TechnologyNovember 20, 2023

2023 Industrial Wireless Technology Update

Industrial Wireless in the Smart Factory

5G and Wi-Fi6/6E wireless technologies are now enabling standard, real-time communication in control processes, which was previously reserved exclusively for wired communication or proprietary wireless solutions. This is opening up new possibilities for industrial automation and smart manufacturing operations.

INDUSTRIAL WIRELESS HAS A BRIGHT FUTURE heading into 2024 with technologies that are now ready for prime time. 5G and Wi-Fi 6/6E are unique — offering high data transfer rates, low latency, and high device density that are setting them apart from existing solutions.

In this special report, the Industrial Ethernet Book reached out to industry experts to gain their insights into the megatrends driving Industrial Wireless technologies, the emergence of industry standards and the challenges facing automation engineers.

Industrial wireless expanding

Licensed spectrum with 5G and 6GHz spectrum Wi-Fi 6E leading the way.

“5G and Wi-Fi 6 are both still quite new technologies that will have a big impact on the industry,” Daniel Mai, Director Industrial Wireless Communication at Siemens AG told IEB recently. “The possibilities of applying for licensed spectrum with 5G and the new 6GHz spectrum of Wi-Fi 6E will significantly increase the use of wireless technologies in industry.”

“With 5G we have the first wireless technology which has been developed with industrial use cases in mind. That’s why it offers natively features that are essential for the industry like low-latency communications with a very high reliability and the possibility to connect a very high number of devices. Therefore, we expect a wide adoption of the technology in industry. Also, Wi-Fi will keep playing an important role in the industrial arena. It’s easy to use because of the unlicensed band, is being deployed in industrial applications since approx. 20 years and the standard is constantly evolving,” he said.

Digitalized, flexible factories

Mai said that the smart factory will be a digitalized, flexible factory with quickly changing production layouts and many mobile and moving participants. Secure and reliable connectivity will be one of the key enablers for a smart and data driven production. All kinds of data is collected in the field level by smart devices and sent to the Enterprise Management System to enable data driven decisions. The basis for such a factory is reliable and secure communications networks, wired and wireless.

“Industrial 5G and Industrial Wireless LAN based on Wi-Fi 6 provide wireless connectivity for all kinds of applications that can’t be wired: mobile applications like AGVs in intralogistics, moving robots or smart tools. All those applications in the OT environment require reliable and deterministic wireless communications to ensure that the production processes run smoothly and personnel on the shop floor is safe. Data from edge devices can be easily transmitted without the need of wiring them. Reliable wireless communications will be a booster for the smart factory,” he stated.

Mai added that every new generation of a wireless technology brings new capabilities like higher bandwidth, higher reliability etc.

Wi-Fi: The evolution of Wi-Fi ensures higher bandwidth and optimized spectrum usage with every evolutionary step. Due to the global availability of unlicensed spectrum and the outlook for 6 GHz spectrum Wi-Fi can and will be deployed in industry on an application basis as a future-proof wireless technology. With special enhancements like the iFeatures developed by Siemens, Wi-Fi technology can even be used for time critical automation tasks like wirelessly transmitted emergency stop functions.

Industrial 5G graphic

“With 5G we have the first wireless technology which has been developed with industrial use cases in mind. That’s why it offers natively features that are essential for the industry like low-latency communications with a very high reliability and the possibility to connect a very high number of devices. ” — Daniel Mai, Director Industrial Wireless Communication, Siemens AG.

5G: In its final state 5G will offer up to 20 times higher bandwidths than 4G, lowest latencies and a reliability of 99,999%. For industrial applications reliability and guaranteed latencies matter the most. Every network outage costs a lot of money and what is worse can lead to personnel being harmed or machines being damaged.

“With 5G, we see a major advantage in the possibility to set up local, private 5G networks that are operated on-premises by the users themselves. Companies then have full control of the network and can ensure that it supports their applications in the best possible way,” Mai said.

In case of a failure, in-house experts can solve the problem in a very short time. Also, all data stay on-premises and private. Once a local private 5G network infrastructure is installed it is very efficient because it can support multiple applications running in parallel on the same network. Companies can prioritize traffic for mission-critical or safety-relevant applications making sure that they get the quality of service they require. New applications can be easily added to the system.

