By: Larry Bellehumeur  |  March 5th, 2019

We get a lot of questions at Novotech on what to think about when buying and IoT Gateway (a.k.a. cellular modem, cellular router). So, I thought I would break it all down in an informative webinar.

Here is a link to the webinar.

And, if you’d like to  skip ahead to the parts relevant to your business, click on the sections below.

  1. Introduction (00:10)
  2. List of things to consider (01:31)
  3. What Radio Technology to choose (04:48)
  4. Operating Temperature (07:51)
  5. Ports and Local connectivity (09:23)
  6. How are you Powering the Gateway / Router (12:41)
  7. Selecting a Mobile Carrier (14:07)
  8. Input/output Ports (14:53)
  9. Fixed or Mobile Device Applications (17:01)
  10. Device Management (19:37)
  11. Network Redundancy / Dual SIM (21:50)
  12. Bridge Gateway / Router Mode (24:21)

The Full Script

List of things to consider (01:31)

  • First thing to know is that there is no particular order or level of importance for each of these factors in your choice.Each may be a deciding factor in your purchase
  • Next, some of these things may be features that you may not need to start but find out that you will need them in the future.One way to solve this is to buy “more gateway” than you need ... one example is the temperature specification. You may believe that your solution will always be deployed indoors in a controlled location, only to find out that you need to be able to deploy them in a tougher environment, one that is exposed to low and high temperatures.Buying a gateway that has a wider temperature specification will not add much to your cost upfront but may save you a lot down the road.
  • We will cover each of these 10 factors or features individually, but here is a quick recap:
  1. There are more choices in terms of networks than ever before, which is great for allowing you to deploy on a network that meets your speed, cost and power consumption needs than ever before.
  2. Think of most computing equipment ... it is usually designed to work in relatively controlled conditions.However, gateways have to work in many tough locations, so there is a variety of products to meet the temperature specifications that your solution demands.
  3. The power of a gateway is to provide connectivity for one or more devices.Each year, the array of ways that you can connect devices to a gateway grows larger, including many wired and wireless options.
  4. Most people only think power comes from a wall outlet, and they are just used to powering devices that way.However, in the world of IoT, there is DC power and Power over Ethernet to keep things running.We will cover when both are ideal choices and when they are not.
  5. While most gateways can work easily on many cellular carriers simply by changing the SIM card information, this may be a factor that you want to consider at the time of purchase, especially on global deployments.
  6. Most people are not familiar with Input/Outputs, making them one of the most underused things on most gateways.This is a shame, as they can provide some great information very easily and we will tell you how.
  7. While some gateways are equally capable of working in a fixed or a mobile environment, many are optimized for one or the other.It is a factor that you may want to decide before you make your purchase.
  8. Depending on how many devices you have, and equally important, how far they may be away from you, managing them can be almost a full-time job.There are one to one and one to many options to help you keep on top of this.
  9. Many deployments are important and need to have more than one connection to prevent downtime caused by network outages.It can be done in two ways, either through using a network redundancy solution with a router or by using more than one cellular connection, which we will cover in more detail later.
  10. Finally, depending on how you have your remote site set up, you may need a Gateway that can work in Bridge or Router mode.We use an easy to understand example, your home network to explain the difference.


What Radio Technology to choose (04:48)

