$7 Billion, Phases of Visibility, and Other Developments

This Month in Wireless Sensor Networking

A "little" government influence promises to ignite wireless sensor networking progress this year. Meanwhile SP100's momentum continues to surprise, and the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries recognize the value of wireless. And, I wonder, who'll be the "Wal-Mart" of the process-visibility phenomenon?

FIPS 140-2 + WPA2 + 802.11i = $7 Billion
Steven Chen from 3eTi knows about wireless security and the potential for wireless sensing in the government market. For some time now, his company has been following—and leading—FIPS 140-2, the government standard for cybersecurity in information processing. During a recent Webinar presented by the Wireless Industrial Networking Alliance (WINA), Chen said that decision makers, in discussions at various government agencies, have concluded that FIPS 140-2—in combination with WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access, a "next generation" Wi-Fi security standard) or IEEE 802.11i—will completely satisfy government agencies' requirements for unclassified wireless networking, including sensors. This announcement, he noted, will unleash a government wireless sensor networking (WSN) market of $7 billion in 2006.

Wow. I was flabbergasted—in the best possible way. While the government has continually insisted that it is not interested in setting standards for wireless communication, it has said it would like to exert some influence, especially in areas related to homeland security. Well, if $7 billion doesn't result in some influence, I don't know what will. This could be the market impetus to create some renewed interest in Moore's Law for wireless sensor networks. Chen's talk (along with others related to the topic) is available at the WINA website.

SP100 Continues to Progress
Security is one of the topics covered by the ISA's emerging standard for wireless industrial automation, SP100. Broad interest in this effort continues to surprise me and to fuel the efforts of the SP100 committee (of which I am co-chair). At the most recent face-to-face (F2F) meeting at Apprion world headquarters at Moffett Field, CA, a new batch of volunteers stepped up to help the group address issues around interoperability, coexistence, security, and others of interest to everyone. Our working group structure on the committee is succeeding using the "divide and conquer" model for dealing with complexity. Anyone can sign up as an "information-only member" (this means you get access to all the information without committing to a working group); an e-mail to me [email protected] will start the process. The committee controls the ratio of end users to suppliers in the pool of voting members, but even information-only members can participate and contribute right up until the final vote.

Petrochem and Pharma Markets Love WSN
If people vote with their dollars, the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries are voting for wireless. The Department of Energy's Industrial Technology Program wireless initiative—the root of my participation in this business—was highlighted at the IFPAC (International Forum on Process Analytical Chemistry) 2006 conference in Arlington, VA, February 20-23. Speakers from Eaton, Honeywell, GE, Apprion, 3eTi, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (the latter was yours truly), encouraged the audience to consider the new generation of wireless offerings for use in these extremely hot arenas.

Process Visibility-Get It or Get Left Behind
Speaking of process industries, the systems associated with them—and with discrete manufacturing—are undergoing some dramatic transitions. One effect of these transitions is visibility into operations, and operational visibility is developing in stages, characterized by their spheres of influence.

Wireless technology—as incarnated in RFID—has helped enable the first phase of this phenomenon: visibility into supply chain operations, that is, allowing companies and partners to identify and locate goods as they progress through distribution channels. Early adopters such as Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense have thrown supply chain visibility into the spotlight and helped drive its momentum.

Increasingly, wireless technology is also having an impact in the second phase: visibility into assets. This phase includes not only identity and location (provided by RFID) but also the status of the equipment needed to turn raw material (made available by the supply chain) into profitable product. Allowing interested parties to "see" the status of equipment—to enable predictive maintenance—requires lots of sensors.

The third phase, yet to receive much recognition, is process visibility, which enables predictive modeling—a very powerful tool. This phase will bring the benefits of visibility to the transition of raw material to product. Companies that don't move to take advantage of these benefits—enabled by wireless technologies—will never be able to compete with the companies that do.

Wal-Mart showed the world what supply chain visibility can do the retail world. Who will show the world what process visibility can do for industry?

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