Industrial wireless solutions

Mai said that wireless technologies are used already today in every application that can’t work with wires. For the new wireless technologies there is a multitude of possible applications. One is for sure the Augmented Workforce where personnel on the shop floor is supported by smart handheld devices, remote assistance, or Augmented Reality glasses.

Those devices require a reliable wireless high bandwidth transmission – also in the uplink. Another interesting application is the wireless download of software to manufactured products, like e.g. cars, already during the assembly process. This can significantly shorten production times.

But also, more common applications like autonomous intralogistics with AGVs and AMRs or operation of cranes will benefit from private 5G networks as they require reliable low-latency communications that 5G offers. Some customers already focus on aggregating all those applications in one wireless infrastructure. Once installed, a 5G network can support all kinds of different applications. It can even facilitate easy digitalization in brownfield installations by providing connectivity for legacy devices without the need of extensive wiring.

“Automation engineers are faced with very diverse settings on the shopfloor where a multitude of different devices from different vendors needs to perfectly work together. Additionally, industrial environments are often harsh with different temperature ranges, vibrations, dirt, dust, explosive areas etc. Sometimes machines or plants are not easy to access, e.g. if they have moving or rotating parts,” Mai said.

Wear and tear of cables is another very common challenge in industry when things are moving. Reliable wireless communication instead of fixed cabling can be a game changer here. It offers more flexibility as standardized systems with standard interfaces will enable quick and easy integration of new devices without cabling. Reliable wireless communication can replace cabling in mechanically challenging applications and make even machines with rotating parts easily accessible. Industrial grade wireless products will provide reliable connectivity even in harsh or dangerous environments where laying cables is no option.

Smart manufacturing graphic

“Wireless is a key enabler for digitization. Not only is it required to connect remote, mobile, and difficult to access applications, but it’s extremely convenient. The elimination of network and cables offers organizations the ability to run their operations more efficiently, increase productivity, reconfigure their operations more easily, and reduce costs. ” — Andrea Orioli, Director Product Management, IIoT Wireless, Cisco.

Accelerating digitization

Wireless is a key enabler shaping the direction of industrial automation.

According to Andrea Orioli, Director Product Management, IIoT Wireless for Cisco Systems, “In every industry, organizations are accelerating digitization and increasing automation to improve productivity, reduce downtime or increase worker safety. Wireless is a key enabler for digitization. Not only is it required to connect remote, mobile, and difficult to access applications, but it’s extremely convenient. The elimination of network and cables offers organizations the ability to run their operations more efficiently, increase productivity, reconfigure their operations more easily, and reduce costs.”

Orioli said that many of the assets and applications that need to be connected in these industries have stringent network requirements. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), robots (AMRs) in manufacturing or logistics, and tele-remote applications in ports and mines all require dependable connectivity. These mobile assets can create safety risks to personnel or stop complete production if they lose their wireless connections. A wireless network that provides high-data rates, ultra-low latency, fast hand-offs, and high reliability is a must, specifically in dynamic environments with shifting dead zones and RF interference patterns.

“What we have seen in the past years is the advancement of wireless technologies to address these needs, such as Wi-Fi 6/6E and private 5G. At Cisco we have enhanced our Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul (URWB) technology to increase throughput and reliability,” she added.

Industrial 5G and WiFi 6

Networking for manufacturing has some of the most stringent requirements among the industrial use cases. Any glitch in the operational network could mean stoppage of the production line, leading to lost revenue and wasted materials. In the past, wireless was used mostly to connect non-critical tools, sensors, and handhelds. Today, with more reliable wireless technologies, it is possible for critical assets and applications to be connected wirelessly.

“Advances in wireless technologies are also making it possible for organizations to deploy more Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and other mobile assets to enhance productivity. These assets need not only high reliability and low latency, but they also need seamless roaming and zero packet loss during handoffs. Which is challenging in the environments they operate in the presence of obstacles and RF interference,” Orioli said.

