10 things you need to know before buying an IoT gateway

What is an IoT Gateway

A IoT Gateway (sometimes called a cellular gateway or cellular router) is a device used to provide a reliable and flexible Internet access to one or many devices. Gateways can act as primary or a backup connection for a vital landline connection. The most common applications of gateways include fixed or stationary and mobile and mounted on vehicles. 

There are the 10 things you need to know before buying an IoT Gateway in 2019.

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Top 10 things you need to know before buying an IoT gateway

 

Which Radio Technology to use

There are more choices than ever before, giving you both more options and making things more complicated.  There are ones that offer higher speeds (3G, 4G, and soon, 5G), ones that are optimized for secure lower bandwidth applications (like CAT-1, CAT-M and soon, NB-1) and there is even lower speed dedicated non-cellular options (like SigFox and LoRa).  Each may be a good fit, depending on things like how much bandwidth you need, how much of a consideration power usage is and where you are deploying it.

 

Temperature specification

Most electronic equipment is designed to “Consumer” standards, meaning that is designed to work in controlled environments.  If your IoT deployment has little or no chance of working outside of an environment like this, Consumer-grade may be good enough.  Many need more durability, and the next option is “Commercial” grade, which can handle tougher weather and some bumps here and there.  When you have to work in the most extreme environments, this calls for “Industrial” grade, which is designed to work in the toughest conditions on the planet.

 

Ports and Local connectivity

Unless you are using the built-in Input/Outputs on the device (see below), you are likely connecting a device to your gateway to enable it to connect to the Internet.  This can be done using a variety of wired connections (like Ethernet, Serial and USB ports) or using different wireless options (like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or Zigbee).  Most devices offer more than one option and many offer expansion capabilities to add more ports as needed.

 

How to supply power to the gateway/router.

The vast majority of devices use AC power, or better known as “plugging it in the wall.”  If you are using the device in an office or at home, this is likely the ideal choice.  If your deployment takes you to an Industrial location (or inside of a vehicle), you likely want to move to DC power, which is optimized to handle those conditions.  If getting power to your device may be an issue, many will look for gateways using PoE, or Power over Ethernet.  This maximizes your flexibility and may be ideal for lower coverage areas.

 

Choice of Cellular Carrier

In the past, there was often cellular gateways that would only work on one chosen carrier, so you had to decide at the time of purchase.  With the introduction of 4G, this has largely been eliminated, but you may want to still verify before you buy.  This is especially true if your deployment takes you to different parts of the world, which often use different frequency ranges.

 

Input / Outputs

The most under utilized part of a gateway, these are ideal for gathering information from sensors and devices.  Inputs take in information, either using Digital (on/off status, like a light switch) or Analog (reading ranges, such as level of a tank).  Outputs are used to initiate an action on a device through the Gateway, such as enabling you to remotely lift a parking gate.

 

Fixed or Mobile Environment

While many gateways are designed to be able to handle either scenario, there are some features on Mobile Gateways that make them unique.  They tend to be a little more rugged (although, there are some rugged Fixed gateways), be powered by DC power and have on-board GPS to locate key assets.  If you are in doubt, you may wish to opt for a Mobile gateway.

 

Managing your devices

There are two options ... one-to-one management and one-to-many management.  One-to-one management involves making changes to each gateway separately, which is fine for a few devices.  One-to-many allows you to make changes to all of your devices easily, such as updating firmware and key settings.  Although one-to-many management tools are generally not free, their cost is easy to justify when you have a number of devices.

 

Network Redundancy / Dual SIM deployments

These two things are different but have a common goal ... to make your deployments more reliable.  Network redundancy is when you have two separate networks (usually not using the same infrastructure) that work in a Primary/Secondary model to allow you to maintain a high level of network availability.  A common setup is using a landline connection (like DSL/Cable) as the primary and a cellular gateway as the secondary.  A router (either a standalone one or using capability inside of the cellular gateway itself) handle all of the switching back and forth.  Dual SIM is similar, except that it uses two cellular connections in the same gateway.  This is commonly used at vital sites like railroad crossings.

 

Bridge or Router Mode

Think of your home network for a second ... do you use the gateway that your landline provider gave you as both a way to get to the Internet AND to provide Wi-Fi for your home, or do you have your own router?  If you use the one provided by the landline provider for both, you are using it in “Router” mode, as it divides up your connection for all of your device to share.  If you are using a 2nd router, you are putting your landline gateway into “Bridge” mode, where it just provides connectivity.  Cellular gateways do the exact same thing as your landline router, except they use the cellular network.  Most gateways easily work in either mode.

 

CAT-M: Tracking the previously “untrackable” ​

Now, I wanted to clear something up before I get started.  When I say that CAT-M is tracking the previously “untrackable”, I don’t want to imply that you could not have tracked many of the items with previous or current cellular technology ... you most certainly could have.  It is just that the cost and form factors of devices would have made it unfeasible.

 

CAT-M, and eventually NB-IoT, bring a few new things to the world of IoT, namely through the process of removal.  Huh? 

