#1 - What Radio Technology to choose
Hopefully, breaking it down into these four categories will help.
- The first group is the High-Speed Cellular offerings, including 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- 5G, which offers almost real-time latency levels. The downside for these faster networks is the same downside of buying a car with a big engine; you will pay more. It is going to use more gas or, in the case of the Gateway, more power. These devices are 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 Digital Signage applications. CAT-M is the most recently launched one, currently being deployed in most North America and many other world regions. It is ideal for applications that need a reliable connection but isn't all about speed. Finally, NB-IoT (or NB1) will be the optimal choice for the extremely cost-conscious customer. However, networks won't be ready for a bit.
- Wide Area Non-Cellular is a category that is relatively new but has become popular for specific 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 do 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 transmitted back to a central server using the built-in cellular connection
Finally, many manufacturers offer products with various connection options, meaning that you can often use the same product/software and change the connectivity option as needed. More about that in the section on Local Connectivity coming up shortly.
#2 - Operating Temperature
Today's electronics are more capable than ever before when it comes to dealing with different temperatures. However, when your business relies on a product to work, you want to make sure that you are using a designed product to handle your work environment's rigors.
- Consumer-grade devices are meant for "carpeted environments." They are more prone to overheating on a hot summer day. Even though they may work at more extreme temperatures, they are prone to failure if exposed to different temperatures. 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 maximum deployments flexibility.
- Finally, you have devices that deal with the most challenging 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 are seen in places like New Orleans, extreme cold in Northern Canada. They function well in deployments that have unheard-of vibration levels, such as on a dump truck. They are built to last, wherever you put them.
#3 - Ports and Local connectivity
Out of the box, once set up, your Gateway will look after establishing the connection to the network and maintain it continuously. 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 monitor some simple variables via an Input port. The Gateway does all the work. In most cases, however, you will connect your chosen device to the Gateway. That can be via a variety of wired and wireless methods.
Here are the four common ones:
- We all know the fun of using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in our personal lives. Most of us use Bluetooth technology to link together headphones and speakers to our various tablets and phones. Most households use Wi-Fi, but they are also used heavily in the world of gateways. They allow communication between devices and the Gateway, such as in the case of an EMS attendant who can now 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 standard 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 a USB. Like Serial, it is not as popular as it may have been for IoT devices, namely, the emergence of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth's increased speed. However, like Serial, many devices 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.
#4 - How are you Powering the Gateway / Router
One often overlooked decision about a gateway is how you are going to power it. Here are three main types:
- 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.
- DC power requires the product to be a bit more flexible. Many DC sources have more fluctuation in their offerings, so most gateways 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 to 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 AC and DC power choice, and more and more are offering PoE as an option.
#5 - Selecting a Mobile Carrier
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, carrier choice 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, switching carriers has become much easier. If your deployment is always going to be in the same country, you don't have to factor in this into your decision.
However, suppose your application may need to cross over into different parts of the world. In that case, you need to factor in that other parts of the world use different frequency ranges. To help, many gateways can work in multiple areas, but you will want to verify this before you purchase.
#6 - Input/output Ports
Without a doubt, one of the most under-utilized portions of a gateway is the Input and Output ports. They can be used to gather many key pieces of information, but few know much about them. Inputs are used to take in either an on/off the signal or reading of key items. Examples may include how many times a door has opened, the level of grain in a storage container or how many marathon runners have gone past a 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 door, such as a door at a secure remote location.
There are two different forms of Inputs and Outputs, Digital and Analog.
- Digital inputs have only two states; they are on or off, like a light switch. In the case of a marathon, an input can be received from a motion sensor. This laser beam is broken by the runner or when they step on a 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 create a state change on the device, like opening a gate at a parking lot.
- Analog inputs. They work on various ranges, as opposed to on-off status. So, they can 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 different input results or to send the Output request. The most recent gateways batch has become incredibly smart, allowing for both onboard programming and extensive computing power to write scripts and coding. This enables the Gateway to execute "if-then that" commands, record essential information, and replace many expensive computing devices.
In this fast-paced world of business that we are in, things can change quickly. Devices in a static deployment situation are now 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. Most reliable enterprise-grade gateways can work in either environment, although some designed to use in fixed environments may not have all the features you need in a Mobile gateway.
To recap, this is a decision that you will want to make and take your time to do so. If you have any doubt about 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 AC, which most can power the device.
#8- Device Management
IT departments are in kind of a dilemma when it comes to IoT gateways. Along with the business teams, they love the flexibility it gives them, and most appreciate the reliability and security level 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 control phones and laptops, and now this? Luckily, today's gateways offer some incredible tools to manage things like firmware levels, settings, and security levels.
The fundamental way that most devices do this is what is referred to as one-to-one management. An administrator can remotely connect to a device and make all 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 many things going for it. You can make changes to all devices at once, such as changing 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 immediately. The downside is that it usually is not free. Still, when you factor in the costs of managing many 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. 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. Many companies are offering one-to-many management tools that can be purchased and deployed internally.
#9 - Network Redundancy / Dual SIM
Most of the time, a landline connection is providing connectivity. If it is not available, the implantation of a router detects this and switches over to the backup (or wireless) connection. When it detects that the mainline 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, even if the connection is cut. It is increasingly done on the cellular Gateway, which has the built-in ability to handle the switching between the two. 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. It is from a different provider and one that uses an additional network infrastructure from the primary connection.
Many gateways can accommodate this by implementing Dual-SIM technology. The Gateway can use the SIMs to provide a failover method. In some cases, it can use both SIMs simultaneously and load-balance to maximize data throughput.
#10 - Bridge Gateway / Router Mode
In most cases, you are provided with an Internet gateway by your landline provider. These Gateways often have built-in routing and Wi-Fi capability, so you do not need to purchase your Wi-Fi router. If this is how you deploy it, the Internet Gateway is working in Router mode. It is the one that is slicing and dicing your connection to provide connectivity to many devices.
However, many people choose to deploy their router instead of using the one from the provider.
Bridge mode is when the Gateway from the provider passes the IP address to the router that you bought, and the router handles everything.
In many locations, there is no router on-site. Hence, organizations use the routing ability inside of the cellular Gateway to do this. At more significant 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.
Novotech is a great place to start your IoT journey. We have great material on our web page, offer industry-leading service and expertise and have a local presence through our vast reseller network.