A network gateway is a device or node that connects disparate networks by translating communications from one protocol to another.
A gateway connects networks, while a router typically delivers data within a network. Historically, gateways and routers have been separate devices. However, it's becoming more common for their functions to be combined and simply called a router. For example, the Wi-Fi routers commonly provided for home and small business internet service are both a router (delivering data) and a gateway (translating it so destination devices can use it).
A physical network gateway includes network interface cards (NICs) and inputs and outputs—usually Ethernet—and software for translating network protocols. Gateway functions may also be defined, deployed, and controlled through software, and are increasingly being built into routers and other equipment.
A gateway is typically used on the network layer of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, but it could theoretically be deployed on any of the OSI layers. Standalone or virtual gateways may be placed anywhere in a network where translation is needed. They can be unidirectional (allowing data to flow in only one direction) or bidirectional (allowing data to flow both in and out of a network).
As an entry or exit point for data, a gateway can be used in a variety of security processes, such as a firewall to scan and filter data or a proxy server to maintain restricted access to certain applications or assets.
A network gateway is commonly used to provide LAN or WAN access to the internet. However, a gateway can be deployed anywhere within a network to perform specific functions according to workflow and needed services.
A VoIP gateway translates legacy analog landline voice and fax transmissions into digital VoIP protocol.
IoT devices with their own protocols, such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, and LTE-M, may require certain gateway capabilities to connect to IT networks and servers. IoT gateways serve as a conduit that connect IoT devices, the cloud network, and user applications.
A cloud storage gateway translates storage service APIs to either block-based storage protocols or file-based storage interfaces, enabling use by multicloud applications.
Specialized data streams and web applications may need specialized application gateways to ensure seamless connectivity and security. VoIP gateway is a good example of an application gateway.
Cellular gateways can facilitate faster 4G and 5G speeds, which means that cellular data access can be used as a primary means of internet connectivity. Gateways used for this purpose need the ability to make cellular data compatible with the local network.
A wireless gateway is another description for the all-in-one gateway/router provided with a home or small-business ISP account. The wireless access involves both a gateway built into the router (to convert the data to Wi-Fi) and the NIC in the local device.
The network gateway can be an important location for firewalls and security software. The gateway should offer features for installing and managing security tools. Security features have also migrated into the cloud, where Secure Internet Gateway (SIGs) provides multiple levels of defense against internet-based threats.
A network gateway should be customizable and programmable so it can work with a variety of network protocols. This capability provides greater flexibility and enhances security and resilience.
Since it's often the single connection among networks, the gateway is a natural place to monitor and measure network activity. It's important for a gateway to be observable and to allow updates with new instructions when necessary.
With monitoring and observability software, a network gateway can also play a role in collecting information from other parts of the network, assisting in diagnostics, and troubleshooting.