Wireless industrial standard begins to take shape

CONTROL contributor Dick Caro, a member of the ISA committee developing a set of wireless industrial networking standards, reports to us the latest progress on SP100 activity from Karlsruhe, Germany.

By Dick Caro

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Honeywell has already made a proposal for a narrowband frequency-hopping radio, and the IEEE 802.15.4a committee has published a new low-power specification using ultra-wideband technology operating in the 3.8 GHz to 11 GHz band. These radios should be available in the next year and may offer some attractive features for use in the industrial environment. The result of these decisions is that the data link layer will be split into a lower half called the MAC (media access control) that must match the radio features, and a stable upper data link layer that provides services, including message routing, to the network, independent of the radio.

Work also continues on both the network management and security management areas. It has been agreed that for Release 1 of SP100.11a, both management functions will be considered to be centralized rather than distributed. However, the design will not preclude distribution of either or both management functions.

Part of network management is the provisioning process, which is the telecommunications word for how a new field device becomes a member of the network so that it can send and receive messages. The committee agreed that provisioning will be via a radio link and will not require a wired connection. The field device must first be given a tag name either in the shop or after it is installed. Once the device tries to gain access to the network, it will be given a network address (invisible to the user), and any configuration data previously defined for that tag name will be downloaded. This process is very similar to that used by Foundation fieldbus.

Naming the device with a numeric tag to allow membership in a wireless version of a Profibus network is also a possibility. Provisioning from either a handheld terminal or a computer in the shop will be possible if both are equipped with an SP100 interface. Part of the provisioning process is the recording of the user name, date and location of the field device.

Security Management
The details of security management are not yet completed, but it is expected that all transmissions will be encrypted to prevent intrusion, interception, spoofing and sabotage. A default level of security will be used during provisioning and startup. In general, the following are the agreements by the Security Management Task Group:

  • Provide hop-by-hop security at the data link layer,
  • Provide end-to-end security at the transport layer,
  • Use the same cryptographic technologies for data link and transport layers,
  • Select cryptographic technologies supported by 802.15.4-2006 chip sets,
    • AES128 Encryption and decryption,
    • CCM (a mode of operation for cryptographic block ciphers),
    • Message integrity checking with non-repeating nonce,
    • Data link and transport security options will include:
      • No security to minimize packet overhead and transceiver on-time,
      • Message integrity and authentication only mode,
      • Message integrity, authentication and encryption.

Undercurrents of Distrust
Despite the high degree of cooperation exhibited by the major suppliers, there continues to be an undercurrent of distrust. At this point, it seems to be unwarranted. The CI group has its most favored radio network architecture, while WNSIA has its most favored application architecture, and a process to add its desired radio network at a later time. The need to support control in field devices is also being met with the understanding that some careful site planning to can minimize latency on a mesh network enough to support one-second control loops in the first release. Rockwell and Siemens, both more interested in factory automation networks, also have the promise of participation in a future network oriented toward the high-speed acquisition and control of discrete sensors and actuators.

The SP100 committee has agreed to work together with ISA to develop a demonstration of a wireless field network at ISA 2007 in Houston. While it will be too early to include all of SP100.11a, the demonstration will show the degree of cooperation between competing suppliers to work on and achieve a successful demonstration. Members of both the CI and WNSIA group will be participating in the demonstration that is currently planned to include working wireless field instruments from several suppliers.

Analysis and Prediction
Although there continues to be some undercurrent of distrust between the CI and WNSIA groups, the committee seems to be making very serious steps toward arriving at the goal of completing a first draft standard ready for voting early in 2008. The only goal not being met is that of compatibility with wireless HART. The committee seems to still be on track to meet the goal of becoming the wireless field network for use by Foundation fieldbus and Profibus. While users have expressed their desire for SP100 to be the network path to channel wireless HART signals to the control system, lack of coordination by the wireless HART working group stands in the way.

ISA has now provided funding for SP100 committee member and IEC committee chair Pat Kinney to assume the duties of lead editor as well as committee co-chair. The goal of releasing a draft standard for SP100.11a Release 1 for committee vote by the first quarter 2008 will probably be met. This standard, once approved, will be useful for suppliers to construct interoperable field instruments and networks suitable for non-critical, real-time process industry applications.

  About the Author

Dick Caro is principal of CMC Associates, is a recognized expert on fieldbus technology and a founding member and Chairman of the Fieldbus standards committees. You can reach him at RCaro@CMC.us


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