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What Industrial Wireless Network Solution Should I Choose?

Looking into industrial wireless networks? Find out why industrial wireless networks are replacing wired networks, how they work, and the benefits they provide.

What is Industrial Wireless?

Industrial wireless networks enable secure and reliable wireless connections for industrial applications. Industrial wireless networks can be compromised of private cellular networks or WiFi, or a combination of both.

The Industrial Wireless Revolution

In the past, industrial applications relied solely on wired connections to collect data about different machines and their status. Even as Wi-Fi became more widely available industrial manufacturers remained hesitant to cut the cord, and with good reason.

Unlike corporate offices, industrial plants face numerous challenges, especially in the realm of predictable wireless connectivity, wireless interference and security. Many plants require thousands of square feet in wireless coverage with many large metal obstacles that block or reflect signals to create dead zones and wireless disruptions as users and devices move around.

While wireless reliability is important for a traditional office, it's crucial for the safety and uptime in an industrial setting. Recent advancements in wireless technology, specifically private cellular,  have finally given industrial enterprises the flexibility to expand wirelessly while maintaining wired-like reliability and performance.

Why is Wireless Replacing Wired Connections?

Private wireless networks offer a variety of benefits in industrial settings, including low latency, deterministic connectivity and performance, and extended coverage at a lower ROI than conventional wireless alternatives. Over the coming years, private cellular wireless will likely replace wired connections in industrial facilities, particularly as 5G networks and user equipment become pervasive.. These networks will also enable factory owners to experiment with new business models, such as Industry 4.0

Compared to wired connections, wireless is typically faster and easier to install and scale. Many enterprises are leveraging new wireless mediums to scale faster and dramatically reduce their CAPEX by eliminating the need to install new cabling, power drops  and all the additional network switching and routing infrastructure required to make it all work.

Wireless connections are now increasingly popular in industrial environments, and many businesses are eager to take advantage of this technology. However, best-effort wireless connectivity, such as Wi-Fi, have failed to meet the stringent demands required within industrial manufacturing operations. While wired connections still play an important role in big business, the flexibility of wireless makes it a more attractive option for remote devices, IIoT, and hazardous environments.

Challenges of Industrial Wireless

One of the biggest challenges in industrial wireless networks is non-Wi-Fi interference from machinery. Different types of electromagnetic interference from machinery can generate radio-frequency activity, but this type of interference is not part of any communication protocol. It is essentially noise within the RF spectrum, raising the noise floor within a given environment.

In many industrial applications, reliable communication is critical to ensure the proper operation of equipment. Industrial environments often contain harsh operating conditions, including temperature and humidity extremes. A typical industrial communication system must withstand this environment, and this can present many challenges.

Types of Industrial Wireless Networks

While there are various configurations industrial networks can have, there are two primary technologies that currently dominate the space. Keep in mind, both wireless technologies can be used at the same time, and often complement each other in different scenarios.

Wi-Fi Networks

A best-effort technology conceived for consumers, Wi-Fi has been a staple for wireless networking in both business and personal use cases. Wi-Fi, specifically Wi-Fi 6 offers improved range and performance than previous versions making use of  orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) smf multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO).  Still, Wi-Fi technology remains best effort with clients contending for access to the medium.

Almost all IIoT sensors can use Wi-Fi, allowing administrators to easily add new sensors without worrying about compatibility issues. Wi-Fi proves to be a solid option for smaller industrial operations, but tends to lack in range, reliability and detailed QoS features essential for vital industrial use cases.

If you’re interested in deep-dive comparison, be sure to check out our Wi-Fi vs Cellular post for more details.

WI-FI Pros:

  • Easy to setup and implement
  • Moderate range indoors
  • Uses inexpensive hardware
  • Broad end user device support

Wi-Fi Cons:

  • Susceptible to interference (uses unlicensed spectrum)
  • Lacks granular QoS features (application-based QoS)
  • Requires more access points to extend coverage
  • Not viable for ultra-low latency requirements
  • Not the best option for larger industrial environments
  • Not ideal for moving sensors (autonomous vehicles/robotics)

Commercial Cellular Networks

Cellular networks have traditionally been the domain of large public carriers, requiring organizations to contract with a mobile network operator of their choice thereby relinquishing control and service quality to the carrier. Cellular technology is broadly viewed as useful within industrial enterprises for significantly expanding wireless coverage to support thousands of square footage of new service areas. In the early days, cellular networks used LTE/4G for communication which enabled high-speed data transmission with ample bandwidth.

