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WiFi vs Industrial Wireless - What is the difference?

Learn the difference between a typical wireless network like WiFi, and an industrial wireless network.

After reading this article you will be able to easily explain the difference between a typical wireless network that we use at home or the office, like WiFi and an Industrial Wireless network.

So when it comes to wireless networks, we can think of two main types of networks:

– Wireless networks we use at home or the office such as WiFi, Bluetooth, and 5G,

– Industrial Wireless networks such as IIoT or Industrial Internet of Things that we, as automation engineers, use in industrial environments such as power plants, oil refineries, or water treatment plants.

WiFi vs Industrial Wireless

These two major types of wireless networks are different in terms of the amount of data that they typically send and receive, the battery life of the devices used in these networks, and how important the reliability of the data is to the user.

1) Data volume

Typical wireless network data volume

The main difference between a typical wireless network compared to an industrial network is the amount of data that is usually sent and received between devices.

Now, what do I mean by that? Well, let’s take WiFi as an example of a typical wireless network. A WiFi network is designed for devices that send and receive large amounts of data.

Examples of these large amounts of data packages are videos on the internet, images, web pages, etc. these are what we consider large data packages.

Wireless Network vs Industrial Network

Industrial Wireless network data

In contrast, an industrial wireless system is designed for devices that only need to send and receive a small amount of data.

An example is the small amount of data that a gas pressure sensor in an industrial process needs to send to the controller. The data exchanged may be as simple as a tag name and process variable.

This represents only a few words of data that are sent from a device in the field to a controller in the control room, wirelessly every few seconds.

So in an industrial wireless network, we send tiny packages of data in a relatively short period of time about the status of an industrial process.

Industrial Wireless data transfer

2) Battery life of WiFi vs Industrial Wireless

Typical wireless network battery life

Since a typical wireless network such as WiFi or Bluetooth is designed to send and receive large amounts of data, the devices that are used in these networks such as laptops or smartphones consume a lot of battery in a relatively short period of time.

Because of this, you need to charge these devices every few hours or days depending on how much you’re using the device. Larger files result in more use of the device battery and the need to charge the device more often.

Typical Wireless Network battery

Industrial wireless battery consumption

But this is totally different with the devices that are used in an industrial wireless network. An Industrial wireless network is designed to send and receive small amounts of data.

Because of this, the devices that are used in these networks such as wireless sensors and actuators consume very little battery in a relatively large period of time.

As a result, these industrial wireless devices can often operate for years without any need for a battery charge.

This is a fundamental difference, in terms of battery life, between a device that is used in a typical wireless network such as WiFi and a device that is used in an industrial wireless network such as IIoT. And this is not by accident! These industrial wireless devices are designed to have a longer battery life. 

Why, you ask? Because often, they are installed in areas that are not easily accessible. So it is not very easy to power or charge these devices as often as a regular smartphone, for example.

Industrial Wireless Battery Consumption

3) Reliability of WiFi vs Industrial Wireless

Reliability of a typical wireless network

When you are using your smartphone in a typical wireless network such as WiFi, it is ok to lose the connection from time to time.

For example, you are in the middle of a video call and you lose the other person for a second or two. I know, this can be very annoying, but it is just something that happens periodically.

Industrial Wireless Reliability

But when it comes to an industrial wireless network such as IIoT, this is not acceptable. Why? Because in an industrial wireless network, the reliability and the accuracy of the data that is sent and received are very critical.

Take the wireless sensor that we mentioned earlier as an example. As mentioned, this sensor needs to send or report the gas pressure every few seconds to let the controller know what is going on in the process. Right? Now, in a large industrial process, we often have hundreds of these sensors.

Based on this input data, the controller which could often be a PLC or a DCS sends data to an output device such as a valve.

Now if the data that is sent from this wireless sensor gets interrupted, the controller which works as the brain of the system will not be provided with the required input data to be able to send a correct output command to an output device such as a valve, right?

The controller needs input data that is correct and healthy to be able to send a correct and healthy output command to the device in the output.

Interruptions in wireless communication, in a strategic industrial environment such as a power plant or an oil refinery, can result in process upsets, which could lead to other more serious consequences.

So that is why the reliability and accuracy of the data in an industrial wireless system are critical, and in most cases, there is little room for errors or interruption of data communication.

Reliability

Summary

So there you have it. To recap there are three main differences between a typical wireless network such as WiFi and an industrial wireless network such as IIoT:

– In a typical wireless network, we usually send and receive large amounts of data such as video files, images, and webpages.

However, in an industrial wireless network such as IIoT, we usually send and receive small amounts of data like the gas pressure or liquid level in an industrial process.

– Devices that work in a typical wireless network, such as smartphones, are designed to process large amounts of data and because of this, their battery life is relatively short. 

In comparison, devices that work in an industrial wireless network are designed to process small amounts of data and because of this, their battery life could go as long as a few years without requiring a single battery charge.

– In a typical wireless network, it is okay for the data to be interrupted sometimes.

But this is not acceptable in an industrial wireless network. Here the reliability and the accuracy of the data are critical.

Now, you have a very good understanding of the difference between a typical wireless network and an industrial wireless network.

ISA100 Wireless 

One of the most reliable and accurate industrial wireless protocols that you can use to build your industrial wireless network is ISA100 Wireless.

This industrial wireless protocol is developed and maintained by the International Society of Automation, ISA, which is the organization responsible for the development of the standards and the certifications for the industrial automation industry worldwide.

One thing that we particularly like about ISA100 protocol is that this is a protocol that is designed to work with all wireless devices from all major manufacturers such as Honeywell, Flowserve, Yokogawa, and Spirax-Sarco, to name a few.

This simply means when you use ISA100 as your industrial wireless network, you’re not tied into a single vendor solution and you have the freedom to go with the wide range of manufacturers that support this protocol.

To learn more about ISA100 head on over to isa100wci.org.

ISA100

If you have any questions about ISA100 or industrial wireless networks in general add them in the comments below. As you know, we read each and every comment and reply to it in less than 24 hours!

Got a friend, client, or colleague who could use some of this information? Please share this article.

The RealPars Team

By Shahpour Shapournia

By Shahpour Shapournia

CEO, RealPars

Posted on Dec 28, 2020

Ted Mortenson

By Shahpour Shapournia

CEO, RealPars

Posted on Dec 28, 2020

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