When designing wireless M2M communications, engineers need an eye on the future

October 21, 2015 // By EDN
Tony Milbourn, Vice President Corporate Strategy, u-blox
Industry 4.0: the next industrial revolution will be enabled by wireless M2M communications; but designers are risking their long term future by adopting today’s rather than tomorrow’s standards

Industry 4.0, or Industrial Internet as it’s also known, is set to create a true revolution in the way industrial processes are run - making them more efficient, more cost effective and even enabling potential failures to be predicted. As the BBC reported earlier this year, the ability to collect more data opens up a whole new opportunity. “As we’re manufacturing, we’re learning, we’re learning how strong a material is, we’re learning [about] tolerances. And now we can get that at a speed we never had before and more importantly, we can get that information direct to our designers.”


And the effect is likely to be huge, a recent report by BCG Perspectives suggests that in Germany alone it is likely to boost productivity across all German manufacturing sectors by €90 billion to €150 billion within 10 years.


But companies may be putting themselves at risk by thinking about today’s, rather than tomorrow’s networks.

As Mobile World Live reported from the Huawei Global Analyst Summit, “ubiquitous connectivity [is the] key to enabling Industry 4.0”. Clearly, for real-time control of industrial automation equipment within the factory the likes of hard-wired networking, such as Industrial Ethernet, can meet the demands of link robustness, latency and determinism. However, there are many aspects of Industry 4.0, such as warehouse logistics, supply chain, and production testing where this revolution is going to be based on wireless M2M communications. u-blox’  Thomas Nigg’s recent article on M2M considerations  is a great source of information on the challenges faced in implementing such wireless connectivity.


For many applications deploying connectivity through the mobile cellular network will be a better option offering easy deployment and no need for local infrastructure; for some needs, where the data throughput is light, 2G connectivity would be adequate. But that doesn’t mean 2G is the answer, and companies deploying such systems - and we have spoken to several who are - risk jeopardising their long-term future to create a low-cost system that meets the demands of today, but not tomorrow.


Systems need to be future proofed; 10 years is hardly considered to be an uncommon lifespan for Industry 4.0 devices and many organisations are already predicting the  2G network will be switched off  in half this time.


Instead, by adopting a more advanced technology, ideally LTE, you not only ensure your products and reputation are viable in the long and medium term, you also cut latency (LTE-M has a latency of just 10ms, for example, 1/15th that of EDGE) allowing safety critical applications to be designed and improve reliability by giving yourself a fallback to 3G and 2G. Recognising this the cellular industry is  creating new standards , compatible with 4G/LTE, but designed for long battery life, low cost and excellent, in-building, coverage.   The next industrial revolution is being brought about by “one hop to the internet, from almost anywhere”.