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Warehouse automation: Why you can’t afford to rely on Wi-Fi

Warehouse automation: Why you can’t afford to rely on Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi can’t meet toughest Industry 4.0 applications

Most warehouses and distribution centers have been relying on Wi-Fi for years now. Until relatively recently, Wi-Fi has been able to meet their requirements. However, as these organizations look to automate and modernize their operations, Wi-Fi is no longer the right choice for connectivity. It simply can’t meet the demands of Industry 4.0 applications.

Upgrading to Industry 4.0 applications that increase efficiency and productivity is now an imperative for warehouse operators. It’s the only way they can continue to operate profitably in the face of face worker shortages, supply chain issues, increased demand and other pandemic-related challenges

But there’s no point investing in IoT, robotics and other automation solutions if the wireless network in the warehouse can’t reliably support the applications.

Only private wireless can meet Industry 4.0 demands

Even Wi-Fi 6 doesn’t have what it takes to support warehouse automation and modernization applications. Unlike 4G LTE and 5G, Wi-Fi is not a robust mobility solution. Here are just a few examples of what that means for warehouse automation:

  • Mobility: Wi-Fi supports pedestrian speeds of three to five km/h with up to 15-second handover times between access points. LTE and 5G support speeds of hundreds of kilometers per hour with millisecond level fast handover times. Automated mobile robots (AMRs) and autonomous forklifts won’t be travelling at those kinds of speeds, but Wi-Fi speeds aren’t good enough to meaningfully increase productivity. And slow handover times can lead to unexpected vehicle slowdowns or stoppages when trying to reconnect.
  • Coverage: Depending on the coverage area, number of connected devices and available spectrum, you’ll need 4x-6x as many Wi-Fi access points to cover the same warehouse facility as 4G LTE access points. Wi-Fi APs cover smaller radius that increases network complexity and the number of handoffs. It’s also far more challenging to engineer Wi-Fi coverage of the entire warehouse site with high indoor ceilings and vast outdoor spaces.
  • Predictable performance: Wi-Fi can deliver high peak rates, but only with low network congestion otherwise it quickly degrades in performance and throughput. Private LTE and 5G deliver predictable performance with network reliability up to six 9s that is essential for automated logistics operations and workplace safety.  
  • Quality of Service (QoS): Wi-Fi is a best effort technology with little ability to prioritize network traffic. LTE and 5G provide far higher QoS management and traffic prioritization capabilities, so you can ensure business- and safety-critical applications are never jeopardized.
  • Security: Wi-Fi networks are at high risk for cyberattacks and intrusions. In contrast, LTE features security by design and 5G features enhancements to support zero-trust security. These advanced security techniques add significant protection against bad actors.    

Organizations across industries rely on private wireless

Warehouse operators around the globe have already made the move to private wireless. Here’s a brief look at how just four are using a reliable, low latency and high-capacity private wireless network to automate and modernize.

  • OMRON Corporation, a Japanese electronics company, is using autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) on its production lines, providing real-time coaching with artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT, and can now rely on stable connectivity for IoT devices in a highly metallic environment.
  • Arçelik, an appliance manufacturer in Turkey, is powering more than 40 AGVs that automate labor-intensive manual tasks. The private network also provides reliable connectivity for handhelds, tablets, IoT devices and security cameras on the shop floor.
  • At Accenture’s Innovation X Center in Germany, industrial IoT use cases include AGVs, 3D printing for additive manufacturing, predictive maintenance and augmented and virtual reality applications.
  • Alibaba, one of the world’s largest ecommerce companies, has connected more than 100 AGVs and is supporting IoT, big data, edge computing and AI applications.

Next-gen applications need a next-gen network

Changing the way you’ve operated for years can be intimidating. Just like the shift from manual warehouse operations to automated, switching from Wi-Fi to private wireless requires a mindset change.

Think of it this way: A private wireless network is really just the next generation of wireless technology you need to drive your business forward in a modern, digital world. It performs better than Wi-Fi and costs less in the long run.

Learn more at Modex 2022

I’ll be sharing more insights into the benefits of private networks at Modex 2022 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. You can catch my presentation, “Solving supply chain 4.0 network issues with Private LTE and 5G” on Wednesday, March 30, at 12:30 p.m. in the Emerging Technologies Theater.

The presentation will include a total cost of ownership (TCO) comparison between Wi-Fi and private LTE/5G networks in industrial environments so you can see exactly what makes a private wireless network the better choice financially.

Discover private wireless for warehouse automation

To learn more about the benefits of private wireless for warehouse automation, read our white paper and visit our supply chain and logistics website.