The IoT offers endless possibilities for optimising business, improving health and safety, saving time and money, and making life better.
However, bringing new solutions to the market and integrating them into complex IoT ecosystems is a huge challenge.
Let's see how IoT gateways can help.
But first, picture the IoT footprint of a modern manufacturing operation for a minute:
- AI-enabled machines on manufacturing lines integrate real-time data from connected sensors that continuously measure production performance and direct operations' speed and cadence.
- Delivery vehicles managed by IoT-enabled telematics solutions and fleet management platforms communicate with dispatch to optimise product transportation and distribution.
- A smart logistics platform helps monitor product demand and manage shipments to the retail channel or various warehouses for storage.
- Thousands of SKUs (bar codes) of products, each with its own IoT tracking and tracing device, are stored in warehouses where supervisors manage stock and optimise operations with sophisticated cloud platforms that integrate data from smart forklifts and pallets across the warehouse environment.
What do you see?
Every connected endpoint in this vast ecosystem communicates, processes, and integrates data from various places – sensors, devices, machines, vehicles, and cloud applications.
They use various communication protocols and networks, including cellular, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, LoRA, ZigBee, and more.
They communicate with various public and proprietary IoT clouds, and those clouds need to transmit data back to critical systems and varying devices and sensors.
We know what you think. And you're right.
Tying all these pieces and platforms together and integrating meaningful data into the larger enterprise ecosystem can be a mind-boggling challenge.
In fact, it often prevents IoT projects from coming to fruition.
The good news?
IoT gateway devices are coming to the rescue!
What is an IoT Gateway?
Simply put, an IoT gateway is a physical device or virtual platform that connects sensors, IoT modules, and smart devices to the cloud.
Gateways serve as a wireless access portal to give IoT devices access to the Internet.
On the surface, it may sound like a simple router, enabling communication between different protocols and devices.
But IoT Gateways are sophisticated technology that does so much more, like edge-computing in particular.
How do IoT Gateways work?
IoT architecture in a nutshell.
An IoT Gateway collects massive data from many connected devices and sensors in any given IoT ecosystem.
The gateway pre-processes the data before passing it along to cloud platforms, where the heavy lifting of transforming data into meaningful intelligence is accomplished.
IoT gateways also receive information from the cloud, sent back to devices to allow autonomous management of devices in the field.
When you consider that one tiny sensor can generate tens of thousands of data points per second, you can see why pre-processing at the edge might be a good idea!
By pre-processing data – aggregating, summarising, and synchronising traffic from different devices and communication protocols – the volume of data that needs to be forwarded to the cloud is significantly minimised.
This can have a considerable impact on reducing response times and network transmission costs.
They can also help save power and battery life.
That's right; gateways are lifesavers!
By processing and consolidating data, less is sent to the cloud.
And the less data you send, the less power you use. This is especially beneficial for IoT devices deployed in remote locations or mobile environments without access to power.
Gateways are often deployed where they can be hardwired for power and Ethernet. Some models offer Power over Ethernet (PoE) where power infrastructure isn't available.
Still, do you think IoT gateways and routers are alike?
How are IoT gateways different from routers?
- Unlike routers, IoT gateways can integrate data from devices that communicate with various network protocols, including cellular, Wi-Fi, LoRA, Ethernet, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and more.
- Industrial IoT gateways also offer more industrial interfaces than routers, including RS485, RS232, USB, I2C, SPI, or digital GPIOs for communications between field devices.
- They also offer customisable application firmware when needed to adapt the gateway to the required application.
Physical IoT gateways are designed for challenging industrial environments.
With rugged housing and long-life components, they can endure the most demanding environments, including extremes of temperature, vibration, and humidity.
The art and science of IoT gateway architecture
To really understand how IoT gateways differ from routers, sensors, and devices, it helps to examine the complexities of the IoT gateway architecture:
- Device layer - IoT gateway hardware comprises a microprocessor or controller depending on processing speed and memory required, a connectivity module (cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.), IoT sensors, and circuitry.
- Operating system – The OS is software that runs gateway hardware and other programs on the device. Choice of an OS such as Java, Linux, RTOS, etc., depends on the gateway's application.
- Hardware abstraction – The abstraction layer allows the software to be developed and controlled independently of the hardware. This adds flexibility and agility to application design and makes software updates and evolution easier.
- Sensor and actuator drivers – This layer serves as the interface between the device and sensors and modules. Specific stacks are integrated depending on what the application demands.
- Device management and configuration – IoT gateways need to keep track of all the connected devices and sensors it communicates with. This layer tracks and manages sensors' configurations, settings, properties and connected devices within its ecosystem.
