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2020 wireless trio: new players for new roles

Dec. 16, 2020

Parallel to gaining acceptance and presence, wireless has also been adding new communication protocols and methods for traveling though the air. Some need less power, deliver more data, or are just better suited to particular environments, but they all give users more options for getting signals where they need to go.

For instance, just like any laboratory environment, Tulane University's National Primate Research Center must be certain its refrigeration systems accurately track and maintain proper temperatures to safeguard its valuable specimens, vaccines and reagents. Every freezer needs to be protected with smart, customized alerts, while consistent, accurate tracking of internal temperatures needs to be easily accessed from smart phones to prevent downtime. TNPRC also required humidity and carbon dioxide monitoring, low-temperature cutoffs, remote monitoring, secure/cloud-based data storage, user-friendly tools, minimal costs, and compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules and current good practice (cGxP) requirements.

TNPRC reports its criteria were met by Coris Monitoring System from Coris Life Sciences Monitoring. Its software and outlet module combine to function as a low-temperature cutoff device that protects material that could be damaged by freezing. To link up with the hundreds of freezers in TNPRC's 22 buildings, Coris deployed low-power, wide-area networking (LPWAN) and long-range WAN (LoRaWAN) protocol sensors equipped with wireless modules from MultiTech to gather and relay internal temperature data from the refrigerators and freezers to the Internet through MultiTech Conduit AP access points. LoRaWAN lets users reach many sensors and other devices spread over large geographical areas and through walls, which means better communication with fewer gateways. This let TNPRC collect and preserve all available refrigeration system data, share it for programming, protect the regulated and contract contents of its refrigerators and freezers, and maintain an emergency action plan in case of a critical failure. In the future, TNPRC plans to use Coris monitoring on all its temperature-controlled equipment, including its incubators.          

“Coris lets our laboratories be more proactive in monitoring their fridges and freezers. It decreased the burden for laboratory and facilities personnel because remote monitoring is now possible, reducing the need for twice-daily, in-person temperature checks,” says Angie Birnbaum, director of Tulane’s Office of Biosafety. “In addition, the customizable nature of the alert system lets us ensure that each group has units operating within their desired temperature ranges, and can receive critical alerts when and how they want them without exposing users to alert fatigue. An unanticipated result of installing Coris was the discovery that many of our fridges and freezers weren't operating within the stated manufacturer range. This is allowing us to map temperatures using Coris, and redistribute contents to ensure all contents are stored optimally.”

Similarly, Aloxy in Antwerp, Belgium, recently developed a plug-and-play wireless solution to automate, reduce errors and improve safety in valve opening and closing applications. It's goal was to, not just determine if valves are in the correct position, but also provide real-time alerts and continuous, no-fault information on valve positions. Aloxy adopted multiple low-power, wide-area (LPWAN) radio technologies, such as LoRaWAN and Dash7 Alliance open-source, wireless sensor and actuator network protocol to monitor communications from its ATEX/IECEx-certified sensors on the valves. To deliver both protocols in varied industrial settings, including those without LPWAN, Aloxy implemented MultiTech's Conduit IP67 base station and IoT gateway, which is designed for long-range, outdoor, public or private networks. It's also scalable, IP67 certified, and supports LoRaWAN in almost any environment.

“With Conduit IP67, our solution lets us use multiple radio technologies, so we can select the right one for the use case or support both at the same site,” says Glenn Ergeerts at Aloxy. "We considered other gateways, but they didn’t have this flexibility. Our LoRaWAN and DASH7 sensors needed a gateway that could support both protocols. We found it with Conduit IP67. In the future, we're looking for gateways to run Docker containers and software-defined radio at the gateway level to support more radio technologies."

Middle-aged, teenaged and toddler wireless

Many wireless protocols, technologies and standards have been applied for decades, while others emerged more recently, and a few just showed up or were revamped, but are expected to grow quickly. Here is a range from the stalwarts to the up-and-comers and newbies:

  • Radios at 900 MHz, 2.4, 5.6 GHz and other frequencies and power levels

  • Satellite communications with Intelsat Earth Station Standards (IESS) 

  • Cellular 3G and 4g 

  • Bluetooth (IEEE 802.15.1) 

  • Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11a-n) and faster Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11ac)

  • ZigBee (IEEE 802.15, which also the basis for WirelessHART and ISA100)

  • ISA100 (ANSI/ISA100.11a and IEC 62734, "Wireless communication network and communication profiles") 

  • Wireless HART (IEEE 802.15.4 and IEC 62591, "Industrial networks—wireless communication network and communication profiles")

