What Is An IoT Gateway?

Yonomi - What Is An IoT Gateway?

What Is An IoT Gateway And What Is Its purpose?

The definition of an Internet-of-Things Gateway is a device or software component that bridges communication between sensing, intelligent or controllable things and the cloud-based systems that support them.

While that's all accurate, it doesn't explain why a bridge is necessary. Why would a thing need to talk to the cloud? Can the thing talk directly to the cloud without the gateway? I have a smart thermostat today; why don't I need a gateway for it?

Five Functions Of An IoT Gateway 

IoT gateways serve many functions when communicating with the cloud including:

  1. Security
  2. Edge-computing
  3. Data filtering and aggregation
  4. Protocol translation and message brokering
  5. Device management, firmware updates and longevity

Let's explore a day in the life of a few devices to give further detail around the functions IoT Gateways serve that make them stand apart from the things they support.

The IoT Gateway Is Becoming Smarter

As the range of things that become IoT-enabled grows, we'll experience an increased variance in the purpose and use of Internet-enabling all of those things. This is evident in the application of IoT technology today. Music-streaming smart speakers require voice processing and constant data-input and power connections to serve their purpose, while smart locks support their customer's needs better using a low-power consumption profile and asynchronous but fast, reliable communication and control capacity. Smart thermostats enhance a customer's comfort by collecting and analyzing large amounts of temperature, usage, zone and occupancy data to create dynamic, proactive home climate control profiles. Window security sensors or sound alarms automatically trigger alerts and notifications based on events that occur in other devices - like an outside motion camera sensing human motion - but must only activate when all homeowners are away or asleep.

In each of these scenarios the device type, purpose and behavior drives a different set of processing requirements, but the need to collect, analyze and take action on reliable, secure data inputs to serve their purpose is the same. The IoT Gateway exists to support these requirements so each device can serve its primary purpose - to be the best 'thing' it can be.

From motion sensors and security cameras to thermostats, refrigerators and even office furniture, the list of 'things' that IoT Gateways support is growing by the day. As a bridge between things and external systems and networks, IoT Gateways are uniquely positioned to satisfy several critical functions in IoT architecture. 

1. IoT Gateways and Security 

Securing IoT devices hardly needs justification, but the gateway can play a pivotal role in the security model. Table stakes considerations for security include ensuring data is encrypted both in-transit and at-rest, that only authorized users are able to access or control devices and that the system can’t be compromised by viruses, DOS or other attacks.

The most successful IoT devices will go further and support authorization models for device command and control based on the context of their environment and their users. For example, understanding whether a customer is home or away in case of emergency, (such as a compromised window sensor state), and then automatically responding, could be the difference between safety or danger. Gateways can be used to both monitor the IoT environment and provide environmental context based on sensor data from other devices and/or user inputs, as well as reduce the number of direct points of cloud-based intrusion by attackers.

2. IoT Gateways and Edge-Computing

One of the strongest roles the gateway serves is as the analytics and processing capacity in the field. IoT devices like thermostats both generate and sense large amounts of raw data from their environment, 24 hours of every day. This data needs to be processed to be useful in designing custom, optimized climate programs, but thermostats weren’t designed to store, process and analyze that data. Gateways are the ideal edge-computing platform to share the processing load, support the analysis effort and unburden cloud operational systems from a portion of both processing power and bandwidth. In this way, use of IoT gateways can result in material cost savings over a cloud-centric processing model, whether the gateway is software-based/on-device or external. Indeed, some thermostats maintain the gateway capability right on-board - and therefore function as both thermostat and gateway. For this reason alone, gateways should at least be considered in any IoT strategy.


3. IoT Gateways and Data-Filtering & Aggregation 

Some IoT Devices produce lots of signal data that isn’t meaningful as single data points, but are highly valuable in aggregate. Others may generate lots of non-meaningful data to develop a baseline for identifying valuable change trends or deltas. Devices frequently need to work together with others in an environment to serve their purpose or the needs of consumers. Security cameras and door/window sensors need to constantly monitor their environment to sense changes that represent deltas that are deserving of an actionable event, but must sift through lots of non-meaningful data to do that. Gateways can help capture the data from several camera devices and sift it to find meaning, triggering actions based on important events like sounding an alarm when a human motion anomaly is identified.

4. Protocol Translation & Message Brokering

A home may include IoT devices that rely on any of a number of relevant - and market-competing - transmission protocols available today. Battery-powered door locks and window sensors rely on standards like ZigBee, Z-Wave or Bluetooth LE for their low power consumption profile, while smart plug outlets, light bulbs and other devices constantly connected to power can use higher bandwidth protocols like Wi-Fi for communication - throughout the home network or directly to the cloud. There’s really no set standard, which means the devices that are most fit for purpose will survive. The challenge, of course, is getting all of these devices talking different languages to work together in an orchestrated and reliable way for the homeowner. Queue the IoT Gateway, which can do just that - in a few ways.

Physical IoT gateways can be designed to support a stack of sensor protocols that allow it to collect data from devices of varying protocol standards and then coordinate communications between devices such as sending environment state updates or broadcasting control commands to devices in an orchestrated routine. Software gateways can be designed to support similar orchestration and communication requirements, but can also co-exist right on one of the devices - and communicate with cloud-based head-end systems to broker messages to other gateway-connected devices that exist in the home.


5. Device Management, Firmware Updates & Longevity

IoT Devices are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to customer expectations for device management and life expectancy. Most people would consider a 3-year old smartphone in their pocket a dinosaur ready for trade-in, but a 3-year old refrigerator or water heater is rarely subject to replacement without the manufacturer incurring a severe customer dissatisfaction penalty. Other devices like water leak sensors are constantly powered but it isn’t practical to build such a device with the processing power to support cloud-direct integration for firmware updates.

Customers are willing to pay monthly for additional services attached to their smartphone service contract, but current market penetration of such plans for IoT devices is low and remain a high barrier to entry even for avid IoT consumers. IoT devices need to be built for the long haul. Customers expect to pay once, and that payment needs to account for the full lifespan of the device, including management, updates and operations.

Gateways can help here by offsetting the communication load between devices and the cloud, as well as providing local management of firmware updates. This also reduces the range of communication necessary to apply firmware updates, promoting longer device battery life than otherwise possible. In this way the gateway reduces processing load on the device and supports device longevity.

In each of these scenarios the IoT gateway takes a portion of communication, processing or storage burden away from the device so the device can focus on its primary job: a great customer experience. Whether the gateway exists as an external device (as is common in smart door locks) or is a software-based gateway on the IoT thing itself (such as in smart speakers or thermostats), the support it provides is a critical consideration of any IoT strategy.

Why You Shouldn’t Build Your IoT Gateway From Scratch

It may already be clear from the details above that including a gateway is a key consideration for your IoT device strategy... but creating your own gateway is like reinventing the wheel - and a costly decision if competitors are dedicating their energy on the device experience.

Building the gateway and building the IoT device are quite different tasks. If you're evaluating the best approach to developing gateway or edge-compute capability, Yonomi One can help accelerate your project to production with a purpose-built, software-based gateway platform designed to play well with other devices. Built for security, speed and scale, Yonomi One manages the complex tasks required to integrate with the smart home ecosystem so product teams can focus on designing great in-home experiences.


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