The future of wireless connectivity in industry

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is constantly growing. This is confirmed by a recent research report from Berg Insight, which has forecast the installed base of wireless devices in industrial applications will grow at a CAGR of 27.7 per cent from 14.3 million connections at the end of 2015 to 62 million by 2021.

However, as the number of connected devices continues to grow, so does the demand for better wireless connection.

According to Richard Ronc, Business Development Manager for the iAutomation Group at Advantech Australia, people want stronger connections, safer connections and longer ranges.

While these things are feasible and are being worked on as we speak, “certain things in physics just can’t change”, according to Ronc.

When asked to elaborate, Ronc rattled off a list of places where it can be difficult to achieve a good wireless connection; large warehouses, bodies of water, mine sites and large agricultural sites.

This begs the question whether any of the upcoming developments or iterations of wireless technology could offer a solution.

Li-fi

There are high hopes for li-fi, which is touted to be 100 times faster than wi-fi.

The technology utilises the frequencies generated by LED light bulbs (fitted with microchips), which beam information through the air in a sort of digital “morse code”. A card reader or dongle is plugged into a computer to read these frequencies.

One of the technology’s main benefits is the fact that it could provide super-fast connection in areas where wi-fi doesn’t work, such as some of the areas mentioned above.

Unlike wi-fi, it could also be directed and beamed at a particular user, which would limit the risk of data theft.

While it has generally been dubbed a cost-effective solution (with some claiming it could solve internet access issues in developing nations), it does involve the purchase of a card reader or dongle.

Li-fi isn’t commercially available yet, but the technology has already been tested in a number of settings throughout Europe, including for industrial purposes.

Estonian firm Velmenni, led by founder and chief executive Deepak Solanki, designed a smart lighting solution for an industrial environment where the data communication is done through light.

Solanki believes that the technology will be commercially available in another two years.

5G A step-up from 4G wireless technology

5G is starting to receive a lot of publicity, with companies fighting to become the first providers of the technology.

Unlike previous generations, 5G has seen a significant focus on the needs of industrial networks using machine-to-machine (M2M) links in the IoT.

According to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance, the following will be required for 5G networks:

• Data rates of tens of megabits per second for tens of thousands of users

• One gigabit per second simultaneously to many workers on the same floor

• Several hundreds of thousands of simultaneous connections for massive wireless sensor networks

• Spectral efficiency significantly enhanced compared to 4G

• Improved coverage

• Enhanced signalling efficiency

• Significant reduction in latency compared to LTE

A recent study from Ovum suggests that 5G technology will reach 24 million subscribers by the end of 2021, with the most advanced markets being the US, Japan, China and South Korea.

The technology appears to be a good contender for industrial applications, especially considering the rise of mobile solutions for industry.

However, it is likely that the technology will be available to the general public before it will be available for use in industry.

As the protocols and technologies being used are still being confirmed, it is expected that operators will roll out commercial systems by 2020, with full systems implemented by 2022.

The future

No matter what type of technology is used, there are some trends in wireless technology that we can expect to see, according to Ronc.

These include longer distances and more reliable signals, with higher data rates and power consumption being the trade-offs.

However, he stands by the fact that customers will always be seeking more from their wireless connections, and while some things are infeasible due to a current lack of technology, there are many things that will likely never be possible due to actual limitations in physics.