IoT gateways come in many forms and shapes, precisely because they (can) fulfil (an increasing number of) several tasks. In other words: the usage of IoT gateways is changing, compared with the earlier days of IoT. And that has everything to do with the original scope of an IoT gateway and how the evolutions in IoT lead to more bundling of functions in the gateway which is ideally placed to perform these functions, given its essential function as a bridge, well, gateway.
Essentially an IoT gateway plays a critical role on the intersection of IoT devices in the strict sense (and thus the data from IoT devices) and the network, cloud or data center as explained in our in-depth article on IoT gateways where you can also see there are gateways for the Industrial IoT, gateways for what is known as edge computing, gateways for home automation, where they aggregate and orchestrate communications between home sensors and cloud services and much more.
So, this is a broad layer with multiple devices, technologies, solutions (software and hardware) and functions. IoT gateways de facto are used for connectivity aggregation, encryption and decryption of IoT data (security), the translation of the various protocols that exist in the overall IoT technology landscape as explained, the management and onboarding of IoT devices, the mentioned IoT edge computing, remote control and management, pre-processing and aggregation of data and so forth.
Simply said: they play a critical role on multiple levels but as the name suggests IoT gateways essentially are just that: they are a gateway between the IoT device level and the technologies and environments where the data from IoT devices really get leveraged.
As there are more IoT devices and thus more IoT data, it’s easy to understand why more functions and goals are packed in IoT gateways. Many sensors with often really many data points mean that pre-processing can be done in the gateway and that gateways and the analysis of data overall is increasingly moving to the edge and edge gateways.
However, as you can read in our article on the impact of IoT data on IT infrastructure most analysis of IoT data still happens in a data center. Hence the broad variety of IoT gateways, from the edge to the network or cloud, whatever people want. In the context of this layer we also must emphasize IoT device management which is key in IoT platforms on the level of M2M features.