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WBA sets out how Wi-Fi 6/6E enables Industry 4.0

Report highlights next-gen wireless use cases, including detailed autonomous mobile robots, automatic guided vehicles, augmented and virtual reality, and posts IIoT deployment guidelines

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), the global trade association for the development of Wi-Fi technologies, has published guidelines revealing key features for the advance of Wi-Fi 6/6E standards with regard to the internet of things (IoT) and Industry 4.0.

Its paper, Wi-Fi 6/6E for industrial IoT: enabling Wi-Fi determinism in an IoT world, explores how Wi-Fi’s latest features are ideal for meeting the unique, demanding requirements for a wide variety of existing and emerging IIoT applications, including manufacturing/Industry 4.0 and logistics, involving autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), automated guided vehicles (AGVs), predictive maintenance and augmented/virtual/mixed reality (AR/VR/MR).

Produced by the WBA’s Wi-Fi 6/6E for IIOT work group, led by Cisco, Deutsche Telekom and Intel, the whitepaper provides an overview of Wi-Fi 6 and 6E capabilities that are ideal for sensors and other IIoT applications, such as scheduled access enabled by trigger-based uplink orthogonal frequency domain multiple access in Wi-Fi 6. This provides the ability to reduce or eliminate contention and bound latency, which the WBA said leads to increased levels of determinism applicable to all real-time and IIoT applications.

The WBA also emphasised that Wi-Fi 6E supports up to 1.2GHz of spectrum, making it ideal for use cases that require both multi-Gb/s throughput and determinism, such as industrial AR/VR/MR and sensor fusion. The report noted that Wi-Fi 6 provides many deterministic quality-of-service capabilities, such as the traffic prioritisation that is a key component of time-sensitive networking for Industry 4.0 applications. Another example is multi-link operation, a capability that helps provide high reliability for applications that cannot tolerate any packet loss.

The fine timing measurement protocol specified in IEEE 802.11-2016 enables both time synchronisation but also precise indoor range and position/location determination. This, said the WBA, can be used for AMRs and AGV applications such as route planning, exception handling and safety-related aspects including collision avoidance based on proximity. This capability does not require additional Wi-Fi infrastructure, so manufacturers can implement it immediately, for instance as part of their Industry 4.0 migration.

The report also highlighted that the target-wake-time feature added to Wi-Fi 6 provides more efficient power save and scheduling enhancement. WBA regarded this capability as a good fit for battery-powered IIoT nodes that need to transmit only infrequently, such as a sensor that uploads data only when a motor’s temperature exceeds a certain threshold.

The WBA noted that manufacturers were increasingly using IIoT sensors for vibration, temperature and lubricant viscosity to catch emerging equipment problems before they result in extensive, expensive downtime. It added that IIoT sensors provide real-time insights about production output, inventory levels and asset locations. Wireless has become the preferred way to network these sensors because it is faster and cheaper to deploy than copper or fibre.

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The 52-page report also included RF/network deployment guidelines for factory, warehouse, logistics and other use cases. For example, it provided recommendations for leveraging 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6 scheduling capabilities to optimise traffic patterns and manage critical quality-of-service requirements. Another example cited was using high-gain directional antennas to increase channel re-use rates and work around metal racks and other signal-attenuating features commonly found in warehouses.

It also said that as more equipment is monitored, wiring becomes prohibitive, so industry was moving towards the inclusion of wireless technologies to lessen the cost of obtaining more information about their processes. It noted that in one recent case in the oil and gas industry, moving to a wireless installation resulted in a 75% cost reduction in installation.

“Wi-Fi has been a key enabler of the global IIoT market, which is on track to have a compound annual growth rate of about 23% between 2017 and 2023,” said Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the WBA. “Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are expanding capabilties by providing the multi-Gb/s data rates, additional spectrum, deterministic performance and other advanced capabilities necessary to support demanding applications such as Industry 4.0.”

More than three dozen vendors, service providers and other organisations took part in developing the whitepaper, which described many of their current projects. Examples included Cisco, Intel and partners working on use cases involving AMR and AGV, where key requirements include <10-20ms latency, <50km/h speed and .99.9999% reliability, and Cisco and Mettis Aerospace  working on sensor applications, where requirements include very high reliability, low power consumption and high device density.

Cisco Wireless CTO Matt MacPherson said: “The next industrial evolution will not only depend on the ability to connect more things, but to also add greater reliability, intelligence and security. This can only be done when the world’s leading companies work together with progressive Industry 4.0 customers to explore and implement new, game-changing technologies.”

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