As a standalone product, the well-publicized IoT gateway has come under regular attack since its inception from seasoned OEMs adamantly realizing that the IoT revolution doesn’t require a discrete middle-man and another box. Router makers argue that integrating short range RF functionality into their products negates a separate gateway, while those promoting narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) technology argue that their technology for IoT renders both router and gateway redundant. Many are also looking at their smartphones, wondering if therein lies the solution, and it’s easy to see why.
Smartphones are well-established as they successfully marry a cellular cloud connection with short range RF, connecting local, invariably Bluetooth, peripheral devices. Does this put a gateway in my pocket? To get that answer, we must look far deeper than supported radio protocols.
We know that IoT end-point devices employ myriad short-range RF technologies beyond the traditional Bluetooth or BLE that our smart phones currently support. One way of managing this is to inject these new wireless interfaces into our smart phones. However, this causes two problems. First, cramming these new protocols into our smartphones increases the cost of the device, forcing consumers to pay a premium for features they may never use. Second, with the explosion of new RF formats, each new generation of smartphone will struggle to keep up.
On the face of it and certainly for the smartphone manufacturer, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it forces consumers to upgrade to the latest and greatest. However, an essential requirement in engaging consumers to encompass this IoT revolution is that the ecosystem must be universally interoperable. Whilst it’s unrealistic to host such a revolutionary infrastructure on decades old technology, it’s a different kettle of fish if my 2017 end-point device can’t communicate with my 2016 smartphone.
Interoperability is a crucial element of IoT and a big question mark hangs over whether vendors will truly embrace this philosophy, fighting over the prospect of a locked-in ecosystem. There’s a wariness around the first wave of home-automation systems that command monthly fees which are locked into specific devices and/or apps, which are closed to other end-point devices.
Currently, as the majority of first-generation home end-point devices run from mains power and aren’t particularly cost-sensitive, WiFi is employed. In this arrangement, your existing router is the gateway and your smartphone merely the GUI. I believe this pseudo-gateway arrangement is how we’ll see smartphones employed in IoT, though efforts must be made to combine the plethora of proprietary GUIs to achieve a less frustrating consumer experience.
Of course the exception is wearables, where the smartphone’s mobility isn’t a disadvantage but solves the issue of cloud accessibility when constantly on the move. However, with the huge display size I chose for my smartphone to increase its usability, it’s only slightly less painful lugging this around on my daily run than it would be a full blown IoT Gateway. Enter Narrowband IoT for wearables.