  • The breadth of network offerings, in terms of offering different price points, data throughout speeds and power consumption levels, has been growing a lot in the past few years and this has made the choice more confusing.Hopefully, breaking it down into these 4 categories will help.
  • The first group is the High-Speed Cellular offerings, which would include 3G, 4G and soon, 5G.For those who are all about speed, this is the only group to consider.It provides speeds that rival what is available in many homes and businesses, and enough speed to allow for real-time solutions.This is especially true for 5G, which offers almost real-time levels of latency.The downside for these faster networks is the same downside of buying a car with a big engine ... you are going to pay more, and it is going to use more gas or in the case of the gateway, more power.This makes these devices not ideal for deployments that are powered by batteries or are power conscious.
  • Low Speed Cellular options are starting to emerge and will power the expected explosive growth of IoT more than any other group.CAT-1 offers the most speed of this group, allowing for enough bandwidth to download data quickly in applications like Digital Signage.CAT-M is the most recently launched one, currently being deployed in most areas of North America and many other areas of the world.It is ideal for applications that need a reliable connection but aren’t all about speed.Finally, NB-IoT (or NB1) will be the optimal choice for the extremely cost-conscious customer, although networks won’t be ready for a bit.
  • Wide Area Non-Cellular is a category that is relatively new but has become popular for certain segments.Low power networks like SigFox may prove popular in tracking and monitoring low cost assets better than many existing technologies.As well, many municipalities and regions are using LoRa equipment to provide a reliable method of talking to remote assets that does not use the Internet.The biggest concern for these networks now is lack of coverage, so time will tell how popular they become.
  • Local Area Non-Cellular includes popular choices like BlueTooth and Wi-Fi.These are ideal for many consumer and business applications where the customer is expected to use another source, such as their home or business connection, to gain access to the Internet.Another area is more industrial focused technologies like ZigBee, which can be ideal for communicating with remote equipment on a site.These technologies can be used as a standalone, but are also commonly found on many gateways, allowing you to communicate locally using them and then transmitting back to a main server using the built-in cellular connection
  • Finally, many manufacturers offer products with a variety of connection options, meaning that you can often use the same product/software and just change the connectivity option as needed.More about that in the section on Local Connectivity coming up shortly.


Operating Temperature (07:51)

  • Today's electronics are more capable than ever before when it comes to dealing with different temperatures.I take my iPhone out on runs on cold Calgary winter days and it seems to do fine.However, when your business relies on a product to work, you want to make sure that you are using a product that was designed to handle the rigours of your work environment.
  • Consumer grade devices are meant to be used in what is referred to as carpeted environments.They are more prone to overheating on a hot summer day and even though they may work at more extreme temperatures, they are definitely prone to failure.If your application has zero chance of exposure to extreme temps, these devices may be all you need.
  • Commercial grade devices offer a bit more protection.They may not fare well outside in the coldest day in a Minnesota winter, but they are sufficient for most areas.Many mid and higher tier gateways use this level as their entry point, allowing for the maximum amount of flexibility in deployments.
  • Finally, you have the ones that are meant to deal with the toughest conditions on the planet, the Industrial grade devices.They work in the areas that most don't want to ... extreme heat in deserts, high humidity levels seen in places like New Orleans, extreme cold in Northern Canada ... and they function well in deployments that have unheard of levels of vibration, such as on a dump truck.They are built to last, wherever you put them.


Ports and Local connectivity (09:23)

  • Out of the box, once set up, your gateway will look after establishing the connection to the network and it will maintain it at all times.But that is only half of the work, as you still need to connect your device to the gateway.In some cases, you may just be monitoring some simple variables via an Input port, which we will cover in a few slides and the gateway does all of the work.In most cases, however, you are going to connect your chosen device to the gateway and that can be via a variety of wired and wireless methods.Here are the 4 common ones ...
  • We all know the fun of using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in our person lives.Most of us use Bluetooth technology to link together headphones and speakers to our various tablets and phones and the majority of households use Wi-Fi to enable their kids to play Fortnite and watch YouTube videos for hours at a time.They are also used heavily in the world of gateways, as they enable communication between devices and the gateway, such as in the case of an EMS attendant who is now able to move away from the vehicle and record information on a tablet that transmits using Wi-Fi.
  • In some cases, the distance between the devices and the gateway can be too long, or there is too much in-between (such as walls) to allow Wi-Fi to work.In those, and other Industrial cases, radio technology is used to communicate between the gateway and devices.One of the more popular ones is ZigBee, which is a common Industrial tool.
  • Ethernet is the old stand-by, the old reliable, whatever you wish to call it.There is something that gives people a sense of security and reliability when there is a physical cable connecting things.It still works well for many applications, but it is not without its issues.Running cables can be expensive and they are prone to damage.As well, it can reduce the amount of flexibility in deployments.Still, it is heavily used in many industrial and in-vehicle communications and has a long life ahead of it.
  • Serial ports, on the other hand, are starting to disappear.However, many applications, especially in the Industrial world, still heavily rely on ports such as RS-232 and RS-485 to communicate.The serial port may be going away, but it is not dead yet.
  • Finally, we have USB.Like Serial, it is not as popular as it may have been for IoT devices, namely due to the emergence of Wi-Fi and the increased speed offered by Bluetooth.However, also like Serial, there are a lot of devices that use USB, including gateways connecting to routers as a backup, something we will cover in a bit.One issue with USB has always been the lack of a locking mechanism, so it never did find its way into many rugged applications where vibration may be an issue.
  • One thing to remember is that you may not know what port offerings you need for the next 3, 5 or 10 years for your devices.To help, most gateways offer more than one of these offerings on a single device and some even offer the ability to expand at a future date, if your needs were to change.


