Network distinctions: Part I

This comprehensive survey of machine builders, system integrators and end users regarding their use of both wireless and wired Ethernet reveals the perceptions and realities of its use.

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Some of the representative environments that industrial-grade Ethernet infrastructure components have to withstand include airborne contaminants; exposure to chemicals, petroleum-based products, corrosive materials, explosive atmospheres and radiation. In addition, process or machine operating conditions might create high levels of humidity, EMI/RFI interference, shock/impact, or vibration.

To ensure more-reliable operation of the industrial-grade products in these environments, products might include built-in failure alarm features, EMI/RFI shielding, optically isolated I/O, redundant power supplies, surge protectors and power supplies that can handle wide voltage variations, and locking devices for connector interconnections. Additionally, components and materials that withstand these conditions are available, as are housings and installation technologies, e.g., being sealed, meeting IP or NEMA enclosure ratings, being intrinsically safe or explosion-proof, etc.

Industry Markets

Worldwide, the study found that largest consuming markets for wired-network-based Ethernet infrastructure products in the study are in order:

  1. Electric Power
  2. Water/Waste Water Utilities
  3. Oil Refining & Petrochemical
  4. Chemical
  5. Pharmaceutical

These accounted for about 54% of total worldwide shipments.

For Wireless products the largest consuming markets are:

  1. Oil & Gas
  2. Water/Waste Water Utilities
  3. Electric Power
  4. Oil Refining & Petrochemical
  5. Automotive

Combined, these accounted for nearly two-thirds of total worldwide shipments.

The fastest growing worldwide industry market segments, in ranked order are seen to be:

For Wire-based Products:

  1. Military/Aerospace
  2. Telecommunication Equipment Production
  3. Electrical Products
  4. Automotive

For Wireless Products:

  1. Semiconductor and Pharmaceutical
  2. Pulp & Paper
  3. Mining

User Requirements and Preferences
This study surveyed end users, OEMs, and system integrators about their needs and preferences in the product areas under study. These are some of the more significant findings:
Wire-based vs. Wireless Ethernet--When asked how they would contrast wire-based versus wireless Ethernet solutions for their industrial applications, 40% of the users most identified the signal security provided by wire-based, and lack of signal interference was mentioned by 34%. The third most-cited advantage of wire-based Ethernet was wider bandwidths.

The benefits most cited for wireless Ethernet were greater location flexibility (17%), use for mobile applications, suitability for remote locations, and ease of installations.

User views on the relative cost of wire-based versus wireless Ethernet were mixed, with 16% of respondents indicating that the wireless hardware is more expensive. There were no contrary views. The largest share of the users (32%) indicated that wireless has lower installation costs. A smaller share indicated that wireless is less expensive if the networking is for large areas, long distances, and remote locations.

Twelve percent of respondents indicated that maintenance costs on wireless networks are lower. However, some also said wireless has higher operating costs because of downtime resulting from lower reliability.

The largest share of users indicated that wire-based networks are less expensive. Some indicated that wireless is less expensive if the location covered is not easily accessible.

Primary Motivations
The most-cited reasons for choosing wire-based Ethernet were high reliability and high security. Cost was the third most-cited factor. Keep in mind that the users also might have considered other non-Ethernet wire-based and/or wireless networks. Wire-based Ethernet solutions can be considerably less expensive than these because of the extensive use of wire-based Ethernet components and products in non-industrial facility markets.

The most-cited reason for choosing wireless Ethernet was for use with mobile applications such as wireless interfaces to portable terminals used by operators, maintenance personnel, and engineers. The second most-cited reason was flexibility in ease of expansion and relocation provided by wireless Ethernet networks, followed by the ability to provide long distance/remote coverage. 

In Use Now
Most wire-based Ethernet users said they currently use 10-Mbps Ethernet and/or Fast Ethernet (100 Mpbs) networks. Only a small portion of the respondents (8%) use 1,000 Mbps (Gigabit Ethernet). However, the results indicate Gigabit Ethernet use is expected to approach 60% by 2006.

Among the wireless Ethernet users, the largest share (56%) indicated current use of the IEEE 802.11b standard in their industrial facilities. Only 20% of the respondents identified use of IEEE 802.11g, although this standard is expected to be used by nearly three-quarters of the respondents in 2006.

Among wire-based Ethernet users, the "network" and "transport" layer protocol, TCP/IP was, not surprisingly, most identified as being used and is expected to be used by the largest share in 2006. EtherNet/IP was the most identified "application layer" protocol, for both 2003 and 2006.

Among these users, larger share of use is expected for a broad range of protocols in 2006. The largest increase is expected for the XML (Extensible Markup Language) protocol, followed by Profinet, and Foundation Fieldbus HSE.

Among the wireless Ethernet users, HTML (HyperText Markup Language) was most identified (82%) as a protocol being used. It also is expected to be used by the largest number is 2006, although only by 66%. Fifty-six percent of the user respondents expect to be using the XML protocol in 2006, compared with 27% in 2003.

In the summer issue of Industrial Networking, we’ll continue with the results of questions regarding trends in types of systems for communication connectivity, summarize performance and feature requirements learn what respondents say about their selection criteria.

 About the Author

Jim Taylor is group manager for industrial automation at Venture Development Corp. He can be reached at

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