- Security – Security is a crucial consideration in gateway architecture. This layer ensures that gateways have trusted identities, strong encryption, and crypto authentication schemes. It provides a secure boot to protect devices from intrusion and ensure data integrity and confidentiality.
- Firmware Over the Air Updates – Keeping device firmware updated and enabling security patches and fixes to defend against ever-evolving threats is paramount to maintaining device integrity. This layer ensures that Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) updates are managed securely and efficiently to preserve device memory, power, and network bandwidth.
- Communication protocols – IoT gateway protocols are selected according to the amount and frequency of data communicated to the cloud. Gateways need to connect via a cellular module (5G/4G/3G), Ethernet, and/or Wi-Fi, but the underlying communication protocol layer is typically TCP IP protocol.
- Data management – IoT gateways manage data from sensors and connected devices and data coming from the cloud. The data management layer controls streaming, filtering, and data storage, and it provides data traffic control to minimise delays and ensure device fidelity.
- Cloud connectivity manager - This layer is responsible for seamless, secure connectivity with cloud platforms and device and cloud authentication.
- Custom software applications - IoT gateways integrate custom software to manage specific application needs. This layer interacts with all other layers to efficiently, securely, and efficiently manage data needs specific to the IoT application.
- Gateway data transfer – This layer controls the gateway's connection to the Internet using either a 5G/4G/3G/GPRS modem or IoT module, Ethernet, or Wi-Fi. It also analyses and determines which data needs to be communicated to the cloud and which data should be cached for processing offline to save processing power and data plan fees.
Are IoT gateways secure?
Every internet-connected sensor or device is vulnerable to being hacked, and security should always be your first design consideration.
Since gateways sit between connected devices and the cloud, they actually reduce the number of total internet connections, reducing the overall risk of hacking.
However, it also makes gateways a prime target for hackers and the first line of defence.
Strong gateway cybersecurity is critical to IoT ecosystem trust.
IoT gateways need trusted digital identities injected during device manufacturing, plus strong PKI-based authentication and encryption technology to protect the entire data-to-cloud journey.
To remain secure, they also need a secure remote software update platform to manage the lifecycle of device firmware and security.
Thales IoT Gateways are the only industrial IoT gateways to safeguard the complete data-to-cloud journey for the device's lifetime.
Our gateways are backed by Thales's digital security expertise gained from delivering more than three billion secure devices every year.
Every Thales Gateway is protected with a zero-touch, four-part IoT Suite offer that ensures devices remain protected and data remain secure on the journey to remote platforms.
When should I use an IoT gateway versus an IoT module?
Ok, so your innovative concept is on the drawing table.
Now it's time to bring it to market.
It's natural to design your own proprietary solution to suit the application's specific needs and build your brand.
Custom-built and bespoke IoT solutions are a great way to go for large-scale IoT deployments connecting tens of thousands of devices where economies of scale make it the most cost-effective option.
However, when you factor in design, prototyping, pre-production, approvals, certifications, and production, it can take 18 months to two years to bring a custom solution from concept to deployment.
That might be long enough to let the competition catch up!
IoT Gateways offer another possibility.
For small to mid-sized IoT applications, IoT gateways can be a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to the DIY approach.
Thales offers a range of reliable and straightforward plug-and-play Thales IoT Gateways that greatly simplify the design and development process.
They come pre-certified, which eliminates the lengthy and costly testing and approval process, and they connect to a wide variety of industrial applications straight out of the box.
They also can be customised at an application software level allowing for easy and fast application development.
They offer much of a custom module solution flexibility without the long development timelines.
For smaller-scale applications, a partially pre-designed and pre-certified endpoint solution can result in significant savings in terms of costs and time.
Thales IoT Gateways come in three categories to meet a wide variety of application needs:
Cinterion Smart Gateways provide embedded intelligence. They are programmable and can run a full application independently. Data of interest is derived from prime industrial interfaces such as RS232, RS485, USB, or Ethernet. Alternatively, Analogue, SPI, I2C, and GPIO can be used to connect to peripheral components via a side expansion slot.
Cinterion Efficient Gateways are designed to be controlled from an external device and are not run totally independently. AT commands are used to control Efficient Gateways via the primary comms interface via RS232 or USB.
The Cinterion Device Gateway is designed to provide a transparent connection from USB to cellular. After some initial configuration, the Device Gateway gives the host equipment convenient and straightforward access to the Internet via 4G connectivity.
We are approaching a point where the barriers to entry in the IoT market are diminishing, allowing companies to optimise their business with innovative IoT solutions. Critical to this acceleration is leveraging out-of-the-box solutions to help accelerate solutions design and development.
Thales IoT Gateways offer a simple solution for connecting small- to mid-sized solutions, accelerating prototype to production timelines, or adding or retrofitting IoT connectivity to otherwise isolated enterprise assets.