IoT Gateways

After discussing the “thing” part of IoT in Devices – the “Thing” in IoT let’s take a look at overall IoT system design.

IoT Gateways connect IoT Devices to IoT back-end systems. Gateways connect to devices using interfaces like Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, 6LoWPAN, RS-485 and CANbus. Gateways connect to back-end systems through the Internet, commonly using Ethernet, WiFi, or cellular connections. Gateways perform multiple tasks, including concatenation of multiple devices, protocol conversion, device management, and security. Gateways may also perform application processing.

Since IoT Gateways are connected directly to IoT Devices they have to be co-located with the Devices. This means that gateways are deployed in hostile environments. They are accessed through network interfaces connecting both to local devices and to the Internet. People have physical access to the gateways. Users need access to the gateway to perform a variety of functions such as device discovery and registration. These users may be inexperienced, malicious, or both.

Gateways will often need to function which disconnected from the Internet. Such disconnected operation may be deliberate – a low power sensor may only connect to the network once a day, and spend the rest of the time in a low power sleep state. A system on a moving vehicle such as a truck, train, or ship may have critical communications through an expensive, low bandwidth cellular link, and then intermittently connect to a high bandwidth link such as WiFi. This might occur when a truck pulls into a warehouse or service station, when a ship docks, or when a train enters a station. These systems would be designed for disconnected operation. Another case might be a hospital, which needs to continue operations, perhaps in a degraded mode, in events where network connectivity, power, and other resources fail. It is clearly unacceptable for a hospital to shut down if it loses connection to the cloud!

These situations mean that a complete software stack needs to be installed on the gateway, with all of the management, update, and access challenges that this presents.

While gateways will most commonly be structured as application specific appliances there are many ways to use gateways.

About Russell Doty

A technology strategist and product manager at Red Hat, working on the next generation of open source systems.
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