How are you Powering the Gateway / Router (12:41)

  • One often overlooked decision about a gateway is how you are going to power it.The good thing is that virtually every gateway offers the ability to be powered by the first two options and more are adding the ability to be powered by the third ... here is a quick overview.
  • AC power is the most common power source we have in our lives.Depending on where you live, there may be a different number of prongs on the plug, but most people understand how it works.You just plug it into the wall …
  • DC power requires the product to be a bit more flexible.Many DC sources have more fluctuation in their offerings, so most gateways that can be powered by DC are designed to deal with this.This is the method of choice for in-vehicle installs and most industrial applications.
  • PoE, or Power over Ethernet, was once the domain of the IT world.By sending both power and data across the same cable, installers are given more flexibility as where to place devices.In the world of IoT, this means that you can potentially move the gateway closer to the outside, allowing for a shorter antenna cable, which maximizes coverage.
  • As mentioned, most gateways offer the choice of AC and DC power and more and more are offering PoE as an option.

Selecting a Mobile Carrier (14:07)

  • A cellular gateway needs to have an active connection from a cellular carrier, otherwise, it is a very nice-looking paperweight in most cases.
  • In the past, the choice of carrier often had to be done at the time of purchase, as devices on some legacy networks were tied into one provider.
  • With the emergence of 4G, the ability to switch carriers has become much easier, so if your deployment is always going to be in the same country, you don't have to factor in this into your decision.
  • However, if your application may need to cross over into different parts of the world, you need to factor in that different parts of the world use different frequency ranges.To help, many gateways are capable of working in multiple areas, but you will want to verify this before you purchase.


Input/output Ports (14:53)

  • Without a doubt, one of the most under-utilized portions of a gateway are the Input and Output ports.They can be used to gather many key pieces of information, but few know much about them.
  • So, what are they?Inputs are used to take in either an on/off signal or a reading of key items.Examples may include how many times a door has opened, what the level of grain is in a storage container or how many marathon runners have gone past a particular distance marker.Outputs are a bit different, as it originates from the gateway and a signal is sent to a device.It may be to open a key door, such as door at a remote secure location.There are two different forms of Inputs and Outputs, Digital and Analog
  • Digital inputs have only two states, they are on or off, similar to a light switch.In the case of a marathon, an input can be received from a motion sensor, a laser beam that is broken by the runner or when they step on a particular mat. That signal is then sent to the gateway, and can be handled in a couple of ways, which we will talk about shortly.
  • Digital outputs are similar, in that they only have two states.However, the difference is that the gateway (on behalf of the user) is initiating the interaction.It will send a pulse to initiate a change in state on the device ... like opening a gate at a parking lot.
  • Finally, you have Analog inputs.They work on various ranges, as opposed to on-off status.So, they are able to work with sensors to determine the level of key things, such as the amount of grain inside one of these silos.
  • In the past, the Gateway acted only as a conduit or a transport method to bring back the various input results or to send the Output request.The most recent batch of gateways have become incredible smart, allowing for both on-board programming and extensive computing power to write scripts and coding.This allows the Gateway to execute "if then that" commands, to record key information and to replace many expensive computing devices.


