Finally playing nice

Editor in Chief Walt Boyes congratulates the members of the SP100 Industrial Wireless Standard committee for their willingness to compromise in the name of service to the end-user community.

By Walt Boyes

By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief


Walt BoyesIndustrial Wireless Standard committee for their willingness to compromise in the name of service to the end-user community. As you’ll read in Dick Caro’s dispatch in InProcess (page 34), we have a draft standard agreement, and are working very quickly toward a draft standard document!

Considering where we were less than two months ago, this is an achievement that can be compared to Hercules’ cleaning out the Augean stables. Doomsayers were predicting a standards debacle to rival the IEC fieldbus standard mess, with the Emerson-led consortium facing off against the Honeywell-led group. In fact, Emerson and Honeywell were both deeply involved in the compromise, and both come off looking very good.

This is the beauty of standards. As we saw in the 1980s with the fax standard, a single standard means many companies can confidently design products and compete on their merits, not by obfuscation and confusion over standards.

There is much yet to do for SP100, and the doom-and-gloomers say it could still fall apart. But we’re closer to having a unified industrial wireless standard than we’ve ever been. We should have a draft sent out for comment yet this year, and vote on a final standard in mid-2008. And, if things go as planned, an IEC standard shortly thereafter.

Why is this so important? The end-user community has clearly said that it will not be buying major amounts of wireless networking products for plant-floor automation systems until there’s a single standard they can depend on. That same end-user community has also said that once it has such a standard, it plans to buy wireless systems like there’s no tomorrow. End users need the ability of wireless technology to unlock the data in existing systems, and they need the flexibility of wireless for the future of industrial networking.

Surprisingly, one of the remaining problems is the apparent difficulty that the vendors and end users on the SP100 committee have in talking to themselves.

Most of the same cast of characters is involved in the HART Wireless Working Group, which is about six months further along to the final standard than SP100. Yet, as Dick Caro notes, there is a major disconnect between the two groups. He says,  “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.”

This needs to be remedied, and soon, or there will be another end-user backlash. Most end users are expecting HART wireless to interface easily and seamlessly with SP100’s wireless products, especially gateways and other networking devices, even though the HART wireless system isn’t directly compatible with the proposed system for SP100.

This is critical because there are 22 million currently installed HART field devices, and most new devices are HART-enabled. HART wireless will drive the market for new devices, just as wired HART has done for the past 10 years. If SP100 isn’t “HART smart,” it won’t have the really rapid adoption rate predicted (by me, among others) for HART wireless.

So start looking in the mirror, folks, and let’s get cooperating!

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