How do you choose the best-fit IoT Gateway?


Dec 06, 2021

The IPv6 address space is large enough for us to cover the entire planet with connected electronic devices, many times over.  With the total number of installed IoT devices now reckoned to be more than 35 billion, and predicted to reach 75 billion by 2025, we are certainly doing our best.

Moreover, there is an incredible diversity of applications, across contexts like smart cities, smart factories, smart agriculture, smart living, smart driving – not to mention smart grids and smart transportation. The existence of connectivity standards has been crucial in letting the IoT become real and workable. 

iMX8-IOT-Gateways keep us connected

However, when it comes to implementing the connections, we find that a generic IoT gateway rarely meets a specific application requirement. A certain amount of tailoring or customisation is often needed.

What you'll learn from this blog:

Why Would I Need to Customise an IoT Gateway?

You could search exhaustively for an off-the-shelf unit that meets your exact needs. Or you could choose a gateway that is a “best fit” with your application, maybe leaving some connections unused or working around a missing feature. If you have a large budget and plenty of time, you might consider having a design brought up from scratch to meet your exact requirements.

Fortunately, some gateways let you configure and customise the basic specification to meet special needs. Some examples include the IOT-GATE-i.MX8 and IOT-GATE-APL (Fitlet 2) from CompuLab. However, even when using these, a little extra engineering expertise can help you get closer to an ideal solution. Let’s take a closer look.

How Can I Customise the IOT-GATE-i.MX8 to meet my needs?

We discussed the CompuLab IOT-GATE-i.MX8 industrial IoT gateway in our previous blog. It comes well appointed, with an LTE modem, Wi-Fi® 6, Bluetooth® 5.1, and multiple LAN, USB, and serial data ports.

You can further extend the connectivity by choosing from a range of off-the-shelf I/O add-on boards from CompuLab. These include:

  • CAN-FD, RS485/ RS232
  • TMP2
  • 4-channel digital input/output
  • GPIO cards 

This flexibility lets users tailor the IOT-GATE-i.MX8 to suit a wide variety of industrial contexts and applications.

IOT-GATE-iMX8 from Anders

One limitation is that the desired extension board comes pre-fitted by CompuLab and must be specified when ordering. It is not possible to order and fit any of these boards retrospectively.

However, CompuLab provides information about the expansion connectors that makes it possible for us to create custom boards if needed to fulfil specific requirements. The supporting literature for the IOT-GATE-i.MX8 reveals that the expansion connector contains signals from multifunctional pins of the unit’s main i.MX8M Mini processor. Knowing this, it’s possible to create custom cards for various functions such as connecting a display, adding a USB 2.0 interface, or taking advantage of the host processor’s general-purpose I/O (GPIO), I2C, and UART connections.

How Can IOT-GATE-APL Fitlet2 Gateway Devices be Expanded?

If you are working with a gateway such as the IOT-GATE-APL (aka Fitlet2), you can take advantage of CompuLab’s extensive range of FACET (Function and Connectivity Extension T-Card) add-on cards. You can choose from cards to add extra Gigabit Ethernet ports or USB ports, connect a SATA solid-state disk (SSD) or wireless modules such as Wi-Fi® or Bluetooth®, or introduce support for things like Power over Ethernet (PoE) or a cellular modem for 3G or 4G-LTE.

The FACET boards allow a great deal of flexibility, and they can be added easily. Indeed, the Fitlet2 is designed to be easy to take apart to add these extension cards as well as customise the RAM and storage. CompuLab has described Fitlet2 as a 3D metal jigsaw with interlocking parts.

You can go it alone with Fitlet2 and expect to succeed in most cases. Sometimes, however, extra support and specialist technical knowhow is needed. We recently helped a customer working on a bespoke Fitlet2 gateway, which had been extended using a FACET card to add a handful of extra USB ports. The unit had failed EMC testing. It’s an inconvenient discovery at any time, but this was late in the project. A fast solution was needed, with minimal impact on the underlying design. 

We were able to modify the FACET extension card, introducing EMC mitigation including shielding, without fundamentally changing the electrical performance or form factor. The openness of the FACET specification, combined with our embedded engineering experience and close links with CompuLab as a supplier, helped us deliver a practicable solution inside the tight timeframe imposed by the customer’s market window.

Anders Fitlet 2 gateway PC customisation with FACET modules

How do the IOT-GATE-iMX8 and Fitlet2 Compare with Other Gateways?

Of course, there are many IoT gateway products out there that offer various features and expansion opportunities.

Another two options from CompuLab include the IOT-GATE-iMX7, which remains a popular and powerful model, and the IOT-GATE-Rpi

Both provide standard interfaces including 3G/LTE, 802.11b/g/n, USB, Ethernet, and serial and CAN ports. These gateways can be expanded by taking advantage of the embedded I/O headers of the IOT-GATE-iMX7 or Raspberry Pi HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) connector of the IOT-GATE-Rpi

IoT-GATE iMX7 from Anders

However, off-the-shelf add-on boards are not available from CompuLab. The HAT connector lets you take advantage of any suitable hardware from the open-source community, or you can consider a custom design leveraging the HAT specification, which is available on GitHub.

Summary of Extension Options

For more information, why not contact us to find out how we can help you tailor a gateway that’s just right for your next IoT project?

IOT Gateways I/O Interface I/O Add-On Board
RS485/ RS232
4xDI + 4xDO
Wi-Fi/BT modules
Ethernet FACET
IOT-GATE-iMX7 Embedded I/O header UART
HAT expansion
HAT Board