New wireless technologies are also helping organizations improve their sustainability KPIs, which is becoming more and more important to more organizations each day. Wireless technologies can help by improving the power consumption of industrial assets. This can be achieved only with a reliable, predictable, wireless infrastructure.

Industrial wireless solutions

Connecting assets and applications in manufacturing requires a highly reliable wireless network that provides high throughput, low latency, fast hand-offs with zero packet loss, specifically in dynamic environments with the presence of obstacles and changing RF interference patterns.

“Private 5G introduces new enhancements and promises to deliver higher speeds and enhanced communications as well as highly reliable communications with ultra-low latencies. Wi-Fi 6/6E delivers higher bandwidths and lower latency than previous generations, allows for more devices to be connected and it is much more power efficient,” Orioli said.

Cisco URWB delivers high-speed, ultra-reliability, ultra-low latency, and seamless handoffs. URWB is built on 802.11 standards and deploys just like Wi-Fi. Multipath Operations protects critical communication and provides uninterrupted connectivity to fast moving devices by sending high-priority packets via redundant paths. It can duplicate protected traffic up to 8x, avoid common paths and works alongside hardware availability. The result is not only lower latency and higher availability, but also less effects of interference and hardware failures.

Looking at applications

The elimination of network and cables enables manufacturers to run their operations more efficiently, increase productivity, reconfigure plant floors more easily, and reduce costs. Wireless makes it easier to deploy additional machines, sensors and PLCs. AGVs and AMRs are being deployed to move materials within the factory or between the factory and warehouses.

Private 5G, Wi-Fi 6/6E and Cisco URWB all address the needs for faster and more reliable connectivity, but they all vary not only in terms of performance but also in deployment costs and complexity.

Orioli said that private 5G is still not available everywhere and it comes with spectrum, cost, and complexity issues. Wi-Fi operates in unlicensed spectrum which lowers the TCO when compared to P5G and could be preferred for organizations that prefer a standardized solution in multiple geographies, but the variability in performance due to RF interference and number of devices connected might not be the primary choice for critical applications.

“We’ll continue to see organizations use a combination of different wireless technologies that best meet the operational requirements for specific applications. Apart from the technical criteria like bandwidth and latency, organizations are considering other conditions like spectrum costs and availability as well as deployment costs and complexity,” she added.

Challenges for industrial wireless

Orioli said that Wi-Fi 6E, which offers up to 1.2 GHz more spectrum, and 5G’s enhanced Mobile Broadband Profile (eMBB) can address the need for increased throughput while solving concerns regarding interferences and high-density support.

Time-sensitive critical applications need high reliability and low latency. Connected devices that are moving at high speed also need seamless handoffs and zero packet loss. Technologies like Cisco URWB can be used to support these use cases.

“We have seen organizations adopting these new wireless technologies to enable more automation and increase efficiency. They have been improving their wireless strategy by adding new technologies for specific applications. For example, we have a number of customers in manufacturing that have adopted Cisco URWB to support their AVGs and AMRs and other critical applications, while continuing to support Wi-Fi for other less critical applications,” Orioli said.

Private 5G in factory automation

“For the first time, the 5G and Wi-Fi6/6E wireless technologies now enable real-time communication in control processes as standard, which was previously reserved exclusively for wired communication or proprietary wireless solutions. This opens up new possibilities for the automation and control of processes,” Calvin Chuko, Assistant Manager, Industrial Wireless Section at Moxa.

Key wireless technologies

Wireless mesh networks, 5G connectivity, low-power wide area networks and cybersecurity.

“As industries face increasingly rapid changes in demands and requirements due to digital transformation, industrial wireless solutions need to improve reliability, efficiency, and adaptability for industrial operations. Some key technology trends enabling new industrial wireless solutions include wireless mesh networks, 5G connectivity, low-power wide area networks, and cybersecurity,” said Calvin Chuko, Assistant Manager, Industrial Wireless Section at Moxa.

“The 5G technology enables industrial networks to transfer broadband, real-time data that the previous generation (4G) of mobile technologies could not achieve. This capability allows applications such as autonomous systems in smart factories, AR/VR, and remote monitoring to be fully migrated to the wireless network in the future.”
Chuko said that mesh technology are capable of providing flexibility and reliability to a Wi-Fi network. The self-healing and failover mechanism allow devices to remain connected even in the event of link or node failure.

