, and other devices, in addition to filtering data and facilitating an end-to-end flow of information.
Although gateways have been around for as long as computers have had networks, they’ve become much more application-specific over the years.
"Nowadays, there's a lot more wireless networking that goes into gateways," Chris said. "You can even have multiple connectivity technologies in one gateway, such as WiFi and cellular at the same time."
What Role Do IoT Gateways Play in IoT Architecture?
An IoT gateway serves as a bridge connecting a device to the cloud—but what happens after the sensors embedded in the device have collected the sensor data?
Usually, the IoT gateway will pre-process this data before routing it to the cloud. Then, provided there is an Internet connection, the operator can use the gateway to download software updates or upload information.
Moreover, the IoT gateway can still do local processing and edge computing if the device is offline. Data will be stored locally until Internet connectivity is re-established, at which point the gateway will upload it to the cloud.
Common IoT Gateway Use Cases
The term 'IoT gateway' is very general, and there are a lot of different gateways out there. The technology isn’t always specific to a particular vertical or use case.
With this in mind, today's gateways are designed to help an array of use cases and businesses optimize secure Internet connectivity for sensors, vehicles, medical devices, and more. Despite the near-endless variety of valid use cases for gateways, the most common ones fall into two categories: asset tracking and equipment monitoring.
In both of these use cases, the operational sensor data gathered and processed by IoT gateways in real time at the edge can be used to gather and transmit location, condition, or usage data to technicians, OEMs, product managers, and even end users who can use it to make decisions or remotely control assets.
Let’s look at how these use cases manifest across different industries to get a sense of the flexibility an IoT gateway can offer.
Micromobility/Light Electric Vehicles
Take e-bikes as an example. In this use case, there's a network that connects the bike's motor controller, the battery, and the display on the handlebars. Adding a gateway to this network facilitates vehicle system monitoring and control.
"It's the gateway that allows you to control settings, lock your bike, and monitor where the bike is, how full the battery is, the motor controller’s condition, and if there are any faults on the bike," said Chris. "That information is all sent securely from the bike up to the cloud, where it can be accessed by fleet owners or manufacturers."
In cases where e-bikes and e-scooters are part of a fleet, connecting and tracking these micromobility vehicles via IoT gateways can help with fleet management by enabling location tracking and transfer of condition data.
"It allows fleet operators to have much more visibility into how well their vehicles are performing and whether the vehicles require preventative maintenance or charging," Chris explained. "It can also help prevent theft and aid recovery of stolen vehicles."
In addition, IoT gateways can improve compliance with the rules of the road. With an IoT gateway, fleet operators are able to monitor and control aspects such as speed limits based on location.
"It's not just reading; it's also writing to the fleet and turning things on and off and changing the way their bikes or their vehicles behave based on where they are in the world," Chris said.
Industrial Equipment Monitoring
We often think of industrial equipment monitoring as what happens on a factory floor. But there are also a wide range of industrial assets that are remotely deployed in industries like agriculture, mining, construction, etc.
Many industrial settings require technicians and site engineers to gather data from multiple asset types. This can lead to difficult interoperability problems if you’re relying on M2M communications. An IoT gateway is much more practical, and can also easily retrofit onto legacy devices. Check out our guide on M2M vs IoT for more on this.
For example, if you need to monitor and control a water pump connected to a power generator, you can connect both to an IoT gateway and get data from each one within one system.
Accurate emissions monitoring is vital for oil and gas companies that need to meet new regulatory guidelines, such as those laid out during the COP26 summit, or that want to join voluntary initiatives such as the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP).
One of the major challenges that energy producers face is monitoring and mitigating rogue emissions across a mix of legacy and modern assets. As different types of equipment enter the capital mix, the number of different components, parts, and subassemblies that must be monitored and maintained grows continuously.
While modern assets may have built-in machine-to-machine communication capabilities, energy producers can get much more value if they’re able to extract and use asset data to drive condition monitoring and preventative maintenance.
IoT gateways remove the barriers created by machine-specific languages and allows energy producers to attach sensors and actuators to nearly any asset or component for data collection. The gateway can send that device data from the edge to the cloud and make it available for technicians and site administrators to make maintenance decisions or even remotely control the asset.
Thus, the gateway enables not only continuous emissions monitoring, but also the ability to locate leaky equipment and shut it down.
What Are The Advantages of Using a Gateway for a Connected Product?
Pre-Processing Data at the Edge
In addition to routing data, an IoT gateway can process a massive amount of raw data locally (i.e., edge computing) before sending it to the cloud. After receiving the distributed raw data from the sensors, IoT gateways will aggregate, correlate, and summarize the information to simultaneously reduce volume and enhance quality before sending it to the high-end server.
Pre-processing data enhances transmission efficiency, shortens response time, and lowers both costs and bandwidth needs.
Additional Security and Risk Mitigation
Security breaches such as hacking and third-party interference can be devastating for businesses, which makes IoT security paramount for operators and business owners alike.
By providing additional layers between the Internet and connected devices, IoT gateways reduce direct connections to the Internet, thereby making operations safer.
