Moving Toward a Single Wireless Network

Today, the industrial world finds itself inundated by a confusing array of wireless standards. The IEEE has tried to address this problem by slicing up the wireless pie into coverage zones for wireless personal area networks, local area networks, metropolitan area networks, and wide area networks. The protocols for each area are tailored to handle specific needs of applications in terms of transmission speed and range. The result is there is no one-size-fits-all protocol. So what are you supposed to do? Implement a wireless network for each application you have? How can you share data among systems on disparate networks? The answer is waiting in the wings.

Outside Influences
Outside the sphere of industrial automation, enterprise IT has developed, tested, and implemented new software tools that allow companies to eliminate barriers within their information infrastructures-barriers that are the result of disparate operating systems, programming languages, and data models. The new software tools have made it possible for users to seamlessly integrate previously isolated software applications. Technologies such as service-oriented architectures (SOAs) and Web services are reshaping the IT world by providing software frameworks that mediate data and protocol incompatibilities. The same software tools that deliver integration, scalability, coexistence, and interoperability to enterprise networks can do the same for industrial automation infrastructures and provide an answer to the proliferation of wireless standards.

By building networking frameworks around these technologies (SOAs and Web services), wireless vendors can develop capabilities that can aggregate multiple wireless protocols into a single network. Moving from traditional stand-alone wireless applications to Web-centric applications will make the distinctions between such protocols as WiFi, ZigBee, and Bluetooth invisible to the user.

Pathfinders
One company that has moved to provide this type of technology is Xsilogy, a division of SYS Technologies. Xsilogy's SensorWorx framework includes tools that let you create sensor network applications that integrate with legacy systems. The package uses Web services and XML to integrate wireless sensors, industrial control systems, and IT networks. In an interview with Frost & Sullivan last year, then-CEO of Xsilogy, Rick Kriss, said, "With our technology architecture SensorWorx, we've chosen to be radio agnostic. One of the key things about SensorWorx is that it is a framework built around SOA and Web services with the capability to aggregate multiple wireless protocols into a single network."

While we're still in the early stages of transplanting these new technologies in the wireless networking arena, we can draw on a good many lessons learned by IT departments. The way is clear. We just have to gain momentum.

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