Imagine the World of SCADA Without Wires

April 26, 2004

Mobile phone sales to consumers topped 510 million units in 2003 and will exceed 560 million units in 2004, according to the big three research groups that track the world's biggest consumer electronics segment of mobile handsets: Gartner Dataquest (, IDC (, and Strategy Analytics ()

Smartphones, which feature calendars, e-mail, pictures, music and other web-based services in one device, is one of the fastest growing new categories. Worldwide shipments for 2003 rose 182% to 9.6 million devices.

Sales in these quantities mean that cell phones in general, and smartphones in particular, will come to dominate the market for wireless monitoring of process control systems.

At present, there are myriad handheld devices that can be used for wireless SCADA monitoring including PDAs, portable PCs with wireless connectivity and cell phones. But PDA sales appear to be dropping because of smartphone price pressure, and it is hard to envision a future where portable PCs can compete with that kind if competition. 

 "Information displayed on the smartphone's screen would be similar to that displayed on the main SCADA system user interfaces."

"PDA vendors are beginning to feel the impact of smartphones and enhanced mobile phones, as worldwide PDA shipments totaled 11.5 million units in 2003, a 5.3% decline from 2002," according to preliminary results from Gartner. Gartner groups Pocket PCs with PDAs.

Of course, the line between smartphones and PDAs is blurring, but the bet here is that future mobile wireless devices will look a lot more like cell phones and a lot less like PDAs.

In the near future, smartphones will have a host of built-in features including global positioning, RFID tags, video recording, digital imaging, web access via browsers, e-mail and corporate intranet access via virtual private networks (VPNs).

Another key feature, fingerprint reading, was recently introduced by Atrua Technologies ( Their smartphone mouse touchpad includes built-in fingerprint recognition.

All of the above listed features (except for fingerprint recognition and RFID tagging) can be had on smartphones and PDAs readily available at your local cell phone store, although no device combines all features in one unit.

Economies of scale mean that it will soon be feasible to equip all plant personnel with a $100 or less smartphone with all of the above-listed features. SCADA applications will be limited only by the imagination of the user community.

In the event of a problem detected by a SCADA system, a maintenance technician could be automatically contacted via his or her smartphone with a custom ring tone indicating a plant problem. Voice and e-mail would then inform the technician of the nature of the problem.

The technician could then log onto a corporate intranet via the company's VPN. Security would be assured by the built-in fingerprint reader on the mouse touchpad. Network authentication software would read the fingerprint and automatically configure intranet access based on the user's corporate security clearance, allowing the technician access to the SCADA system on the network.

Information displayed on the smartphone's screen would be similar to that displayed on the main SCADA system user interfaces. "InduSoft Web Studio (IWS) provides tools to adjust the layout of PC screens to fit mobile devices that typically have 240 x 320 resolution," says Fabio de Souza Terezinho, a product manager with InduSoft ()

In addition to the usual array of sensors and instruments, the SCADA system would be populated with hundreds of wireless observation cameras. The recently introduced Nokia ( observation camera sells for about $400 and has two infrared light sources for night vision, a microphone for audio recording, a motion sensor and a temperature sensor.

The technician would not only be able to view SCADA screens as displayed on his smartphone screen, he could also command any of the cameras to capture an image of the suspect device and send it to him via an e-mail attachment.

Analysis via SCADA screens, photos, and other information accessed via the corporate intranet could help the technician pinpoint the problem. Consequently, remote control system access would then allow the technician to reconfigure the process for to temporarily continue operation until physical repairs were made.

Similarly, monitoring of mobile assets will be easily accomplished by simply mounting a smartphone with GPS and an RFID tag onto the asset. In this case battery life is a real concern, but an interesting solution is on the horizon. As reported in this column in November 2001, compact fuel cells have the potential to eventually replace Ni-Cad batteries in smartphones.

Technology research think tank ABI ( expects the first 5,000 units of commercial micro fuel cell products in laptops and niche markets (smartphones) to appear in 2004 to 2005, with global shipments to reach 200 million units in 2011.

Smartphone vendors also see a future for SCADA/smartphone integration. "Nextel offers several phones that use the Java Mobile Edition (J2ME) platform, and we are currently working with more than 15,000 developers to create a number of smartphone-based horizontal and manufacturing-specific applications," reports Leslie Baker, the vice-president of manufacturing at Nextel (

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