Industrial wireless or wired networks?

Tips and tricks: Have obstacles, mobile applications, or a large region? Wireless may be the best choice.

By Mark Lochhaas May 14, 2012

Industrial wireless communication has been around for many years, perhaps first being seen in what was called “wireless MODEMs” used for communicating with remote locations where physical media like copper may not have been practical, such as remote electrical substations. Today wireless communication has become much more cost-effective, reliable, and ubiquitous, benefitting from commercial technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee.

When to consider wireless

Even when a wireless solution may not be the most cost-effective approach, it may be necessary because of the physical demands of the application. This may include:

– Physical obstacles that prevent the use of physical media like copper or fiber optic

– Mobile applications where vehicles or even palettes on an assembly line may not be easily connected to physical media

– When multiple access points are distributed over a large region: Over a wide area, wireless becomes both the most practical solution operationally, and most cost-effective. This can be anything from a large process control application to something like a monitoring system on a tank farm. In applications like this, wireless is often much less expensive for initial installation, easier to troubleshoot and maintain by qualified technicians, and able to go long distances much more cost-effectively than physical media with the cost of materials and labor to run it.

– Communication paradigms more difficult and costly to achieve with physical media systems: For example, in wireless mesh networks, sophisticated self-healing methods can be applied that significantly improve seamless recovery from a communication path disruption, and even multiple failures in the same network, increasing reliability significantly.

In an age where cell technology is dominant for consumer human communication, those same humans are trusting wireless communication to higher degrees as they design automation solutions.

– Mark Lochhaas is product sales manager, Advantech; Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager CFE Media, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer; Reach him at