With an average annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.3 percent, Berg Insight analysts expect 9.9 million units to be delivered in 2023. With 4.6 million units delivered last year, the installed base of wireless IoT devices in industrial automation reached 21.3 million units in 2018. Even though wired networks are still predominantly used for industrial communication between sensors, controllers, and systems, wireless systems have established themselves at least in some applications. For example, they are used in plant components that are difficult to access or uneconomical to connect using wired installations. In factory automation, wireless systems are often used to control cranes and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in conveyor technology. In process automation, wireless technologies are increasingly being used to connect devices that enable plant operators to monitor and optimize processes in potentially explosive atmospheres while ensuring employee safety.
Important suppliers such as Siemens, Cisco, Belden, Moxa, and Phoenix Contact offer wireless solutions such as routers, gateways and wireless access points in addition to wired industrial network equipment. However, industrial wireless solutions are also offered by many medium-sized and small companies that often specialize in specific product categories. Examples are Acksys, Advantech, Beijer Electronics Group, FreeWave Technologies, GE's Industrial Communications Group GE MDS, HMS Networks, Red Lion Controls and Sierra Wireless.
"Robust connectivity is critical to supporting industrial IoT application cases involving predictive maintenance and digital twins," said Fredrik Stålbrand, IoT analyst at Berg Insight. He adds that the installation and maintenance of wireless solutions is more flexible and economical compared to wired technologies and allows a reconfigurable design of the manufacturing system. Although reliability and security remain a challenge, Wi-Fi has established itself as the most widely used wireless technology in the industrial environment, mainly due to the wide availability of compatible hardware. Large industrial companies are also seeing a growing trend to use private 4G LTE networks instead of Wi-Fi and wired solutions. "The introduction of 5G wireless technologies further expands the addressable market for wireless communications by enabling use in situations where bandwidth, latency, and capacity requirements cannot be met today," concludes Stålbrand.