Fixed or Mobile Device Applications (17:01)

  • In this fast-paced world of business that we are in, things can change quickly.One example is how devices that were once deployed in a fixed deployment are now being expected to work in a mobile environment.One example is in the food industry ... people are ditching the old brick and mortar restaurants and moving towards pop-up restaurants and food trucks at an incredible rate.Many are hoping to use as much of their current equipment as possible in these new ventures.
  • There is some hope here, however.Most reliable enterprise grade gateways are up to the task of working in either environment, although some designed to be used in fixed environments may not have all of the features that you would want in a Mobile gateway, and we will cover that in a second.
  • Fixed gateways are generally meant to be used for applications like remote monitoring, replacing an existing landline or backing up a main connection (which we will talk about in a couple of slides), such as in the case of a retail store.They are generally powered by AC power and may or may not have the ruggedness to handle rough conditions.Depending on the nature of their expected deployments, some fixed gateways are built tougher, such as those used for Oil and Gas and Utilities.Finally, more of them are equipping themselves with enterprise grade security so that they can be used as a standalone, without the need for an expensive router.
  • Mobile Gateways work on the same idea but offer some advantages that make them ideal for a life on the road.First, they are powered by DC, which is ideal for most vehicles.As you may remember, most Gateways can work on AC or DC, so this is not much of a difference.The main differences are GPS and ruggedness.Life in a vehicle is tough ... hot summer days, cold winter nights, potholes and more.Gateways designed for this life tend to be more rugged.The bigger difference, however, is GPS, or the ability to report accurate positioning of the device.This allows for an increased level of safety and productivity for an organization.Finally, some of the more advanced mobile gateways offer things like Dead Reckoning, which allows for an accurate location even when GPS may not be available, such as in the case of an underground tunnel or a parking garage.
  • To recap, this is a decision that you will want to make and take your time in doing so.If you have any doubt as to which type you may need, you may wish to opt for a mobile gateway, as you will have an increased level of flexibility.Just make sure that the device can be powered by AC, which most can.

Device Management (19:37)

  • IT departments are in kind of a dilemma when it comes to IoT gateways.They, along with the business teams, love the flexibility it gives them and most appreciate the level of reliability and security that today's gateways offer.However, it brings up something they hate ... more work.How do you manage devices that never come back to the office?It is hard enough to manage phones and laptops, and now this?Luckily, today's gateways offer some incredible tools to manage things like firmware levels, settings and the level of security.
  • The basic way that most devices do this is what is referred to as one-to-one management.In this case, an administrator can remotely connect to a device and make all of the required changes.This works great if you have one, two or a few devices ... not so great if you have hundreds or thousands.You can use a script to streamline this, but it is still cumbersome.This is the default offering, usually free, for most Gateways.
  • One-to-many is the other method, and this has a lot of things going for it.You can make changes to all devices at once, such as the changing of a setting or upgrading firmware.As well, these offerings usually allow for an easier way of gathering data, such as uptime and location, from your devices at a glance.The downside is that it usually is not free, but when you factor in the costs of managing a lot of devices on a one to one basis, it is not a hard cost to justify for most IT teams.
  • A couple of other factors in your decision ... how often do you need to make changes?The more often you do, the more that a one-to-many solution will make sense.The other is your security level and more specifically, do you have any issues using cloud-based software offerings to manage your devices?Most organizations have everything else in the cloud, so there is no issue, but some (especially government agencies like police forces) may have policies against doing this.To help, many companies are offering one-to-many management tools that can be purchased and deployed internally.