Now, with the emergence of 5G technology, industrial wireless networks can support high availability services, ultra-low latency applications, and IoT orchestration at scale. Unlike Wi-Fi, cellular networks operate on a licensed spectrum, providing protection from interference from neighboring networks. For a detailed breakdown of the difference between LTE and 5G, check out our in-depth comparison of the two technologies.

Commercial cellular service is typically easy to obtain, but can limit enterprises in terms of coverage, performance, and transparency. With many commercial providers offering inflexible service offerings, businesses often lack insight into where their data is going and how it is processed.

Another considerable drawback is the lack of integration available between commercial cellular providers and private companies. Many times industrial wireless networks require integration with IoT systems and other internal applications and IP network services. These integrations can be difficult if not impossible to implement when a commercial carrier controls your cellular service.

Public Cellular Pros:

  • Great for low latency applications
  • Provides significant coverage both indoors and outdoors
  • Supports continuous coverage for moving devices
  • Requires fewer access points to supply coverage
  • Offers robust SIM-based security
  • Not as susceptible to interference as Wi-Fi

Public Cellular Cons:

  • Commercial contracts can throttle bandwidth and performance
  • Businesses have less control over their data and privacy
  • Internal integrations are difficult to implement
  • Businesses are subject to data-rate changes

Private Cellular Networks

Private cellular networks allow enterprises to control every aspect of their network without relying on an outside provider. This gives businesses full control over their coverage, QoS, data privacy, and hardware.

Similar to enterprise Wi-Fi, private cellular networks use access points to support devices across the coverage area. Since Wi-Fi and cellular operate on different frequencies, businesses can use both technologies in tandem without having to worry about interference.

Private cellular networks can broadcast across the protected CBRS spectrum, allowing for the same protection against unwanted interference. Organizations can freely access CBRS spectrum on a county-basis, enabling enterprises to scale and launch new sites with confidence their industrial wireless will perform.

With full control, businesses can seamlessly integrate their internal applications with their  private cellular network and even synchronize QoS from the LAN to their private cellular. This allows administrators to easily implement a cellular network into their IT stack without complexities or tediously inputting duplicate policies.

Historically, cellular networks have been complicated, cumbersome and costly to deploy. With the advent of 5G LAN systems, Celona has innovated a new approach to enterprise use of private cellular technology, making it much simpler to use through plug-and-play hardware, intuitive tools, and dedicated support.

Private Wireless Pros:

  • Requires fewer access points to supply coverage
  • Offers robust SIM-based security
  • Great for low latency applications
  • Provides significant coverage both indoors and outdoors
  • Supports continuous coverage for moving devices
  • Protected from interference through CBRS licensing
  • Easy to setup and implement

Private Wireless Cons:

  • Not ideal for smaller businesses

Plug-and-Play Industrial Wireless With Celona

Celona offers manufacturers and industrial-focused organizations with their own private  wireless networks as an end-to-end turnkey solution. Through the simple yet powerful 5G LAN architecture, organizations can easily deploy plug-and-play hardware throughout their environment to get started in hours, not days.

The 5G LAN solution integrates directly with your existing architecture allowing administrators to easily integrate, automate and synchronize QoS enforcement per application or device group across the enterprise from a cloud-based console. Behind the scenes, Celona Edge software provides proactive monitoring and ensures network service level objectives, such as throughput and latency requirements, are consistently being met.

Celona uses cloud networking principles to allow massive scalability and to make implementing 5G LANs an out-of-box experience. Client onboarding is streamlined since users and devices are identified and authenticated with SIM, enhancing security and eliminating tedious device configuration of usernames, passwords or certificates.  All subscriber administration can be performed within its cloud orchestration console and be performed alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.

If you’re looking to get the most out of your industrial wireless network, Celona can help. Check out our network planner to estimate the size of your 5G LAN on private cellular spectrum, or test-drive Celona’s unique solution for yourself with a free trial.

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