Survey: Perceptions and realities of Ethernet use

This comprehensive survey of machine builders, system integrators and end users takes a look at the overall market, current activity, future growth, and emerging user preferences of wireless and wired Ethernet.

By Jim Taylor, VDC, and Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

During 2004, Venture Development Corp
. undertook a comprehensive survey of industrial machine builders, system integrators, and end users regarding their use of both wireless and wired Ethernet. Readers of Industrial Networking were among those participating in the survey.

We are reporting the findings of the survey in two parts. First, we take a quick look at the overall market, identify where current activity and future growth are centered, and then begin to identify user preferences that emerged from the data. In Part II, to be published in our summer issue, we’ll explore current and emerging protocols, connectivity issues, and a host of selection criteria.

Perceptions and realities of Ethernet use: Part 2
Part 2 of this survey explores current and emerging protocols, connectivity issues, and a host of selection, installation and opertional criteria.
The products covered in the study included industrial-grade “wireline,” (wire-based), interconnect products such as connectors, cable/cord sets and distribution boxes; networking components such as bridges, console servers, device servers, distributed/remote I/O, fiberoptic transceivers, gateways (protocol servers), hubs, modems, multiplexers, routers and switches; and network software for analysis and management function.

For wireless, the products covered included antennae, access point/networking components such as bridges console servers, device servers, distributed I/O, gateways (protocol servers), hubs, modems, repeaters, routers, switches, and transceivers; and software for network management and analysis.

First, we can state the obvious: It’s evident from the results of this survey, as well as industry observation, that the use of networking continues to expand in industrial facilities for both facility infrastructure (HVAC, lighting, security, etc.) and for operations in the facilities. Functionally, communications, monitoring and control are provided over the networks. Most of this expansion is associated with wire-based (including fiberoptic) networks with a smaller, clearly developing market for wireless types.

Much of this growth is related to the use of Ethernet--the basis of this study. Estimated worldwide shipments and forecasts through 2006 indicate a 22% annual growth to $1.6 billion for wire-based products, and a 35% annual growth rate to $183 million for wireless Ethernet infrastructure products. The high growth rates forecasted are linked to the perceived advantages of using Ethernet versus other network technologies, and the advantages of using wireless networks.

Perception Grows Reality
The perceived advantages of Ethernet, according to respondents, are:
  • Lower cost--The cost of connecting devices and infrastructure products to an Ethernet network, even when using industrial-grade connectors and cables, is less than that of other open standard and proprietary buses/networks;
  • Plant-wide uniformity--With Ethernet, the same types of networks can be used in both office and the plant floor, saving on infrastructure, training, support and other costs.
  • Greater determinism--New Ethernet protocols and products have greater determinism than previous generation products, allowing Ethernet to be used in a greater range of applications, including fast real-time implementations.
  • Commercial-grade products--Hardened and ruggedized infrastructure products are not needed in all applications and places on the plant floor. The availability of commercial-grade products allows users flexibility concerning environments and reliability.

The perceived advantages of a Wireless implementation:

  • Easier maintenance--Wireless networks can enable more efficient maintenance and repair, thereby lowering maintenance costs and downtime. 
  • Enables mobile applications such as portable operator interfaces with wireless monitoring and control capabilities. This allows operators, engineers, maintenance personnel, and others to interface with equipment without having to be in fixed locations.
  • Lower-cost components--Extensive and growing use of wireless Ethernet or Wi-Fi in high-volume commercial and consumer markets is leading to inexpensive components compared to those of other wireless networks.
  • Lowers cost of wire-centric networks--Wireless networks negate the cost of the wire previously needed to connect devices and controllers. Wireless solutions allow networks to be established over distances or in applications where the cost of cable might have been prohibitive.
  • More flexibility--Wireless solutions offer greater flexibility for ease of change-outs and expansion. This is especially valuable in applications where these conditions are frequent and expensive.

(Click the Download Now button at the bottom of this article to view two charts demonstrating perceived benefits, drawbacks and costs of wired vs. wireless Ethernet networks.)

Commercial vs. Industrial-Grade
Ethernet infrastructure components installed in industrial facilities can be exposed to a variety of environments, depending on the application and industry involved. In some cases, components are kept in rooms or areas away from harsh environments or housed in ruggedized enclosures. In these cases, commercial-grade products might meet user needs, as there is less chance these would be damaged by harsh environments. In other cases, however, the infrastructure components must be located on the plant floor, outside, or in other harsh environments where commercial-grade products might have unacceptable reliability. As a result, there are Ethernet infrastructure components available for use in these conditions. In addition to physical protection characteristics, industrial-grade Ethernet infrastructure products also must provide a high degree of availability and reliability.

Some of the representative environments that industrial-grade Ethernet infrastructure components have to withstand include airborne contaminants; exposure to chemicals, petroleum-based products, corrosive materials, explosive atmospheres and radiation. In addition, process or machine operating conditions might create high levels of humidity, EMI/RFI interference, shock/impact, or vibration.