As more and more IoT devices, such as sensors, are contributing to data collection, low-power wide area networks (LPWAN) become essential as they provide the wireless distance and device density required while consuming minimal battery power.

Cybersecurity is also the key technology trend blanketing all relevant communications technologies. It is increasingly becoming the most critical challenge that industries face, as cyber threats today are capable of bringing catastrophic losses to the industrial assets if networks are not being protected.

Industrial 5G and Wi-Fi 6

“These technologies deliver wireless network speeds sufficient to service-connected nodes while offering low latency and high reliability for a seamless wireless experience. Not to mention, the significant security improvements serve as a confidence booster for the transition from wired to wireless,” Chuko said.

For example, automatic material handling robots, such as AGVs, are becoming increasingly autonomous today to minimize human intervention in factory operations. This entails a need for these moving machines to be more complex and multidimensional in their paths, enabling them to move faster and collect more data, such as video. Without 5G or Wi-Fi 6, the wireless network cannot meet the necessary bandwidth and latency requirements to keep the system operating at full capacity. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are capable of providing such bandwidth and low latency to accommodate larger quantity of the machines while providing precise coordination and control for the robots.

Unique capabilities

Chuko said that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are unique in the way that they offer high data transfer rates, low latency, and high device density, setting them apart from existing solutions. 5G even includes additional reliable and secure features, such as network slicing and private networks, to keep sensitive data protected.

Compared to previous generations of Wi-Fi (802.11n or 802.11ac), Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) can allocate more bandwidth at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz while supporting higher modulation schemes to further improve data rates. Wi-Fi 6 also taps into 6GHz band to open up more lanes for data transfer, which will be a standard frequency band for Wi-Fi 7 and beyond. Similarly, 5G’s bandwidth is multiple times that of the previous generation (4G). The added bandwidth will enable applications that require large data sets, such as high-resolution videos for AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) and video surveillance.

In terms of latency, the URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications) capability of 5G enables the transmission of real-time data via time-sensitive network protocols (TSN). Wi-Fi 6 also demonstrates improved latency performance compared to previous standards, mainly thanks to the OFDMA protocol, which enhances spectrum efficiency for Wi-Fi. OFDMA also contributes to expanding the connected device capacity of the Wi-Fi network without sacrificing network latency.

Bandwidth and real-time data transfer

Chuko said that the newest industrial wireless solutions are targeting applications, which require large data bandwidth, and real-time data transfer with high reliability and security for more mission critical controls. Applications, from mobile robots in manufacturing to intralogistics controlled using industrial protocols, leverage the latest wireless solutions such as 5G and Wi-Fi, aiming to provide connectivity that is more robust and meets the time-sensitive demands of future industrial networks.

Wireless technologies used for mission-critical applications, such as rail communication-based control systems (CBTC) for metros, are proven examples of how state-of-the-art wireless solutions have reached new heights in terms of reliability. However, more often than not, critical industrial control systems still rely on wired connections due to reliability and security concerns.

“The trend to adopt wireless solutions for industrial applications continues to increase. The future of industrial controls will be even more challenging for wireless solutions to fulfill their demands. 5G/Wi-Fi and other wireless solutions has just started tapping into the possibility of a full-scale wireless factory, and the pace of wireless technology maturing will only pick up in the future,” Chuko said.

Some key challenges automation engineers face, which advances in industrial wireless solutions can help overcome, include the immobility of equipment and workers, limitations of cabling, and the lack of flexibility and scalability of networks. All these constraints drive costs high and lower operational efficiency within the automation sector.
“Both 5G and Wi-Fi networks enable seamless roaming within the wireless-covered infrastructure, allowing mobile devices such as AGV/AMRs and portable handhelds to move freely on the factory floor, reducing the cost of material handling,” Chuko said.

