Undestanding IoT Gateways

1 mainThe Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem is rapidly expanding. Some analysts predict that there will be around 50 billion connected devices by 2020. If you are new to IoT, it refers to the collective ecosystem of devices that are connected to the internet. These devices can be sensors, actuators, health monitors, meters, and so on. What did people do before IoT? Well, they had devices that weren’t connected to the internet. Hence it was difficult to monitor and analyze data in real time. This meant that people were leaving a lot of interesting data unused, which directly translates to lost revenue of billions of dollars. By connecting all the devices to the internet, we are enabling ourselves to take actions in real time. It’s obvious that device connectivity is a really important aspect in IoT. How do we ensure connectivity? How can we enable low cost hardware devices to communicate with the cloud without expensive processors?  

What exactly is the problem?

Up until a few years ago, the only devices connected to the internet were computers and smartphones in various forms. With the growth of internet of things ecosystem, many smaller devices now have the capability to connect to the internet. Connecting so many devices to the internet poses a big challenge. We cannot directly connect a simple device, say a vibration sensor, to the internet because it is complex and expensive. These smaller devices don’t have their own processors, which makes it difficult take this route.

Implementing a robust and secure network to handle so many devices requires significant expertise. We cannot hope to put sophisticated processors in all these devices because maintaining low costs is one of the biggest requirements of mass adoption of internet of things ecosystem. So we need to ensure connectivity in such a way that it doesn’t adversely affect the cost or efficiency.

What’s the answer?

The devices cannot afford to have expensive processors, but they need to be connected to internet all the time. This is where a gateway comes into picture. A gateway is a device that enables the connectivity of these devices to the cloud. Gateway acts like a commander-in-chief to a set of connected devices. It integrates many protocols and technologies for connectivity, networking, security, and application development.

An IoT gateway handles connectivity all the way from sensors and actuators to the cloud. It can preprocess data before sending the data to the cloud. This will help conserve the bandwidth, which is a precious resource here. Gateway can have a sophisticated processor on board that can handle thousands of devices. All the devices will communicate with this gateway. This enables it to make decisions locally and ensure that there is compatibility.

How to use it effectively?

Given that this field is still in its nascency, there is a lot of diversity in the types of connected devices are being deployed. This poses an interesting challenge to gateways because they need to handle many different types of devices. If we want to build a scalable solution for gateways, we need to build a gateway that can handle such diversity.

We need to design gateways that can handle connectivity of these different types of devices. The ability to connect and share the data is crucial in building this ecosystem. If we can collect, preprocess, and upload the data to the cloud for analysis, it will enable us to do many smart things. This will also ensure that the data goes from the device to the cloud in a secure way. Such capabilities are very useful to many operators in the whole ecosystem. This is used by floor managers to track operations in real time. Building managers can use this data to analyze and minimize the cost of operations. City governments can perform analysis on water usage and understand how to optimize water distribution. There are endless use cases that can be built on top of this framework.

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