To ensure more-reliable operation of the industrial-grade products in these environments, products might include built-in failure alarm features, EMI/RFI shielding, optically isolated I/O, redundant power supplies, surge protectors and power supplies that can handle wide voltage variations, and locking devices for connector interconnections. Additionally, components and materials that withstand these conditions are available, as are housings and installation technologies, e.g., being sealed, meeting IP or NEMA enclosure ratings, being intrinsically safe or explosion-proof, etc.

Industry Markets

Worldwide, the study found that largest consuming markets for wired-network-based Ethernet infrastructure products in the study are in order:

  1. Electric Power
  2. Water/Waste Water Utilities
  3. Oil Refining & Petrochemical
  4. Chemical
  5. Pharmaceutical

These accounted for about 54% of total worldwide shipments.

For Wireless products the largest consuming markets are:

  1. Oil & Gas
  2. Water/Waste Water Utilities
  3. Electric Power
  4. Oil Refining & Petrochemical
  5. Automotive

Combined, these accounted for nearly two-thirds of total worldwide shipments.

The fastest growing worldwide industry market segments, in ranked order are seen to be:

For Wire-based Products:

  1. Military/Aerospace
  2. Telecommunication Equipment Production
  3. Electrical Products
  4. Automotive

For Wireless Products:

  1. Semiconductor and Pharmaceutical
  2. Pulp & Paper
  3. Mining

User Requirements and Preferences
This study surveyed end users, OEMs, and system integrators about their needs and preferences in the product areas under study. These are some of the more significant findings:
Wire-based vs. Wireless Ethernet--When asked how they would contrast wire-based versus wireless Ethernet solutions for their industrial applications, 40% of the users most identified the signal security provided by wire-based, and lack of signal interference was mentioned by 34%. The third most-cited advantage of wire-based Ethernet was wider bandwidths.

The benefits most cited for wireless Ethernet were greater location flexibility (17%), use for mobile applications, suitability for remote locations, and ease of installations.

User views on the relative cost of wire-based versus wireless Ethernet were mixed, with 16% of respondents indicating that the wireless hardware is more expensive. There were no contrary views. The largest share of the users (32%) indicated that wireless has lower installation costs. A smaller share indicated that wireless is less expensive if the networking is for large areas, long distances, and remote locations.

Twelve percent of respondents indicated that maintenance costs on wireless networks are lower. However, some also said wireless has higher operating costs because of downtime resulting from lower reliability.

The largest share of users indicated that wire-based networks are less expensive. Some indicated that wireless is less expensive if the location covered is not easily accessible.

Primary Motivations
The most-cited reasons for choosing wire-based Ethernet were high reliability and high security. Cost was the third most-cited factor. Keep in mind that the users also might have considered other non-Ethernet wire-based and/or wireless networks. Wire-based Ethernet solutions can be considerably less expensive than these because of the extensive use of wire-based Ethernet components and products in non-industrial facility markets.

The most-cited reason for choosing wireless Ethernet was for use with mobile applications such as wireless interfaces to portable terminals used by operators, maintenance personnel, and engineers. The second most-cited reason was flexibility in ease of expansion and relocation provided by wireless Ethernet networks, followed by the ability to provide long distance/remote coverage. 

In Use Now
Most wire-based Ethernet users said they currently use 10-Mbps Ethernet and/or Fast Ethernet (100 Mpbs) networks. Only a small portion of the respondents (8%) use 1,000 Mbps (Gigabit Ethernet). However, the results indicate Gigabit Ethernet use is expected to approach 60% by 2006.

Among the wireless Ethernet users, the largest share (56%) indicated current use of the IEEE 802.11b standard in their industrial facilities. Only 20% of the respondents identified use of IEEE 802.11g, although this standard is expected to be used by nearly three-quarters of the respondents in 2006.

Among wire-based Ethernet users, the "network" and "transport" layer protocol, TCP/IP was, not surprisingly, most identified as being used and is expected to be used by the largest share in 2006. EtherNet/IP was the most identified "application layer" protocol, for both 2003 and 2006.

Among these users, larger share of use is expected for a broad range of protocols in 2006. The largest increase is expected for the XML (Extensible Markup Language) protocol, followed by Profinet, and Foundation Fieldbus HSE.

Among the wireless Ethernet users, HTML (HyperText Markup Language) was most identified (82%) as a protocol being used. It also is expected to be used by the largest number is 2006, although only by 66%. Fifty-six percent of the user respondents expect to be using the XML protocol in 2006, compared with 27% in 2003.

Perceptions and realities of Ethernet use: Part 2
Part 2 of this survey explores current and emerging protocols, connectivity issues, and selection, installation and opertional criteria.

In the summer issue of Industrial Networking, we continue with the results of questions regarding trends in types of systems for communication connectivity, summarize performance and feature requirements learn what respondents say about their selection criteria.

(Click the Download Now button below to view two charts demonstrating perceived benefits, drawbacks and costs of wired vs. wireless Ethernet networks.)

  About the Authors
Jim Taylor is group manager for industrial automation at Venture Development Corp. He can be reached at Joe Feeley is Editor in Chief of Industrial Networking magazine and CONTROL DESIGN, and

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