He added that the cost of cabling, primarily associated with installation and maintenance, can be eliminated by adopting wireless solutions. These solutions are easy to install and offer the range and coverage needed to keep floor assets connected, ensuring sufficient data bandwidth. Not only can wireless solutions help to reduce the cost of wiring, its flexibility in terms of reconfigurations of the network is unmatched compared to cables. With today’s manufacturing trending for tailor-made customizable services, the ability to have a flexible and easily scalable network is imperative.

Advances in Mobile Automation With Industrial 5G Solutions

Moxa showcased its recent advances in industrial 5G solutions at Hannover Messe 2023. The demonstration highlighted breakthroughs in tackling the complexity of Operational Technology (OT) and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) convergence to realize private 5G networks for a wide range of industrial applications. With ultra-low latency and high-bandwidth connections, these dedicated cellular solutions provide the reliability and flexibility to address the dynamic requirements of different industries and improve industrial efficiency, productivity, and safety.

The demonstration focused on two use cases. The first case illustrated how the company’s 5G onboard router enables train-to-ground (T2G) communications in a 5G network with Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), providing more than 1 Gbps throughput and Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP) support for 50 ms recovery times with dual cellular tunnels. The second case showed how Moxa’s private 5G network solutions open up new opportunities for growth and one-of-a-kind solutions by combining various devices and industrial protocols such as Modbus TCP/RTU, PROFINET, and OPC UA, enabling integrated data flows between remote I/O devices, serial device servers, Ethernet switches, and gateways for data collection and monitoring in smart manufacturing applications.

“With a proven track record of more than 20 successful private 5G proof-of-concept (PoC) and proof-of-business (PoB) projects in vertical markets including rail, manufacturing, warehousing and logistics, Moxa is well on track to becoming the world’s first to deploy a private 5G network for industrial automation at a high-end manufacturing site,” said Dr. David Chen, Director of R&D Center at Moxa. “Although commercial contracts are limited to a few high-end customers for now, we are seeing an increase in private 5G trials. We have our capabilities and resources ready to capitalize on emerging opportunities in the private 5G market in the Americas and the European Union, followed by Asia Pacific and Japan by 2026.”

According to new research published by global technology intelligence firm ABI Research, the overall market for private networks within enterprise verticals will reach US$109 billion by 2030. This includes radio access network, edge & core deployments, as well as professional services revenues, which alone will contribute US$47 billion (44%) to the market size in 2030. The findings are from ABI Research’s “The Role of 5G for Enterprise ICT Transformation” application analysis report.

Industrial 5G graphic

“For the first time, the 5G and Wi-Fi6/6E wireless technologies now enable real-time communication in control processes as standard, which was previously reserved exclusively for wired communication or proprietary wireless solutions. This opens up new possibilities for the automation and control of processes,” Jürgen Weczerek, Manager Product Marketing Security and Wireless Network Technology, Phoenix Contact.

Wireless ready for prime time

Finally available for wider industrial use from 2024 and onwards.

According to Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Jürgen Weczerek, Manager Product Marketing Security and Wireless Network Technology for Phoenix Contact, we are entering an era where industrial wireless solutions will finally be available for implementation.

“Before we rush into the next wireless technology trend on the horizon, it is much more important for industrial users that the new wireless key technologies, 5G and Wi-Fi 6/6E (IEEE 802.11ax), which have been announced and discussed for some time, will finally be available for wider industrial use from 2024 onwards,” Weczerek told the Industrial Ethernet Book recently.

“Both wireless technologies offer significant technical improvements in the areas of real-time capability, reliability, security, and efficiency that are important for industrial applications. Both wireless technologies have the potential to significantly increase the proportion of wireless communication in the smart factory in the future. Last year, an important step in this direction for WLAN was the release of additional transmission channels in the 6 GHz band in Europe and other countries.”

Wireless solutions impact

Weczerek said that, for the first time, the 5G and Wi-Fi6/6E wireless technologies now enable real-time communication in control processes as standard, which was previously reserved exclusively for wired communication or proprietary wireless solutions. This opens up new possibilities for the automation and control of processes.

“With 5G it is possible to realize a largely wireless communication infrastructure within a factory, including real-time and safety communication. This could significantly reduce wired network connections in the future, which means more flexibility and significantly lower connection costs per network device,” he said.

