Wireless technology benefits for industrial applications

The technical improvements in both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 make wireless technology an even more appealing choice for industrial applications.

By Oliver Hammarstig September 27, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles


Learning Objectives

  • 5G and Wi-Fi 6 use in industrial manufacturing applications are growing.
  • 5G is better suited for outdoor areas with moving vehicles that need to be tracked.
  • Wi-Fi 6 is better suited for applications indoors and high-density areas.

Industrial Wireless Insights

  • Wireless technology advances offer many potential benefits for manufacturers, but concerns about its latency and reliability have kept some from adopting the technology.
  • 5G and Wi-Fi 6 offer many potential benefits for manufacturers depending on the situation and can bring many devices and machines together at the same time.
  • 5G is better suited for outdoor applications while Wi-Fi 6 is better suited for indoor applications.

The benefits of wireless solutions over traditional cabling are numerous and significant. A smart factory offering true flexibility where automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can go wherever they are needed and where robotics work collaboratively to optimize production. This flexibility and automation is not possible without a wireless solution.

With wireless solutions, users can remotely access and manage or monitor equipment. There is no longer a requirement for personnel to climb a long ladder, descend into the depths of a mine, or enter other unpleasant or potentially dangerous environment to check on equipment.

If the equipment is connected to a wide area network (WAN), then there is no need to even be near the equipment, which can reduce the cost and the inconveniences of traveling.

Wireless solutions also are cheaper to install and easier to scale or modify. Maintenance costs also are reduced because there is no need to manually connect to the equipment, which means the connectors are less likely to be damaged from constant use.

Why haven’t industries already moved to a wireless solution? The two most common reasons are apprehension – there is a fear of change. The second reason relates to the technology.

There’s a concern that the wireless technology is not good enough, that the latency is too high, bandwidth too low, or the connection is not stable or secure.

A common mindset in industry is “if it’s working, don’t break it.” This is understandable as caution is fundamental in industrial applications, we want to ensure safety and prevent downtime. But the transition from cables to wireless does not need to be complex and wireless solutions are already in use. It’s not a step into the unknown.

Industrial wireless concerns for manufacturers

Concern that wireless and cellular standards don’t meet the requirements are becoming less valid with every wireless advancement. The key thing is to establish requirements and look at the options, including the wireless and cellular standards. If stability is key, the amount of data is low, and no internet connection is required, then Bluetooth is a good choice.

If an internet connection with low bandwidth, low cost, and low power is needed, then a cellular connection using low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) standards is an excellent choice. If low latency, high bandwidth, and high security is needed, then the newer wireless solutions may be appropriate.

This is where wireless solutions will be a key driver over the next few years. The advancements of 5G compared to 4G and Wi-Fi 6 compared to Wi-Fi 4 and 5 enable more industrial applications to cut the cables and install a wireless solution as the wireless technology can meet more technical requirements.

Comparing 5G and 4G connectivity

5G is not just an incremental improvement over 4G LTE; it is a major evolution providing significant improvements such as 50 times more speed, 10 times less latency and 1,000 times more capacity. This opens many possibilities for industrial applications.

However, 5G adoption does not mean that there is no place for 4G LTE in the industrial applications. LPWAN standards can provide the wireless connections required for large IoT applications where low cost, low energy, and small amounts of data need to be sent over long distances. 5G can be used in critical IoT applications where reliability, low latency and high availability are required.

Comparing Wi-Fi 6 with Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4

The areas with the quickest uptake of Wi-Fi 6 technology are likely to be public Wi-Fi and the home market as with Wi-Fi 6 it’s now possible to connect more devices simultaneously and still have a stable and fast connection. Applications using augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR), such as digital twins for remote monitoring, will appreciate the higher throughput and lower latencies on offer.

Smart management techniques such as the target wake time (TWT) feature will reduce energy consumption as the devices will only be active when they need to send or receive data, this will be a key benefit to anything battery powered.

5G and Wi-Fi 6 can offer significant improvements on their predecessors and as a result, both offer opportunities for industrial applications. Choosing between 5G or Wi-Fi 6 will depend on the use case.

Generally, Wi-Fi 6 provides an internet connection either indoors or in defined high-density outside areas such as stadiums, whereas 5G provides an internet connection to all other outdoor areas, including vehicles or people on the move. On that basis, a typical industrial use case for 5G would be to remotely track vehicles on the move.

On the other hand, a typical Wi-Fi 6 industrial example would be to provide internet connectivity to capillary networks or any other indoor application falling under the massive IoT umbrella. As always, it’s important to go into more detail and check any requirements. Wi-Fi 6 is cheaper to install and scale. If the intended application is indoors or in a high density outside area and Wi-Fi 6 meets the requirements, choose Wi-Fi 6.

If requirements are more demanding and fall into the critical IoT category, then cellular is a better choice even if the installation is indoors. For example, low latency is essential to critical IoT applications, and although latency has improved in both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, the supported levels are lower in 5G. Wi-Fi 6 supports latency down to 20 ms, but 5G supports latency down to 1 ms, which makes it a viable option for all but the most demanding critical IoT applications.

Oliver Hammarstig is the product line director for wireless technology at HMS Networks‘ Business Unit Anybus. This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe’s website. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Keywords: wireless, wireless and 5G, Wi-Fi 6


How are wireless technologies changing your plant’s operations?

Author Bio: Oliver Hammarstig is the product line director for wireless technology at HMS Networks Business Unit Anybus.