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Interoperability worries hinder the uptake of wireless technologies

25 November, 2008

SPS logoAlthough sales of wireless networking technologies are likely to expand in the coming years, there is still considerable resistance among potential users, a new survey has revealed. The study, by the market analyst Frost & Sullivan, forecasts that global sales of wireless technologies for discrete automation applications will expand from $467m last year to reach $880m by 2012 – a CAGR of 13.5%. Some $381m of this will come from hardware sales, $319m from software, and $180m from associated services.

But an accompanying survey of 450 European OEMs, end-user, suppliers and systems integrators, has revealed that 83% of potential users view the lack of interoperability between wireless systems with a medium to high level of concern. Almost half of them want wireless devices that will integrate with Profibus, followed by Hart, Ethernet and Modbus.

The survey also reveals that 48% of potential users have no plans to adopt wireless in the foreseeable future. There is a “huge resistance” reports Frost’s automation and electronics practice director, Iain Jawad, who describes users as being “fundamentally insecure”. Interoperability is “the biggest brake on market growth,” he adds, which “needs to be tackled head-on”.

Speaking at the recent SPS/IPC/Drives show in Germany, Jawad added that numerous suppliers are now supporting initiatives, such as ISA SP100.11a, WirelessHart and Wisa, aimed at establishing common standards for wireless. Nevertheless, he doesn’t expect a dramatic increase in the uptake of wireless technologies, describing their adoption as “challenging and gradual”.

Most of the wireless systems installed in discrete manufacturing, to date, have involved short-range devices used for real-time monitoring and alerting. Replacing long-distance cables does not appear to be a major attraction for discrete users, so far, although this is a key driver for users in the process sector.

Among those discrete industries that are already using wireless industries, the automotive sector is the largest, representing 35–40% of wireless revenues. In the five leading European economies, the automotive wireless market is expected to reach $42m by 2010. The main drivers for adopting wireless in this sector include the need for real-time data, workforce mobility and ease of installation and commissioning.

The second-largest discrete user sector in Europe is the food and beverage industry, which is using wireless devices in robotic and packaging applications, among others. This market, which F&S forecasts will be worth $25m by 2010, is being driven by the need for continuous data-tracking, production monitoring and the ease of installation. 

According to Jawad, if there is effective collaboration between wireless suppliers on standards and interoperability, adoption of wireless technologies will accelerate considerably after 2012. Just 9% of the discrete users questioned plan to adopt wireless technologies in the next two years, while 45% expect to start using them in three to five years.

♦  Frost & Sullivan is holding a one-day workshop on the future of wireless in industrial automation in Frankfurt, Germany. Details from

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