“Wireless networks generally enable simpler and more cost-efficient integration of sensors and smart devices into a network, making big data, predictive maintenance, cloud connectivity, etc. easier and more economical.”

The 5G and Wi-Fi6/6E wireless technologies now have functions that make it possible for the first time to control communication via the wireless network in real time as standard. Together with other new functions and features, this improves performance, energy and resource efficiency as well as reliability. Even though wireless technologies will still not come close to the real-time capability of special automation networks, there are still many new application possibilities that were previously reserved exclusively for wired communication or proprietary wireless solutions.

In terms of wireless technology, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 often rely on the same mechanisms and functions. Therefore, the performance features are very similar on the radio side at first glance.

But what is the benefit of the best technology if you can’t use it sensibly? The ability to operate 5G as a private network in a protected, licensed frequency range is therefore crucial for the industrial use of 5G.

The situation is similar with WLAN. Although the new Wi-Fi 6 standard offers significantly improved technical possibilities and performance data, this technology cannot fully exploit its advantages in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, which are currently often crowded. It is therefore crucial for Wi-Fi that the 6 GHz band will be opened for Wi-Fi use in Europe and other countries in 2022. This will make up to 54 new and still undisturbed transmission channels available. This is where WLAN, i.e. Wi-Fi 6E, can show off its full performance and reliability.

Applications outlook

Weczerek said that both wireless communication standards, 5G and Wi-Fi 6, can be used very universally as they adapt very flexibly to individual requirements. Either for the real-time transmission of small data packets, high data throughput, battery-saving communication with IIoT sensors or a mixture of all of these.

Nevertheless, there are fundamental systemic differences that make the wireless technologies more suitable for different areas of application.

“5G is particularly suitable as a comprehensive communication network in a factory for a wide variety of applications. From mobile communication to real-time data communication in control applications. In addition, a 5G system usually offers extensive functions such as network virtualization, priority management, resource management, access and security management, etc.,” he said.

He added that the ability to use more reliable, real-time-capable and powerful wireless communication networks will enable more flexible, autonomous and efficient manufacturing processes in the future.

WLAN, on the other hand, is well suited for wireless communication solutions within local applications, as it can be scaled economically from a small network with one WLAN device to large networks with hundreds of WLAN devices. In addition, several WLAN networks can be operated independently of each other in parallel, even with 5G, in one system.

“With 5G and Wi-Fi 6, data throughput, real-time characteristics and reliability have improved significantly. This had often limited the application possibilities with current technologies. In particular, the availability of exclusively usable frequency ranges with 5G or additional transmission channels with Wi-Fi 6 often makes it possible to implement larger and more reliable wireless networks in the factory,” Weczerek said.

“In addition, the new technologies offer significantly more options for meeting specific application requirements. However, they are also more complex than previous technologies, meaning that specific expertise is required for the planning, implementation, and operation of such wireless networks. This applies in particular to 5G and its many possibilities. Anyone planning to use such networks should therefore consult specialists.”

Wi-Fi 7 technology capabilities

“One of the biggest trends from Wi-Fi technology enabling new Industrial Wireless Solutions is the opening of the 6 GHz spectrum band to Wi-Fi, which is now available in 54 countries. Both Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 can use the 6 GHz band in addition to the traditional 2.4 and 5 GHz bands,” Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance.

6 GHz spectrum band for Wi-Fi

Businesses can take advantage of up to 1200 MHz additional spectrum.

According to Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, “one of the biggest trends from Wi-Fi technology enabling new Industrial Wireless Solutions is the opening of the 6 GHz spectrum band to Wi-Fi, which is now available in 54 countries. Both Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 can use the 6 GHz band in addition to the traditional 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. By using Wi-Fi 6E or Wi-Fi 7 to connect their robots, autonomous material movers and other industrial equipment, businesses can take advantage of up to 1200 MHz additional spectrum.”

Rodrigues said that more spectrum reduces both interference and latency and in turn directly improves the performance of their industrial wireless applications. It gives those businesses one more reason to use Wi-Fi rather than copper or fiber optimize productivity, efficiency and safety across their factories, warehouses and other industrial facilities.

