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Wireless standards dispute could lead to industrial failures

19 May, 2014

A leading European trade body is warning that at row over wireless communications standards in Europe could lead to “major industrial wireless failures”. Gambica, the trade organisation for the UK control and automation industry, predicts that a new European wireless standard could lead to “graceful degradation” of industrial wireless installations.

At the centre of the row is a standard drawn up by the European Telecommunications Standard Institute (ETSI), which is recognised by the European Union as a European standards organisation .

ETSI has produced a harmonised standard, EN 300 328 V1.8.1, that amends the existing rules for devices that use the publicly available radio band, with the aim of preserving bandwidth. It covers millions of devices using WiFi, Bluetooth and Zigbee technologies. When the standard comes into force, on January 1, 2015, it will have a major impact on manufacturers and users from all sectors. And, according to Gambica, it will prevent industrial wireless systems from working correctly.

The harmonised EN standard covers the essential requirements of article 3.2 of the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment (R&TTE) Directive, which states that “radio equipment shall be so constructed that it effectively uses the spectrum allocated to terrestrial/space radio communication and orbital resources so as to avoid harmful interference.”

Gambica technical executive Andrew Evans says that, with the intention of using the spectrum effectively, the telecommunications industry has produced a harmonised standard that can stop industrial wireless systems from working properly.

“The problem with the standard is that it introduces the concept of Listen Before Talk (LBT),” he explains. “LBT requires each radio device to check first whether another device is transmitting, in which case it must hold back until the channel is free. This causes random and unpredictable communication delays.

“The entire idea is simply nonviable,” he continues. “At times of heavy use, the result is a ‘graceful degradation’ of service. Unfortunately, the real problem for an industrial site is that key wireless devices can never be relied upon to report their alarm or status messages in a timely fashion.”

Evans: random and unpredictable delays

Representatives of European industry have tried to work with ETSI by submitting comments on the revision to EN 300 328, including suggestions for exemption or optional use of LBT in industrial automation applications. But ETSI has not included these suggestions in its latest revision of the standard, V1.8.1.

Industry has also worked via the IEC’s technical committee SC65C to develop an IEC standard called 62657-2 (2013) “Industrial Communication Networks – Wireless Communication Networks – Pt 2: Coexistence Management. Cenelec (the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation) has voted for this to become EN62657-2, but ETSI has blocked the harmonisation of this standard under the R&TTE Directive.

Gambica is urging companies that supply industrial wireless equipment, or who rely on these systems, to contact their trade associations or other relevant European organisations. It argues that industry needs to make further efforts to explain the possible consequences of LBT to the European Commission and to call for the harmonisation of EN62657-2 under the R&TTE Directive as soon as possible.

It warns that if this does not happen, substantial investments that companies have made in wireless industrial networks will be put at risk “in a stroke” and the future growth of industry will be “gravely harmed”.




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