  • Narrow-band Internet of Things (NB-IoT) for slower, lower-power, 250-kbps peak applications

  • Category M low-power, low-bandwidth, 1Mbps peak LTE for few hundred kbps applications

  • IPv6 over low-power, wireless personal area network (6LoWPAN)

  • Low-power, wide-area networking (LPWAN) and long-range WAN (LoRaWAN) protocol  

  • Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) for private LTE networks

  • 5G LTE broadband cellular

Sara Brown, marketing VP at Multitech, adds: "Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, budgets in some high-growth industries have frozen, while other businesses like smart buildings and sanitation have sped up. There's also a big rush in critical applications, such as creating safe workspaces by connecting temperature sensors for people when they arrive at facilities, or using proximity sensors to determine room occupancy levels, and LoRaWAN is well-suited for them. As the school year begins, there's also an urgent need to provide broadband wireless to areas that aren't covered. This isn't a new problem, and it's been worked on for years. However, it's more important now for educators and those working from home, and wireless is a nice way to do it because cable and fiber are costly and take time, and wireless can be set up without such a big lift." 

Brown reports that wireless is also benefiting from the growth of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) and the CBRS Alliance that authorizes service and auctions licenses for setting up its private LTE networks. "Many LoRaWAN users want networks they can control, and CBRS gives them the opportunity to deploy private broadband. It's the classic drinking straw analogy about how networks can let more information pass through, as well as enable security and control," she explains. "For example, Wi-Fi allows a lot of information to pass over a short range, but it sucks up battery power, while LoRaWAN and Narrow-band Internet of Things (NB-IoT) send small amounts of data and run at low power over wide areas. Still, you can't process video through a narrow-band, low-power network, which is where open, non-proprietary, broadband LTE and 5G are needed. This is also where CBRS is useful for onsite networks in rural education and industrial applications, especially due to COVID-19 that's causing it to grow beyond expectations because it can cover long distances and communities."

Beyond bandwidth, another reason it's important to pick the most appropriate wireless protocol and network is that older, less capable versions are starting to be shut down. "Some carriers are starting to turn off legacy networks because they're too costly. ATT is shutting down 2G because utilities used it to read meters, but some users couldn't see their data the next day. Cellular was originally built for phones, but not for industry, so operators were driven by the pace of cell phone replacement, rather than  IIoT which requires longer lifecycles and more customizable choices. Adopters can make inexpensive connections with radios, LoRaWAN or ultra-broadband, but they must also make sure that critical processes won't just stop. This is why MultiTech performs computing at the edge, so it can send back only salient data."

Likewise, Olivier Pauzet, VP of IoT solutions at Sierra Wireless, reports wireless is getting simpler to implement as more protocols, functions and services are bundled into combined solutions. "As more devices and software get connected, more middleware is needed to make seamless connections between devices, networks and cloud-computing services. One of our customers, Axibio in Saint-Cloud, France, makes Gaïabox solar-powered, organic-waste collectors, and wanted to know more to better manage their lifecycles, as well as let users know how much they've collected. They send much of their information to cloud services like Azure and AWS to manage data and populate dashboards, but it was hard to access this intelligence at the edge. Axibio previously built its own device, but it was costly, so we provided an all-in-one solution with cloud-based application programming interfaces (API) they could plug into their devices to better integrate edge-to-cloud for their users, provide cyber-secure routing and provisioning, and draft a digital twin to give users a virtual composter."   

These collectors/composters help households, restaurants, businesses and municipalities comply with the European Union's (EU) biowaste disposal requirements, and enables users to track disposal at an individual level and become active participants in a circular economy. Axibio added Sierra Wireless' Octave small, all-in-one, edge-to-cloud gateway, which Pauzet reports was launched in November 2019, uses Modbus and RJ45 serial Ethernet connections to store-and-forward data from the collectors, and delivers it via access point name (APN) networking, low-power wide-area technology and 4G cellular wireless to cloud-computing services. With Octave, Axibio can change its data processing rules at the edge and in the cloud as needed. It allows users to process, analyze and act on data, using a common JavaScript framework. Pauzet adds that Octave’s flexibility enables immediate and real-time changes to data processing rules at the edge.    

"We don't send all data to the cloud every few minutes, but instead lets users prioritize and send data when there's a change. Octave also uses edge processing and computing, which lets users see temperature, pressure and other key variables, and coordinate with cloud functions at the same time," adds Pauzet. "We estimate saving Axibio about 45% on its edge-to-cloud development costs and reducing its time-to-market by nine months."

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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