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WLAN and Bluetooth dominate market for wireless-enabled industrial automation equipment

More than half of all wireless-enabled industrial automation equipment shipped in 2012 used Bluetooth or 802.11a/b/g/n wireless LAN (WLAN) technology, with the two entrenched standards set to increase their domination of the market in the coming years.

WLAN accounted for a 31 percent share of shipments of wireless-enabled industrial automation equipment in 2012, while Bluetooth held 22 percent of the market, according to a new report entitled “The World Market for Wireless Communications in Factory and Process Automation” from IMS Research, now part of information and analytics provider IHS.

The remainder of the market was populated by a range of mainly proprietary technologies all accounting for relatively small percentages, as presented in the attached figure.

IHS predicts the share of the market held by 802.11a/b/g/n WLAN and Bluetooth (both Classic and Low Energy variants) will continue to rise at least through the year 2017.

“There are many other technologies offered by a number of vendors which cater to the industrial market,” said Tom Moore, industrial communications analyst for IHS.

“These technologies are usually based either around the 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) band or the lower sub-GHz band, which can offer distance benefits over high frequencies.

"The sub-GHz bands also have an advantage of being free from the busy 2.4 GHz space, which is dominated by consumer products. By moving to this sub-GHz space, the bands are more freely available and can be cheaper to operate in.”

These various proprietary technologies that populate the market are helping promote the adoption of wireless as the individual vendors all push their own technologies. However, having these sundry technologies can make end users cautious to adopt because of the lack of standardisation.

Such caution is prudent, given the war between Ethernet/fieldbus that still rages on.

“Users who want to implement wireless want a standard, unified solution they can rely on,” Moore commented. “This is more difficult with proprietary solutions as there is less scope for interoperability. However, there are a number of more widely available technologies, such as Bluetooth, WirelessHART, or ISA, which can answer to this.”

WLAN and Bluetooth Dominate Market for Wireless-Enabled Industrial Automation Equipment

Overall however, the biggest gap wireless has yet to bridge is the perceived reliability of an unstable network.

“Implementers don’t want a wireless network that’s unreliable,” Moore added. “They believe that the current crop of technologies can be unreliable, but in most cases this isn’t true,” Moore continued.

“Education through advertising and workshops will be essential to helping users understand that wireless can be very suitable for some applications. In most cases, these applications will be data gathering and monitoring, but control may likewise become an application as wireless technology progresses.”

Wireless also has the potential to be a great addition to a factory’s network. While still in the early phases of adoption, it has huge growth potential, especially as networks are similarly being upgraded to more modern Ethernet solutions.

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