What the Honeywell OneWireless Announcement Means

I'm sure some of you were wondering when I would get around to this post. After all, the announcement, made last Monday at HUG in Phoenix, is old news now. But it isn't. What I saw in Phoenix, and what I heard about in 2006 at HUG, was an implementation of many of the technologies that will be used in the eventual S100.11a (rev.2) standard. This is not yet a pre-standard release, nor is it a "draft standard" release. But in OneWireless, as you can with the Invensys/Apprion version, if you step back you can see what the S100 standard may look like-- in fact probably will look like. And you can begin to imagine what all of the things you can do with wireless in the industrial plant environment could be. The end users have been crystal clear. They do NOT want competing wireless protocols, like we've had in fieldbus. They voted overwhelmingly there with their feet: they kept HART technology rather than migrating like lemmings toward one or 'tother fieldbus version. Both Honeywell and Apprion have worked hard to make a shell that accepts everybody. Honeywell even made a point of being able to do "HART over wireless." And therein lies the potential problem. They were clear in subsequent meetings that they did not mean "WirelessHART," the standard that is in final stages of development from the HART Communication Foundation. If you want to see what WirelessHART will be, go to the HART foundation website and view the very same presentation that Wally Pratt and Ron Helson of the HART Communication Foundation made before the SP100 meeting in May.  What Honeywell meant was transmitting HART protocol data over wireless, similar to the way HART data moves over Profibus and Profinet. When asked, directly and repeatedly, the Honeywell wireless team equivocated over and over. "We support HART wireless," Dave Kaufman, Honeywell's Director of Business Development said. But does that mean they support WirelessHART? "We have actually gone beyond it," Tom Phinney, the chief wireless architect for Honeywell responded. "Does that mean that you will not build a WirelessHART device?" I asked. "If our users ask us to, we certainly will," Kaufman said. But to the best of my ability to get anybody to tell me, WirelessHART is not currently in Honeywell's production program. Later, Yu-Gene Chen, the product line director for wireless, confirmed that it would be easy for Honeywell to build WirelessHART devices. "All we would have to do is to download the WirelessHART stack into an XYR with an 802.15.4 radio in it." But Chen did not say that Honeywell would do it, even though they are going to build XYR devices with 802.15.4 radios. Fact is, though, Honeywell probably will do it. Why? Because not doing it will set up an unnecessary battle with Honeywell on one side and all of these folks, who are going to build WirelessHART devices on the other:
  • HART Communication Foundation
  • Emerson
  • Yokogawa
  • ABB
  • MTL/Elpro
  •  ....etc., probably a dozen more vendors. You get the point.
Will WirelessHART be in contention with S100.11a? Of course not. Here's the thing: there are so many HART devices out there that end users completely understand and are familiar with, that it is extremely likely that the end users will use WirelessHART as their first effort at using the new wireless technologies... and WirelessHART will thereby make the market, while most end users are currently sitting on their hands on the sidelines. Especially since WirelessHART is essentially available now, in real draft-specification products, and S100.11a.rev.1 is not going to be ready for a year. If I were an end user, I'd do some WirelessHART projects now, to get my feet wet. Of course, you can do the same thing with the proprietary products that are out and available, not least the XYR5000 and XYR6000 devices from Honeywell. One of the users, who was featured in one of the video segments about OneWireless we included in our enewsletter coverage of HUG, said that he'd done a site survey by installing the base station and then carrying a battery operated XYR device around the refinery, doing the "can you hear me now?" thing. That's how simple the end users want it. Honeywell, like all the other players, needs to remember that the end users will control what happens. Eventually, there will be only one wireless network in the plant. And it will serve as a gateway for all of the legacy networks that are out there. The end users have already said so. I hope we are all listening to them.