Gateway Design - Make vs. Buy Selection Criteria

Internet Protocol (IP) gateways, used to connect non-IP wireless devices to the Internet, have become a key component in the growing Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) space. As more and more remote devices require a connection to the Internet, companies face a difficult decision of designing a cellular/RF gateway vs. seeking an off-the-shelf solution. This paper aims to help navigate the “Make vs. Buy” decision-making process many companies face in today’s dynamic M2M environment.

Why Is a Gateway Necessary?

As distributed sensing networks and remote assets keep getting deployed, the need to access the remote devices and data is becoming paramount for every industry. More and more businesses rely on the information collected from the “edge” to improve business processes and operational efficiency. The gateway, which is often referred to as the “data aggregator,” is a critical element in bridging the edge device to the IP network. A gateway provides a means of backhauling data to an IP network when no IP connectivity is available, or if access to a local IP network is denied.

When starting to evaluate gateway choices one must consider whether access to a client’s IP network may be denied for valid security reasons. Off-the shelf gateways provide a secure IP based connection to reliably and seamlessly deliver the edge data into a cloud platform and into an enterprise application where no network exists. An off-the-shelf gateway integrated with security and cloud services provides companies a means by which to manage a network of thousands of remote devices in a simple, scalable way.

Rapidly Changing Market

The gateway marketplace is undergoing its own renaissance. Some of the earliest gateway designs and architectures focused on being highly modular, “bomb” proof and expensive. These early gateways and the deployments they went into served their purpose, demonstrating that IT technology can operate reliably in a highly rugged environment. Today the need for highly ruggedized gateway solutions still exists, but the need for more application specific gateways is driving the market in new ways. An example is the Liftmaster MyQ Internet Gateway used for garage door applications. The gateway is really a reduced function device that allows a user to interface with their garage door via ISM and 802.11 technologies. The gateway serves no other purpose than to interface with the garage door. In addition, gateways, like Digi’s ConnectPort X2e®, provide clients with the ability to select an off-the-shelf solution, with the additional capability of customization for those projects which have specific application requirements.

Make vs. Buy Considerations

Whether to make or to buy is one of the most important decisions that will be made when seeking to develop and deploy an Intelligent System solution, as it drives and influences every decision moving forward.

Beyond the technical aspects of the gateway design, additional considerations for connectivity options, whether other customized applications or services are offered or sold, and what will be included in the cost, are all criteria a client must understand before finalizing a make vs. buy decision.

Many companies fail to develop their own gateways because they attempted to take on developing technology outside of their core expertise. Designing a gateway is achievable, but without the right 

expertise, doing so can break the project, adding months and months to the schedule. Buying a fully PTCRB and carrier certified gateway is a sure way to get a solution to market on schedule, providing the necessary network connectivity, reducing design risk and lowering overall certification costs. It’s important for companies to know what they are good at, but more importantly, to know what they are not good at. 

Other Make vs. Buy Considerations

Time to Market
o Gateway designs can add significant time and cost to a design project

Hardware and Connectivity Choices and Trade-offs
o Sub-GHz, 2.4GHz, Ethernet, 802.11, cellular and satellite

Software Development
o What firmware and local intelligence must be incorporated into the gateway? o Security
o Cloud service

Certifications
o Regulatory and carrier

Maintenance and Support Costs
o Technical, regulatory and carrier

  •  Over-the-Air Firmware Updates

  • Security Upgrades and Patches

  • Resources and Expertise in Complex Wireless Systems

    Designing and developing a gateway by leveraging a reference design from companies like Freescale, STMicro or Texas Instruments is one approach to building a custom gateway. Using a reference design is a sound method for designing a gateway but there is much more to making a reliable solution that scales as your business grows. Selecting a gateway that uses an open source API client can ease software development requirements. Gateways using Python, like Digi’s ConnectPort X2e which is built on Freescale® Semiconductor’s i.MX28 technology, provides clients with flexibility and ease of use.

    Case Study: How to Make Solar Installations Simple, Easy and Cost Effective

    Technology based upon power by the sun has come a long way, just as IP gateway technology has advanced in recent years. In the not-to-distant past, solar panel installations were costly to the customer. The market was focused on residential homes, and business found it expensive to implement. Monitoring the systems was also a concern, particularly where an existing Building Automation system was in place in large office complexes.

    As the cost of the solar panels decreased and the “smart energy” movement gained momentum, solar manufacturers began an expansion into the commercial space. Several key requirements had to be met in order for implementations to be successful:

  • Ability to remotely monitor the health of the system over long distances

  • Scalable

  • Secure

  • Ability to work outside the existing network infrastructure

  • Cost-effective as part of a total solution

  • Reliable

  • Include all necessary wireless certifications 

Looking to inspire innovation in the industry, solar companies discovered that an IP gateway device, as part of a solar energy system, could meet these requirements and be taken to market quickly.

In one such application, Digi’s ConnectPort X2e provided a valuable solution: 

The ConnectPort X2e gateway included:

  • ZigBee at 2.4GHz

  • Ethernet

  • Option for a gateway model with cellular

  • Specific firmware that met the needs of the application

  • Remote connectivity to;

o Monitor remote installations for system health o Update firmware on the remote nodes remotely

The remote connectivity was enabled by adding Device Cloud by EtheriosTM to the overall solution. This, plus the option for cellular on the remote installations, provided the ability to drop-in a network where none existed, or avoid the complication and work of using an existing network. 

 

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