Network Redundancy / Dual SIM (21:50)

  • For the purposes of time, I put these two together on the same slide, as well as the fact that they are related.However, both have an incredible level of importance in their own right.
  • Network redundancy is when you have two different and unrelated technologies that work together to provide your deployment with a reliable and secure Internet access.It may be a landline/wireless combo, two separate wireless networks or wireless/satellite for remote deployments.
  • In any case, a network is chosen as its primary and the other is deemed to be secondary, usually the one with the lowest cost and/or greatest speed is the primary.The most common pair is landline (like DSL, cable or Fibre)/wireless, so we will walk through this example.
  • Most of the time, the wireline connection is the one providing connectivity.In the event that it is not available, a router detects this and switches over to the backup (or wireless) connection.When it detects that the main line is back up, it switches back just as seamlessly.This will allow you to continue taking Point of Sale Transactions at a busy retail store, as an example. This backup can be done on a dedicated router, or increasingly, it is being done on the cellular gateway, which has the built-in ability to handle the switching between the two.
  • In some cases, a cellular-based connection is used as both the primary and as the secondary communication method.This may be because of availability (maybe the deployment moves or is too far to run a landline to) or increasingly, cellular is offering better performance than landline.This is especially the case with the upcoming launch of 5G where many companies will cut the wire, even when a landline is readily available.
  • For many deployments, a single cellular connection is more than enough.However, in the case of deployments that require a maximum amount of reliability, such as at a railroad switching location, a 2nd cellular network is often used.In most cases, it is from a different provider and one that uses a different network infrastructure from the primary connection.
  • Many gateways are able to accommodate this by implementing Dual-SIM technology.The gateway can use the SIMs to provide a failover method, or in some cases, it can use both SIMs at the same time and load-balance to maximize data throughput.


Bridge Gateway / Router Mode (24:21)

  • The final thing ... yes, you are almost done listening to me, is how you are going to use your gateway in terms of its routing capability.To best describe this, I will use the example of your home router and network.
  • In most cases, you are provided an Internet gateway by your landline provider.Often, these Gateways have built-in routing and Wi-Fi capability, so you do not need to purchase your own Wi-Fi router.If this is how you deploy it, the Internet Gateway is working in Router mode, as it is the one that is slicing and dicing your connection to provide connectivity to many devices.
  • I want to avoid too much nerdiness, but this is important to know ... what it is doing is taking the single IP address that comes to your device and allowing all of the devices on your network to share one single access point to the Internet.The other thing that it does is to direct (or route) local traffic, so if you are trying to send information from one computer to another in your home, it knows to keep that traffic local and not go out to the Internet.
  • However, many people choose to deploy their own router instead of using the one from the provider.This is especially true for gamers and those who may have coverage issues in their home.In this case, you do not want the gateway from your provider to do the routing, you just want to enable connectivity to your home.So, it goes into what is often called “bridge mode.”
  • Bridge mode is when the gateway from the provider passes the IP address to the router that you bought, and the router handles everything.Hope that makes sense ...
  • The same holds true for gateways.In many locations, there is no router on-site, so organizations use the routing ability inside of the cellular gateway to do this.However, at bigger sites, such as at a retail store, the IT team may want to use specialized routers to handle traffic, so the cellular gateway is just used to provide connectivity, or a "bridge" to the Internet.It is also common when working with Industrial equipment at remote sites.
  • One important thing to note here is that cellular gateways have seen such huge advancements in their routing capability that many are now competitors to most traditional routers and are replacing them at a staggering rate.
  • Finally, there are scenarios where you don't have an existing router on site and still need to use the cellular gateway in bridge mode, but those are becoming less common all of the time.



Slide 15 - Closing (26:46)

  • Yes, you are finally done. Many thanks for taking time out of your busy day to learn more about IoT gateways.
  • Novotech is a great place to start your IoT journey. We have a lot of great material on our web page, offer industry leading service and expertise and have local presence through our vast reseller network.
  • I also ask that you follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube ... Thanks again and take care.