“Wi-Fi 7 also anticipates increasingly demanding industrial wireless requirements for high throughput, low latency, minimal jitter, and high reliability. For example, with wider channels and 4K QAM capabilities, Wi-Fi 7 can deliver speeds over three times faster than Wi-Fi 6, so it’s ideal for bandwidth-intensive applications such as artificial intelligence (AI)-powered video inspection of finished products zipping by on a conveyor belt,” he added.

Industrial 5G and WiFi 6

“Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E provide many deterministic quality of service (QoS) capabilities, such as traffic prioritization, which is a key component of Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) for Industry 4.0 applications. For example, Wi-Fi 6 TSN is ideal for applications that require latencies of 2 ms or less, such as remote control of industrial robots and material handlers,” Rodrigues said.

He stated that augmented/virtual/mixed reality is a rapidly emerging application in manufacturing and other industrial environments. Wi-Fi 6/6E networks can support the bounded latency (<2ms) that AR/VR/MR require.

Another example is how Wi-Fi 6/6E can be combined with Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) and machine learning (ML). This enables use cases such as learning how raw materials, finished products, employees and equipment such as forklifts move around a factory floor. Then the AI/ML can quickly identify anomalies such as a backed-up conveyor or suggest workflows that are more efficient, safer or more productive.

Rodrigues said that, in addition to the deterministic capabilities that I described earlier, Wi-Fi networks also can support WBA OpenRoaming™, which is currently available at over 3.5 million hotspots worldwide. This enables a Wi-Fi device to authenticate once and then automatically connect every subsequent time that it’s within range of an OpenRoaming hotspot, it will automatically and securely connect — no additional login required. WBA OpenRoaming is currently available at over 3.5 million hotspots worldwide.

“WBA OpenRoaming is a good fit for a wide variety of industrial applications. For example, many companies have begun testing semi- and fully autonomous electric trucks, and many EV charging station vendors have added Wi-Fi to their equipment. So a manufacturer could using charging stations at its factories and at truck stops to enable its electric trucks to download the HD maps they need to navigate safely and successfully while also uploading diagnostic data for preventative maintenance. WBA OpenRoaming ensures that all of those connections happen automatically and with enterprise-grade security,“ Rodrigues said.

Wi-Fi 7 technology capabilities

Impact of Wi-Fi 7

Wi-Fi 7 Market Segments

Wi-Fi 7 Market Segments.

Applications focus

Rodrigues offered the following observations on applications, including advances in machine vision and other AI enable material handlers, robots and other mobile industrial equipment to safely and precisely navigate, load, unload and so on. Obviously copper and fiber aren’t viable for providing them with a seamless network connection. Hence the value of Wi-Fi 6/6E/7 networks that can meet demanding requirements such as sub-20 ms latency, sub-1 ms jitter, 99.999% uptime and throughput in the tens of megabits.
In other use cases, the equipment is always controlled remotely by a human, such as when it’s in an area that’s too hot or too dangerous for employees. An ultra-reliable, low-latency Wi-Fi network ensures that operators never lose control of that high-value equipment and raw materials — not even for a second.

“All factories, refineries and other manufacturing facilities have two things in common: a lot of metal, such as racks and pipes, and a lot of electrical devices, such as conveyor belt motors. Those make it extremely challenging to ensure that every single industrial robot, material handler or inspection camera always has a reliable wireless connection, no matter where they are inside or outside the plant. For example, the conveyor motors create electrical interference with the wireless signals, while a maze of storage racks block connections,” he said.

“Each generation of Wi-Fi keeps getting better at ensuring a reliable connection, which in turn enables automation engineers to implement more and more wireless use cases. The latest example is how the Wi-Fi industry is using AI/ML to enable beamforming, channel bonding and other advanced techniques to overcome interference and attenuation and ensure five-nines reliability.“

For additional examples, see Wi-Fi 6/6E for Industrial IoT: Enabling Wi-Fi Determinism in an IoT World, which covers advances such as the Fine Timing Measurement (FTM) protocol and Multi-Link Operation (MLO), and Get Ready for Wi-Fi 7 on applying new capabilities to key use cases.

Al Presher, Editor, Industrial Ethernet Book