The Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) has moved beyond the hype. As its value and real-life use cases become increasingly evident, more and more companies are looking to leverage IIoT for improved productivity and lower operating costs. At the same time, there exist major hurdles when embarking on an IIoT project – one of which lies exactly where the value chain starts.
The majority of legacy industrial assets and systems were not designed with wireless communications in mind. Failing to select the right connectivity could derail an IIoT initiative from the outset. The connectivity challenge is manifold as it also encompasses data integration, privacy and security issues. To effectively manage the risks and architect your IIoT network for long-term viability, make sure you consider five questions below when assessing different communications options.
- What are the range, power and bandwidth requirements of my connected devices?
These three factors often come at the expense of each other. It’s all about finding the right balance that best suits your use cases. For example, different from factory automation tasks, most industrial monitoring applications pertain to the intermittent, latency-tolerant transmission of small-sized telemetry data. What’s more important is the ability to connect assets at remote locations where power supply is severely constraint, or absent altogether. Likewise, vast, structurally dense industrial facilities require a reliable wireless link that can travel through great physical obstructions. In this regard, a solution that delivers extensive range and minimal power footprint benefits would outweigh one that offers millisecond-latency communications.
- Is the network easy to deploy and does it involve any complications?
Highly integrable, plug-and-play connectivity is key to streamlining the costs and complexity of IIoT deployment. The industry needs a solution that acts as the bridge between legacy OT and IT systems to break down existing data silos and unlock operational visibility. On one end, the wireless connectivity can be easily retrofitted into field assets and equipment without complex hardware modifications and production downtime. On the other end, it enables straightforward data transfer to the existing IT infrastructure and business applications for data democratization and informed decision-making.
- Could it help me address multiple operational challenges?
While no connectivity is use case agnostic, it would be a mistake to think that each IIoT application requires a heterogeneous wireless solution. Typically, you could have a unified network to simultaneously tackle different low-power, low-throughput use cases – from asset and facility management to environmental monitoring and worker safety. This would lower upfront investment and simplify the management of your IIoT architecture to accelerate the path to ROI.
For a wireless network to accommodate growing applications, scalability is a prerequisite. Increasing the number of end points should never come at the cost of other important factors like network reliability and ease of deployment. Equally important, you want connectivity that can support both static and fast-moving devices to tap into a wide range of worker, asset and fleet data.
- Is the wireless connectivity future-proof?
A common mistake companies often make during the beginning of IIoT deployment is failing to incorporate future needs. While a digital project often starts small, you need to be ready when it’s time to scale. With the exponential increase in connected devices and radio traffic in the near future, the chosen connectivity must be purpose-built for interference resilience. Also, given the whirlwind speed of today’s technology, ensuring long-term interoperability is paramount. Coming with a well-articulated and transparent technical framework, software-driven, standard-based wireless solutions can seamlessly support new cross-vendor devices in years to come.
- How does it align with my security and data privacy strategy?
An IIoT network is only as secure as its wireless link. To protect enterprise data against malicious attempts, end-to-end encryption is critical. Specifically, robust cryptographic schemes must be integrated into each part of the data chain – from devices to gateways and from gateways to network management and application platforms. What’s more, you need to consider which third-party vendors can have access to your data. Managed connectivity services by network operators require all messages to be re-routed through their server before reaching the end enterprise applications. If data privacy is at top of mind, a privately-owned network is the way to go.
Data is the lifeblood of IIoT and connectivity is the vein to transport and circulate it. The wireless decision is intertwined with multiple aspects of the network architecture and ultimately impacts the success of your IIoT initiative. Asking these five questions will help you navigate the jungle of wireless protocols and standards and opt for the best solution.