Citing the inherent cost advantages Ethernet-based wireless networks can bring to processors, manufacturers and other industrial users, a recent industry study projects infrastructure spending on wireless network technology will more than double from the $75 million spent in 2003 to more than $183 million by 2006.
What will fuel the estimated 34.7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in spending across large vertical industrial markets? Primarily the freedom from wires that the technology delivers. Wireless Ethernet networks offer a number of "perceived" advantages in the industrial setting said Venture Development Corp.'s (VDC's) report "Worldwide Industrial Markets for Wireless Ethernet Infrastructure Components and Network Software," (available at www.vdc-corp.com). According to study respondents wide-spread implementation will take off because:
- Commercial-grade products are readily available, and are sufficiently capable in present form to function reliably in the industrial setting;
- Wireless networks are easier and less costly to maintain and repair;
- The technology enables portable operator interfaces, wireless monitoring and other efficient mobile applications;
- Component prices are falling and will continue to fall as markets for the technology expand;
- Wireless networks negate the cost of wire and allow users to establish networks across greater distances very cost-efficiently;
- Wireless solutions offer great flexibility, easing change-outs and lowering costs associated with expansions, and
- The same network serves both the office and the plant floor, providing a uniformity that lets users save on network infrastructure support and training costs.
Drilling down, the study revealed the most-cited reason for choosing wireless Ethernet was for mobile applications, such as wireless interfaces to portable terminals used by operators, maintenance personnel and engineers. The second most-cited reason? As mentioned, the ease and flexibility in which organizations can expand networks and relocate production assets.
Software's Growing Role
Of the technologies the study covered, including access point/networking components, antennas and network analysis and management software, it's the software segment that is forecast to have the highest CAGR. "While it is a smaller segment dollar volume-wise compared to the other technology categories, spending here is expected to increase more than 57% by 2006," said James Taylor, VDC's Industrial Automation Group practice director. More user-friendly offerings coming online and users becoming more knowledgeable of the benefits derived from using the software were identified as the reasons why spending in this category is ready to jump.
The study's authors said the research shows rapidly increasing consumption of wireless Ethernet infrastructure products and software is expected in all 17 industry segments analyzed. In 2003 the largest markets included Oil and Gas, Water/Waste Water Utilities, Electric Power, Refining & Petrochemical and Automotive. Through 2006 the largest growth rates are expected in the Pharmaceutical, Semiconductor, Pulp & Paper and Mining industries.
What's Out There Now?
VDC's study offered a snapshot of wireless Ethernet technology usage and provided a good view of the current landscape. "The largest share of responding users indicated IEEE 802.11b is the favored standard in industrial facilities," said Taylor. "Only 20% of respondents said they were currently using IEEE 802.11g, but our research reveals it's likely this standard will be adopted by three-quarters of respondents by 2006." More respondents are also expected to adopt IEEE 802.11a than at present, but not at the same pace as the IEEE 802.11g standard.
According to the study, HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the favored protocol for wireless Ethernet networks and will remain so through 2006. However, respondents indicated that XML (Extensible Markup Language) use will also rise, with significantly more users embracing the protocol by 2006.
The largest shares of respondents, said the researchers, were found to be using wireless Ethernet in data transfer between the enterprise and HMIs, the enterprise and controllers, and controllers and distributed/remote I/O. Communication among device-level components was another story with researchers noting the lowest shares of respondents using wireless Ethernet networks for data transfer at the device level. Regardless, the study's authors assert that more users expect to be using wireless Ethernet as the preferred communication network between all the classes of devices by 2006.