Cellular Networks in the IIoT
Cellular networks have emerged as key components of today’s Industrial IoT (IIoT) networks, especially when it comes to long-distance communication with IIoT endpoints that are installed at field sites. Cellular wide-area networks can provide coverage over several miles, and sometimes across countries, as opposed to the limited coverage provided by Wi-Fi networks. When your IIoT endpoints need to communicate over longer distances than what is permitted or supported by Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or other similar networks, then a cellular network is the obvious choice.
However, the typical IIoT application presents cellular networks with additional challenges compared to managing voice calls and high-bandwidth Internet traffic. IIoT applications require lower data rates with flexible data plans, extended coverage to reach devices in remote areas, long cellular-module battery life in network components, as well as affordable endpoints such as sensors to facilitate their large-scale deployment. The recent developments in cellular technology that make it more suitable for use in industrial networks—such as on-the-fly cellular plans, access to rate and program APIs, greater control over data usage, and reduced data cost—have cleared the main roadblocks to adopting cellular technology for a wider range of IIoT applications.
The emerging 4G-LTE technology has IIoT-friendly features, such as a wide range of bit-rates, low cost, longer device battery life, and high-bandwidth stable connections, which have provided the much needed push for wider acceptance of cellular technology in the IIoT. Consortiums and companies across various vertical industries are investing time and money in optimizing the use of cellular technology for the IIoT. Cellular networks are being deployed extensively at the edge of an industrial network for WWAN (Wireless Wide Area Network) communications with serial and Ethernet devices. In many cases these devices are located in remote hard-to-reach areas that could be spread over different geographical locations.
However, as an industry operator you must weigh the following aspects of your IIoT application before choosing a cellular network as a partial or complete solution:
- Network coverage
- Spectrum requirements
- Cost of new cellular endpoints/devices
(alternatively, how to extend the battery life of your current devices)
- Recurring cost of airtime
- Latency and throughput needs
Once you have evaluated these five key requirements and have decided to go ahead with implementing a cellular network for your IIoT, a good cellular network management solution can help you monitor your cellular network more effectively, help optimize the use of your device airtime, and even save operating costs.
What should you look for in a good cellular network management solution? Here are some pointers to help you make the right choice: