Wireless IP networks: communications for modern field automation systems

For the plethora of applications in modern field automation systems, users are turning to secure, open standard, IP-based technology to deliver solutions.

Utilities, mining companies and other industries are increasingly adopting high-speed wireless communication networks to keep in touch with the thousands of automation devices they rely on in the field. The networks support diverse applications, from advanced metering infrastructure and distribution automation for utilities; telemetry and mining management systems for mining; to traffic signal management for transportation.

These networks traditionally used proprietary, low-speed wireless communication systems that had little security and were, in most cases, capable of supporting only one application. When a new field application was required, another network had to be installed – not exactly a forward-looking solution. To cope with the plethora of applications now needed in modern field automation systems, users are now turning to secure, open standard, IP-based technology.

IP-based wireless field area communication networks have many advantages over their predecessors. Those based on standard technologies, such as 802.11, provide higher-speed transmission and lower latency than proprietary networking technologies. These improvements, coupled with virtual network (VLAN) and quality of service (QoS) capabilities, enable multiple applications to run on effectively on a single network.

IP-based wireless field area networks are also very reliable, especially if they use tools such as mesh routing and TCP with reliable data delivery. They provide interoperable communications for a multitude of diverse endpoints, it’s easy to add new applications, and greater centralization means more consistency, as well as lower implementation costs.

But there are legitimate cyber security concerns with wireless IP field automation networks as there are with any IP network.

However, the tools and techniques used to counter cyber attacks on enterprise IP networks have become extremely sophisticated and are constantly being updated to battle emerging threats. These tools can be applied to field area communication networks and the systems that manage them, so they can meet security challenges in the field. Some examples include IPsec virtual private networks (VPNs), firewalls, RADIUS, 802.1x, and 802.11i authentication, AES encryption and HTTPS-based remote access for secure device management.

In conclusion, wireless IP networks provide a reliable, scalable, high-performance and secure communications foundation to deliver flexible, cost-effective support for many field automation applications. For more information on ABB’s offering in this space, please visit abb.tropos.com.

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About the author

Bert Williams

I’m head of marketing for ABB’s Tropos Wireless Communication Systems product family. I’ve worked in various marketing leadership roles for wired and wireless networking companies in Silicon Valley for more than 20 years.
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