"A gateway basically does what Network Address Translation (NAT) does for traditional networked devices," explained Mike Sheward, head of security at Particle. "NAT is a networking technology that takes internal IP addresses and securely translates them into public IP addresses, while gateways offer secure translation and packaging of multiple streams of data."
In addition to protecting against security breaches, IoT gateways can also prevent data leakage to and from the cloud.
Finding an Ideal IoT Gateway Solution for Your Connected Product
IoT gateways can be deployed in myriad verticals and use cases, so it's important to select one that meets your needs. Here are some of the features and capabilities you should look for when evaluating gateway solutions.
Standardized, Yet Customizable
Many gateway solutions on the market fall into two categories:
- Out-of-the-box solutions that are fast to deploy but offer little customizability
- Fully customizable solutions that require deep expertise to build into the solution you want
If your use case matches the capabilities of an off-the-shelf solution, the former can be a good option. If you have a team of engineers that can build a gateway solution in-house, or can take a basic solution and build off it, the latter might be an acceptable solution.
Both options bring hard tradeoffs. An off-the-shelf solution gets you to market faster, but with little opportunity for differentiation. A fully customized solution can help you differentiate, but with a longer time-to-market and greater risk around certifications, hardware quality control, supply risks, and obsolescence.
You should ultimately look for a solution that gives you the basic device functionality you need while making it easy to customize it for your specific needs and use cases.
Particle’s Approach to Hardware
Particle’s approach to gateways—and all of our IoT hardware solutions—can be summed up as “standardized, yet customizable.”
We handle all of the hard, undifferentiated work of building a gateway while providing a solution that’s easily extensible and reprogrammable for you to customize. This allows you to test rapidly with a ready-to-go solution, and then customize once you’ve validated the hardware for your project.
"We are a reference product," Chris explained. "Our gateways—Tracker One, Tracker SOM, and even our upcoming Tracker M—are built to be used with minimal modifications, no hardware modifications, and a little bit of software engineering. So it's really quick for a customer to take our gateway products and integrate them into any asset, system, or cloud architecture."
How do we do that?
- Ecosystem enablement. Particle has adopted common and different hardware standards like Feather and M.2 to provide interoperability with a wide range of accessories, sensors, and peripherals to accelerate product development.
- Open APIs. Particle Device OS—our IoT operating system— is built on FreeRTOS and is open source. The hundreds of thousands of lines of code are battle-tested, and abstract away the complexity of IoT development so you can focus on building your solution.
- Flexible hardware. It’s easy to use different variations of hardware components to build your finished connected product, including varying components for antenna, enclosure, power, battery, sensor, and actuator interfaces.
Cyberattacks on IoT devices are becoming much more common. Data from Kaspersky showed that in the first half of 2021, there were more than 1.5 billion attacks on IoT devices. That’s a more than 100 percent increase from the same period in 2020.
Attackers have different motives depending on who their targets are, but they commonly hack connected devices to steal data, mine cryptocurrency, build botnets, conduct ransomware attacks, or even control assets with the intention of causing physical damage.
An IoT gateway that’s connected to assets like light electric vehicles, HVAC equipment, smart grid infrastructure, or any other critical asset must be protected from bad actors. Any solution you evaluate should be at the leading edge of device and cloud security. Be sure to evaluate any vendor rigorously for their security practices.
Particle’s Approach to Device Security
To protect your deployment in a time of rising cyberattacks, Particle gateways are secure by default.
"Because the Particle Cloud collects information from devices via reverse connections, we do not require our devices to be externally accessible on the Internet, and they do not have open ports," Mike said. "We help you be on the Internet without being all over it."
What are some of the ways we help you stay secure?
- Bare metal RTOS.
- No unknown background services, no open ports, and one-click whole-system security updates.
- Every Particle device has unique cryptographic keys pinned on both the device and cloud to prevent person-in-the-middle attacks.
When building a connected product, teams often underestimate the risk posed by failed certifications. Digi International, a leading cellular certification lab, found that 80 percent of all new cellular designs fail certification the first time they apply.
A failed certification, whether it’s an FCC certification, an RF certification, or one for telecom partnerships, can add months to your time-to-market, or even force you to cancel your project.
Moreover, every time you redesign your products, you’ll likely have to re-apply to keep your certifications.
Look for a gateway that comes pre-certified and takes some of that risk off your plate. This means you’ll only have to certify what you build around the gateway and not the gateway itself.
Particle’s Approach to Certifications
Particle de-risks the certification process and reduces your downstream certification costs and requirements with our pre-integrated and pre-certified devices. Certifications include FCC, CE, IC, & GCF, PTCRB and Giteki.
"All Particle devices have necessary certifications for the United States, Canada, and European Union. Some devices may have additional certification, such as for Japan," said Rick Kaseguma, Senior Technical Documentation Writer at Particle. "Even for countries that are not in that list, it may be possible to use Particle devices without additional certification because they will allow the use of the FCC or EU certification instead of their own country-specific certification."
Another way Particle makes certifications easier is through our integrated enterprise IoT Platform-as-a-Service. The tight integration between hardware (including modem, microcontroller, and EtherSIM), firmware, cellular connectivity, and cloud API allows your entire IoT stack to be certified together, rather than obtaining certifications for each part.