The benefits of multiple wireless tech for Industry 4.0

Matteo Grandi
on
November 17, 2020

Introduction

For years the world of Wi-Fi networks using ISM bands, and the world of mobile communications on licensed bands, have been perceived as two separated entities addressing different needs. Wi-Fi on a more domestic and consumer market, while 4G/5G as technologies reserved to the MNOs, inaccessible to the industry and smart venues unless relying on an expensive agreement with the MNO. The role of the MNO became the role of the infrastructure and network manager, while the Wi-Fi can be easily managed by the company IT department.


There are complementarities between Wi-Fi and 5G for instance: Wi-Fi has a poor QoS system, is not designed to ensure a certain SLA, providing only a best-effort connection, but it is inexpensive and uses unlicensed frequencies. 5G is a way more reliable and deterministic in its performance, but less cost-effective, resulting suitable for mission critical applications.

The diffusion of WLAN

When we think WLAN, we often think Wi-Fi. The 802.11 standard family commonly called Wi-Fi which started becoming popular with 802.11a/b/g and widely used in domestic and enterprise environment with the 802.11n amendment. The 802.11ac first and the 802.11ax then (WiFi5 and WFi6) overcame the drawbacks in terms of throughput of their predecessors. Nowadays, the 802.11 family is available on different frequencies, providing always more sophisticated modulation and coding scheme (MCS), offering MIMO connectivity and bandwidth that started with 20MHz, 40, 80, 80+80, up to 160MHz guaranteeing a throughput that was not even imaginable a few years ago. Not only the domestic and enterprise environment benefit from the latest Wi-Fi amendments, also the industries could choose between an ecosystem of products designed to cover their needs. Despite the large consumer market uptake, the manufacturer and the whole industrial sector struggled to benefitting at full from the Wi-Fi. The industries often need determinism in the performance of the WLAN, things that Wi-Fi is not designed to offer. Generally speaking Wi-Fi has not been designed to address the service monetization opportunities of the industrial sector such as AI, IIoT, cooperative robots, assisted maintenance, and so on. The harsh constraints of the manufactures, chemical, metal, pharmaceutical, and natural resources industries, bring hard challenges for networks, in terms of reliability, latency, coverage, power consumption, throughput, mobility, device density, management of the interference, and security, that the Wi-Fi standard is not designed to address.   


The raise of private networks


Cellular mobile communication standards such as LTE and 5G can provide the service level required by the manufacturing and process industries. 5G promises predictable performance in terms of throughput, latency and reliability, QoS, and interference management that cannot be achieved by the standard 802.11 protocol family. Furthermore, 5G relies on software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) to offer top-notch characteristics such as network slicing, and built-in security. Well organized and managed network slicing has proven to be more flexible and efficient than the traditional QoS implementation of WLAN or even LTE, in a way that it is not even comparable. In this way 5G gives the possibility of setting-up a deterministic QoS level for each selected traffic flow.

The trend of private 5G is experiencing an exponential growth exactly for the reasons just mentioned. Industries, mining facilities, oil and gas companies, and smart buildings are increasingly adopting private networks. 

In terms of cost, the use of licensed spectrum and the cost of 5G-enabled equipment are certainly higher than a standard Wi-Fi on unlicensed bands deployment, But with private 5G network the difference can be strongly reduced especially adopting multi-vendor and multi-RAT (radio access technologies) solutions

Given the streamlined capabilities offered by 5G, enterprises and industries are implementing private 5G into their plants, but the ones who have already implemented Wi-Fi or 4G seek the integration between these standards. The major fear of the IT administrator is to lose the full control and management they normally have over WiFi-based WLAN infrastructures, and to face an increasing complexity in the management and maintenance of a 5G private architecture. The risk they foresee is to have then 2 different control systems for each of the two (or more) separated technologies.

This problem has been successfully tackled by Neutroon that offers a multi-RAT (multiple Radio Access Technologies), vendor-agnostic, Network-as-a-Service solution able to integrate Private 5G, LTE and Wi-Fi under the same virtualization layer, extending the slicing capabilities, and merging the advantages of the different standards without increasing the complexity for the IT manager. Actually Neutroon simplifies the network management, independently of which radio technologies are used. All the radio resources (5G, 4G, or Wi-Fi) and the computational resources can be managed and controlled by a single, flexible, user-friendly interface. The user has access to a simplified interface to manage the different deployed private networks, the slices (network and computational resource), the whole infrastructure, the connected devices, and the third party Apps that can be onboarded to comply with security requirements, billing, interoperate with external software, or to address specific use cases. 

Neutroon democratizes the access to private 5G for industries, enterprises, and smart cities, saving the customer up to 50% on TCO (i.e. total cost of ownership).


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