A key technology trend for automation and control in 2020 and beyond is the emergence of wireless communications including 5G, Wi-Fi 6, LoRaWAN and more. An obvious benefit for factory automation is the use of wireless communication for remote monitoring and remote operation of physical assets but an equally important benefit is an ability to replace cables, unreliable WiFi and the many industrial standards in use today.

Many experts are predicting that 5G will make an outsized impact for Internet of Things (IoT) applications driven by higher performance, increased reliability and robustness along with lower latency but other wireless technologies and new WiFi 6 are also bringing new capabilities expect to make an impact as well.

certification mark, 5G, Wi-Fi 6

New WiFi 6 CERTIFIED mark will denote products implementing this new technology. (Image source: WiFi Alliance)

Certification of Wi-Fi 6

One major step forward for wireless technologies in industrial communications is the recent certification of Wi-Fi 6. The announcement by the WiFi Alliance moves this technology ahead by enabling vendors to move toward the release of certified products, in advance of IEEE ratification process of IEEE 802.11ax expected to be completed in 2020.

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 delivers advanced security protocols and requires the latest generation of Wi-Fi security, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED WPA3. 

Here is a short listing of new advanced capabilities:

  • Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA): shared channels increases network efficiency and lowers latency for uplink and downlink traffic in high demand environments
  • Multi-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO): allows more downlink data to be transferred at once and enables an access point to transmit data to a larger number of devices concurrently
  • 160 MHz channels: increased bandwidth delivers greater performance with low latency
  • Target wake time (TWT): improves battery life in Wi-Fi and IoT devices
  • 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM): increased throughput by encoding more data in the same amount of spectrum
  • Transmit beamforming: higher data rates at a given range produces greater network capacity

Synergy of 5G and Wi-Fi 6

Wireless vendors are anticipating that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will be deployed together in smart manufacturing applications. They share technology that makes wireless solutions more deterministic, especially important for mission-critical IoT devices used in factory automation. The anticipated tiered release and extended timeline for 5G deployment is expected to result in Wi-Fi 6 rolling out more quickly than 5G.

A Cisco blog article,  “Comparing Wi-Fi 6 and 5G—it’s more than a good connection” provides more information on the synergy between these two technologies.

Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN

Another interesting development is potential new IoT use cases incorporating WiFi and LoRaWAN technologies. According to a new white paper from the LoRa Alliance, new opportunities are being created when Wi-Fi networks that are traditionally built to support critical IoT are merged with LoRaWAN networks that are traditionally built to support low data rate massive IoT applications.

Wi-Fi & LoRaWAN®, 5G, wireless

Massive IoT versus critical IoT applications illustrates the wide variety of potential wireless solutions, and specific technology requirements for each area. (Image source: LoRa Alliance)

The argument is that there is a growing set of IoT use cases that rely on connectivity spanning large areas that are also able to handle a large number of connections. LoRaWAN as a technology covers long-range use cases at low data rates. This includes hard-to-reach locations such as temperature sensors in a manufacturing setting or vibration sensors in concrete.

Application areas include smart buildings, residential connectivity along with automotive and smart transportation. Hybrid use cases identified in the paper include location and video streaming.

Tthe full white paper on this topic is available at the LoRa Alliance website.

Al Presher is a veteran contributing writer for Design News, covering automation and control, motion control, power transmission, robotics, and fluid power.

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