What I mean is that by removing things that are not needed for many basic IoT applications, they are able to simplify products to the point that their cost, battery usage and form factor (assuming the manufacturer decides to make it smaller) make it more feasible financially to track more things than ever before.

To recap, CAT-M offers:

  • Lower speeds that simplify the design of the chipset, resulting in less components needed
  • Lowers the power consumption, allowing for either a smaller battery to be used or longer battery life from existing batteries
  • Potentially smaller form factors for the chipset, allowing the board to fit into smaller areas than ever before.

 

What are some of the things that may be tracked for the first time using cellular networks?

  1. Lower-cost Industrial Equipment (pumps, valves, rental equipment and more)
  2. Consumer Medical equipment (like blood pressure machines, EKG machines and CPAPs)
  3. Non-powered equipment (like Porta-potties, industrial fencing and warehouse skids)
  4. Package/shipment tracking on lower value items
  5. In-home machinery/appliances (like fridge, stove and HVAC units)

 

Why not just use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for most of these things?

This is a valid question, as many of these things are often used in close vicinity to where you may expect to have an available connection (either through your phone or a Wi-Fi network).  However, there are two issues to consider here.  First, consumers only feel the need to attach/maintain connectivity for a device when they see the value in gathering information from it, such as in the case of a wearable reporting your steps.  It is unlikely that many will see value in connecting their fridge.  This means that the manufacturer cannot rely on consistent usage data to be returned to them, eliminating one of the main benefits for IoT.

The second issue is that many devices, especially in the world of medicine, are used by people who may not be that technically-savvy, meaning that they may not have a smartphone and/or available Wi-Fi connection.   This is often the case for many seniors.  As well, many homes have spotty Wi-Fi coverage, so adding a cellular-based connection eliminates that issue.

As the cost of Cellular IoT hardware continues to fall with each generation of product, expect this trend to only accelerate as time goes on.

Drones: The end of the guard dog?

\n\tAs someone who runs through the neighbourhood on occasions, I get to hear a lot of dogs barking inside of the home.  Despite the fact that I am at least 50 feet from their home and going in a different direction, the dog feels the need to alert the owner of my presence.  After a while, I am sure that the owner tends to ignore their barking.
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\nThe same mentality happens on many current motion-based alarm systems.  After jumping up in the middle of the night a few times, only to find out that it was a possum or a deer, many homeowners either turn off motion sensing or ignore it altogether.  It seems that Sunflower Labs, a startup out of the Bay area, is trying to give you the security you need without the hassle of false alarms ... and they are doing this using freaking cool IoT-based technology!
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\nExpected to go on sale in the next year, the system uses a combination of “sunflowers”, sensors that look like this (photo is courtesy of Stephen Shankland from CNET): 
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When a “sunflower” detects motion, it dispatches a drone from its “hive” base station like this (again, photo is courtesy of Stephen Shankland from CNET) to go check it out.  Using a sophisticated level of AI technology, the system is able to distinguish between things like a deer and a human.  If it finds something, the drone will hover over it and let you view feed on your smartphone app .... really, really cool.

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The expected price point is not cheap ... it will be a monthly service that will start at a few hundred dollars per month, so it may not have the widest appeal to start.  However, expect the price to come down as the technology matures, and it may be the price to pay for peace of mind ...

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Self-powered sensors: A game changer for IoT?

 

Traveling is so much more complicated than it used to be.  You might say, “yeah, the extra security lines and the size of airports are making it harder.”  No, I am actually referring to the number of chargers that I need to bring … phones, watches, headphones and more are filling up my carry-on bag like never before.  And, it may only get worse. 

 

Enter in Matrix Industries, who is here to help. 

 

Besides having a really cool name, they have some very interesting technology that harnesses thermoelectric energy to power items, including their own smartwatch.  Sure, it doesn’t have the sexiest screen and it is a bit bulky, but the fact that it does not need charging is a very exciting step forward. 

 

From an IoT standpoint, the company is moving towards another exciting venture … a sensor that does not need to be charged.  In its earliest phase, the “PowerStation” uses nothing more than the ambient temperature to generate enough power to keep itself alive.  For now, it is still in a prototype form, but I think it has the chance to change things in IoT forever. 

 

Allows for use of sensors in hard to reach places 

One of the issues now with devices is battery life.  Although technologies like SigFox and CAT-M will offer extremely long battery life for remote devices, the idea of a truly set it and forget it device is even more appealing.  This is especially true in locations where it may not be feasible to charge/replace a battery, such as in a military operation. 

 

Makes for a better option than solar in many cases 

For most applications, solar power can be a good option.  However, it has its limitations, such as certain areas receiving a low level of light during different parts of the year or the device being in a place that it does not have direct access to sunlight (such as indoors or in a container).  This would help to eliminate those issues. 

 

Its use knows no boundaries 

This technology could eventually be used for many consumer and business products, ranging from headphones to hearing aids.  From an IoT standpoint, it could be used in many devices that were previously not tracked, ranging from fencing at construction sites to tracking medicines in third world countries.