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Why Wi-Fi 6 and 6E will connect factories of the future

Tech body pushes reliability, cost savings of next-gen wireless comms for IIoT – not a typo

Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are being promoted as technologies for enabling industrial automation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) thanks to features that provide more reliable communications and reduced costs compared with wired network alternatives, at least according to the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA).

The WBA’s Wi-Fi 6/6E for IIoT working group, led by Cisco, Deutsche Telekom, and Intel, has pulled together ideas on the future of networked devices in factories and written it all up in a “Wi-Fi 6/6E for Industrial IoT: Enabling Wi-Fi Determinism in an IoT World” manifesto.

The detailed whitepaper makes the case that wireless communications has become the preferred way to network sensors as part of IIoT deployments because it's faster and cheaper than fiber or copper infrastructure. The alliance is a collection of technology companies and service providers that work together on developing standards, coming up with certifications and guidelines, advocating for stuff that they want, and so on.

To give a sense of the sweeping improvements the WBA expects, the working group cites an example in the oil and gas industry where moving to a wireless deployment delivers a 75 percent reduction in installation costs.

The team also describes how Wi-Fi 6 provides several deterministic capabilities for controlling quality of service (QoS) to deliver high reliability for critical applications. These include traffic prioritization offered by Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) support, plus the multi-link operation (MLO), which allows a device to use more than one wireless channel at the same time.

Determinism (guaranteed reliability) is also apparently improved through the ability to provide scheduled network access, enabled by trigger-based uplink orthogonal frequency domain multiple access (OFDMA) in Wi-Fi 6.

The report also notes that Wi-Fi 6E adds support for an additional 1.2GHz of spectrum in the 6GHz band, which is more than what's available in the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands that earlier Wi-Fi networks were restricted to, although how much of the 6GHz spectrum is available for license-free use varies depending on where in the world you are.

Speaking of restrictions, all of this is predicated on the availability of chipsets suitable for industrial use – think microcontrollers and that sort of thing – that actually support this generation of wireless communications.

The 52-page report includes network deployment guidelines for factory, warehouse, logistics and other use cases, such as using Wi-Fi 6 scheduling capabilities to optimize traffic patterns and manage QoS requirements.

According to WBA CEO Tiago Rodrigues, Wi-Fi is set to be a key enabler of the global IIoT market thanks to these enhancements in Wi-Fi 6 and 6E.

“Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are expanding capabilities 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,” he said in a statement. ®

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