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How to assess and calculate the cost of critical wireless connectivity options

Listen to the Nokia podcast on how to assess and calculate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) when you evaluate private wireless networks versus Wi-Fi 6.

Stephane Daeuble

Stephane Daeuble
Head of Marketing for Nokia’s Enterprise Solutions division

About Stephane Daeuble

Stephane is responsible for Enterprise Solutions Marketing in Nokia enterprise. A self-professed IT geek and machine connectivity advocate, he knows first-hand the value of secure and reliable industrial-grade wireless connectivity, and is an active evangelist on the role private wireless will play in helping industrials leapfrog into the 4th industrial revolution.

Key points:

  • What kind of connectivity industries need and what Private Wireless addresses
  • The critical factors to consider for OT
  • The cost and benefits of the various wireless options (Wi-Fi 6 / Modular Private Wireless)
  • Assessing the total cost of ownership

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Podcast at a glance

In most industrial sites you have different connectivity needs. For instance, the administrative areas require IT LAN connectivity. Typically, this includes Wi-Fi and Ethernet. In the same plant, you will also have operational connectivity needs to support critical industrial applications. These OT applications have a more demanding set of requirements in terms of reliability, security and latency. Private Wireless solutions focus on the OT side of enterprise.

Traditionally OT teams have relied on cables to connect critical machine functions. With IoT and automation growing, these wired solutions do not scale easily and become expensive. Fortunately, Private Wireless can now meet these performance requirements. 

Some of the more important requirements for industrial-grade wireless include coverage and penetration, as well as reliability and predictability. These are qualities that are assured with cabled solutions. However, Wi-Fi, although it has improved with Wi-Fi 6, is still not great at meeting these requirements in a consistent and predictable way. Private Wireless, on the other hand, can match the performance capabilities of cabled networks.

Security is also a significant issue. Private Wireless solutions based on 3GPP mobile technologies, such as 4.9G/LTE and 5G, were engineered for security from the bottom up. SIM cards are a key part of this, ensuring that only authorized devices have access to the network. As well, network traffic is encrypted end to end. This is why public safety and defense networks use these technologies.

Another important consideration is the ability to converge multiple applications and use cases onto a single network. Over the years, OT has typically introduced multiple network technologies to support different applications. Private Wireless has the capabilities to support all of them on one network, including support of low-powered IoT sensor traffic using LTE-M and NB-IoT, which is critical to the digitalization of machine processes.

Finally, Private Wireless supports mobility. In many industrial settings, there are quite a number of things that are moving, whether it is ore trucks in a mine, autonomous intelligent vehicles in a factory or gantry cranes in a seaport. Cabled solutions simply do not work for these applications and Wi-Fi has not been engineered for mobility. Wi-Fi will not maintain the performance characteristics during handover from one access point to another and sometimes will lose connection with the machine altogether.

Despite the clear superiority of Private Wireless over Wi-Fi for industrial applications, Wi-Fi is still being used. This is in part because enterprise IT teams are very familiar with the technology as a wireless LAN extension in offices, but they have had little exposure to 4.9G/LTE and 5G. There is a corresponding lack of awareness of the superior radio performance capabilities of Private Wireless. And, finally, because Wi-Fi access points are so inexpensive it is assumed that it is a low-cost solution.

While it is true that there are more cost elements to the final Private Wireless solution, including spectrum, a core network and more expensive radio access points, the total cost of ownership (TCO) favors Private Wireless in many situations. As a rule of thumb, industrial sites from about 25,000 to 50,000 square meters and above, or even smaller sites with challenging radio environments, will find Private Wireless more cost effective. The coverage and capacity of Private Wireless at this scale makes up for the increase in equipment cost. If the industrial site has a large outdoor area to cover, such as factory yards, mines or seaports, then the advantages of Private Wireless become especially clear.

To look at an example of a large, high-ceilinged manufacturing facility where a complex radio environment tilted the TCO equation in favor of Private Wireless, the radio engineering study conducted by the Wi-Fi vendor was so complex (and took so long) that the expense for the study alone exceeded the entire cost of the Private Wireless solution. The radio engineering for the Private Wireless solution took a matter of days instead of several weeks.

Wi-Fi is so intolerant of interference, any changes to the environment such as the addition of new machines or the addition of a new assembly line, requires a whole new consultation and re-engineering of the Wi-Fi coverage. The ongoing adjustment cost for Wi-Fi is especially an issue in wherever the configuration of the radio landscape is continually changing such as open pit mines, shipping yards and seaports, and agile manufacturing facilities. Private Wireless can be deployed and forgotten. Wi-Fi requires constant tuning, placement of radios and directing of antennas. In one mining example, the Wi-Fi network required multiple re-tunings per month.

Finally, the cost calculation also has to consider the ability to converge multiple applications, including critical voice communications such as push-to-talk, IoT sensors, SCADA and other critical communications onto Private Wireless. Converging multiple networks onto a single infrastructure contributes to lowering costs associated with operations, maintenance and security and further reinforces the TCO benefits of Private Wireless.

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