Wireless instrumentation: Do we need to be concerned about the protocol?
It’s difficult to say what convergence of competing protocols will mean for wireless instrumentation users. Is there a value in waiting? Will changes in technology make it a moot point? Video: One vendor’s view suggests it’s more about the infrastructure.
The negotiations to create a path for convergence of ISA100 and WirelessHART have been moving, apparently, but it’s difficult to see any indication if it. (Read an earlier article on the desirability of converging multiple protocols.) That in itself doesn’t mean much since it is difficult for outsiders to know what’s happening during a standard formation. It isn’t like watching a building going up. Users that want to experiment with wireless deployments or create full-blown installations can be forgiven for wanting to move forward, particularly since nobody seems to know what a converged standard will look like anyway.
However, convergence in and of itself is not my point. It looks like technology is moving in such a way that the two protocols can exist side by side and without anybody being particularly concerned. The infrastructure that works with wireless devices and gathers their information will operate with either and not care. Companies like Motorola and Cisco that make routers and such don’t want to have to pick sides. If they can create devices that work with all the protocols, everybody wins. This could prove to be a naïve viewpoint as technical issues could still emerge, but for now, it seems to work.
The Fieldbus Foundation has created its platform, Foundation for ROM, that works with various wired and wireless protocols. As long as you have the right gateway to talk to whatever you need, the infrastructure does the rest.
The attached video interview is with Soroush Amidi, who is one of Honeywell Process Solutions’ product marketing managers overseeing many of the company’s wireless offerings. Naturally, he argues from his company’s perspective, including a preference for ISA100.11a, but understands the reality that WirelessHART is firmly entrenched in the marketplace.
His comments suggest that the real heart of the discussion may relate more to larger wireless infrastructure projects. Create the infrastructure to support networking and the other things will fall into place. It seems that having wireless instrumentation is generally not the first thing that companies are looking for when they begin considering wireless deployments. They don’t begin with the question, “Shall we use 11a or WirelessHART?” That issue seems to come along later (if at all) after they have compiled a list of objectives in the process of exploring a larger project. There are certainly exceptions that begin with instrumentation but probably fewer than we realize.
Peter Welander, pwelander(at)cfemedia.com