Wi-Fi is gearing up for an industrial makeover with new features – Stacey on IoT


This week, the Wireless Broadband Alliance published a report detailing how to improve Wi-Fi for use in Industrial IoT. The report focuses on the contribution of Time Sensitive Networking features to wireless networks using Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. Long-time readers of this newsletter may recall my obsession from a few years ago with time-sensitive networking, also known as deterministic networking.

Time-aware networking has been essential in bringing features such as low latency and guaranteed packet delivery to industrial networks that use Ethernet. You might remember the days when you were downloading large files at home and then having issues when making voice calls or streaming movies. When Ethernet or Wi-Fi networks are congested, packets can drop or slow down. It’s not a big deal at home, but it’s problematic in a factory setting where a sensor reading might need to tell a controller to stop something before it explodes or fails. cut off someone’s hand.

“Can we unplug this production line?”

Thus, companies have relied on the ability to segment portions of Ethernet networks for dedicated packets to ensure they arrive and guarantee certain latencies. In 2017, when I was writing on TSN, the focus was on cables. But with companies embracing autonomous robots that roam warehouse floors or looking for flexible manufacturing lines that can be adapted to changing needs, going wireless makes more sense.

In many factories and for more modern use cases, such as heads-up displays or robots, wireless works best. The idea is to piggyback some of the capabilities alongside existing Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E equipment that factories are adopting today, and integrate them into future Wi-Fi standards.

Although some of the features planned for the industry are not currently part of the existing Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E standards, Malcolm Smith, CTO advisor at Cisco, says they can be layered through additional certifications. He hopes they can be part of the Wi-Fi 7 standards created by the IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance. He said the companies are testing some of these deterministic features today and expect some customers to put them into production by next year.

Cisco, Deutsche Telekom and Intel lead the WBA task force that compiled this report.

So what will enterprises use deterministic Wi-Fi for? Some features and use cases include the ability to guarantee delivery of specific packets and latencies, as mentioned above. In an industrial environment, especially for equipment that acts autonomously, having a defined and guaranteed latency is essential before decoupling it from a wire.

The WBA report also describes the use of the precise timing measurement protocol defined in the IEEE 802.11 standard for precise location capabilities. This could be useful to ensure that an autonomous robot stays on a predefined path or helps direct workers away from dangerous areas.

Other features focus on Wi-Fi 6’s power-saving features, which can be extremely important for battery-powered devices. After all, if you don’t need a wire for connectivity, you should try getting rid of it for power as well. This will especially help with bots and heads-up displays. It can also help with sensors, which typically don’t use Wi-Fi due to the power demands associated with the protocol.

Finally, by applying these features in Wi-Fi 6E, which allocates a whole new band of spectrum for Wi-Fi data, businesses can utilize more capacity. Some of the autonomous robots use cameras and LIDAR, which can generate gigabytes of data. Now that data can travel on the relatively empty 6 GHz spectrum with quality guarantees.

As Wi-Fi prepares for its industrial debut, it will have to compete with the 5G and private 5G networks that carriers are trying to sell. Smith believes that since many enterprises already have Wi-Fi networks and 5G equipment designed for factory implementations is just coming to market, customers will adopt Wi-Fi for many industrial use cases, simply because it is already in their factories and the deterministic features are available.

I think we’ll probably end up with both.

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