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How 5G/Wi-Fi 6 will transform multi-access networks in industrial IoT

The excitement around 5G and Wi-Fi 6 is dominating the news, with  5G networks estimated to be 10 times faster than 4G. While national rollouts are still in infancy, leading service providers say they expect to see more national rollouts in 2020 and shortly thereafter. U.S. service providers are currently in various stages of the 5G rollout, however, 5G services are still limited to selected pilot areas.

Wi-Fi 6 solutions – the next generation of Wi-Fi – started to become available earlier this year. And much like 5G, Wi-Fi 6 promises capabilities like faster speeds and lower latency. Although not widely available, devices are already entering the market that will support this new generation.

 

What do 5G and Wi-Fi 6 mean for IoT, especially industrial IoT (IIoT)?

In IoT, there is an exponential number of devices that are being connected to a network each and every day. As that massive volume continues to grow, there needs to be a cellular network in place that’s capable of supporting all these devices, while addressing enhancements to contend with low latency.

For organizations with digitization initiatives evaluating IoT projects, as well as organizations that are continuing to ramp up their IoT deployments, these devices could be anything from Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Automated Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR), robots, or 4K/8K video camera (to name a few). These devices are installed in a variety of industrial locations, which can create additional burdens on the network.

For IoT to work in these scenarios, organizations scaling their IoT deployments – particularly industrial enterprises – will need to rely on multi-access (i.e. in 3GPP specifications) networks that take advantage of both private LTE, i.e. CBRS, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 technologies depending on the use case. One given technology can’t fulfill all needs – there’s considerations of cost, demand, manageability and automation, IP-based industrial networks, and the need to leverage various access and backhaul technologies to meet total cost of ownership (TCO) and operational requirements. The net-net is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

When we think about our personal tablet or laptop as an example, consider how much our bill would be if we ran it off a cellular network versus Wi-Fi. Instead of one tablet or laptop, enterprises are connecting thousands of industrial IoT devices that embed Ethernet or Wi-Fi by default and they, too, want to avoid those exorbitant costs. Sure, in some cases it makes sense for the devices to run on private cellular infrastructure (i.e. mining or oil and gas customers connecting remote assets via private LTE to account for a lack of public cellular coverage), but for most, using a combination of cellular data (5G) and wireless (Wi-Fi 6) will reduce overall expenses to connect IoT projects while enhancing the overall throughput and low-latency of the network.

This is only the beginning. The future opportunities for 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will continue to grow as standards are established, and as we go from proof of concept to real-world deployments. 

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