The Industrial Wireless Wars

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

Wireless is an "inflection point" which will generate significant growth and market share for the industry leaders. The Wireless Wars are really marketing ploys to gain market-share through the differentiation of standards that support the majors' market strategies. Here's the best overview and summary you'll find anywhere.

This article was published by:
Check out, October 2007

Most companies in the automation industry recognize Wireless as a new "inflection point" which will generate significant growth and market share for the industry leaders. The Wireless Wars are really marketing ploys to gain market-share through the differentiation of standards that support the majors' market strategies.

WirelessHART Vs. ISA-100

In September 2007, the Hart Communication Foundation (HCF) announced official release of the Hart 7 Specification which includes WirelessHart, the first open wireless communication standard specifically designed for process measurement and control. This specification was developed through the combined, cooperative efforts of HCF member companies, which includes most companies in the automation industry.

There was a 11th hour appeal via an "open letter" from Jack Bolick, President of Honeywell Process Systems. He recommended that HCF remove WirelessHart from Hart 7.0, and wait for the not-yet-ready ISA-100 as the networking technology for Hart wireless deployments. He suggested that including wireless in Hart 7.0 was unnecessary duplication, which "creates confusion and slows innovation."

ISA100 is being developed to support multiple protocols, such as Hart, Profibus, CIP and Foundation Fieldbus, instead of just Hart-7. This is being coordinated by ISA's SP100 committee, with a "draft version" ISA-100.11a expected "soon". But, when was the last time any committee approved a specification in less than umpteen months?

Honeywell itself is on the 5-member HCF board of directors. The other board members are ABB, Emerson Process Management, Endress+Hauser and Siemens. The vote passed 4:1, snubbing Honeywell. WirelessHart became the first officially released industrial wireless communication standard. The expectation is that multiple products will soon be available with the new standard. But of course, WirelessHART approval doesn't end the arguments; it was just the start of another battle.

In June 2007, during the launch of their "OneWireless" offering, Honeywell kept refusing to be drawn on whether they supported WirelessHART, insisting instead that they supported "HART-over-wireless". Most observers did not really understand the semantic difference.

Market Battles

It's about 2 years since Emerson released its wireless products in advance of agreement on the standard, with an undertaking that users would be able to migrate to the standard once it had been approved. The approval of WirelessHART now makes it easy for them to cement their lead, leaving Honeywell to protest about how ISA-100 will provide better links to more protocols.

Emerson remains committed to working on ISA-100, and intends to make sure WirelessHART technology is included in that standard when it is eventually approved. Emerson has the most to gain if the standard emerges today; Honeywell has the most to lose if WirelessHART gains market traction. That is simply the basis of their two opposing positions.

These Wireless Wars are really ploys to gain leadership through standards that support market strategies. Here's the key dichotomy: Emerson is pursing market leadership primarily through field-devices, while Honeywell has a much broader line of control systems, located throughout process plants and requiring wireless communications with a much wider variety of devices.

Collaboration after all

Perhaps the open-letters helped after all, because two weeks after going ahead with the release in the face of Jack Bolick's protest, HCF announced that it had entered into an agreement with ISA to collaborate and investigate opportunities to incorporate WirelessHART into the work of the ISA-100 Committee. Within the agreement is a mutual copyright licensing arrangement which allows ISA-100 to evaluate and consider the adoption of WirelessHART and gives HCF access to all ISA-100 documents going forward.

ISA and HCF are also establishing a joint technical committee to assess the degree to which WirelessHART technology meets the ISA's objectives and whether it can be incorporated into what is now being called "the ISA-100 family of standards". This seems remarkably like what happened when several, mutually incompatible protocols were incorporated into the IEC standard which eventually resolved the Fieldbus wars - every standard that had any reasonable following was eventually "incorporated" into the standard.

When eight standards were initially included in the Fieldbus standard I wrote another poem, "The 8-part Fieldbus Voting Fiasco". You'll find a link to this poem below. It's interesting that there are now 15 or 16 "standards" incorporated into the so-called "Fieldbus standard".

One wonders why the automation industry has had to go through these shenanigans before this degree of cooperation emerges. Why, for example, would it not have been possible for the ISA-100 committee in effect to delegate development of wireless provisions within ISA-100 to HCF from the outset, to allow users of 25 million HART devices an acceptable standard, rather than have to choose between a HART protocol and another, different or similar protocol from ISA? Each camp will give you a hundred reasons why they could not all of them incorporated into incomprehensible details. The fundamental objections are marketing-based, not technical.

CISCO alliances - with everybody

It's little more than three months since Honeywell announced its OneWireless solution at the Honeywell User Group(HUG) meeting in Phoenix. OneWireless was, claimed HPS president Jack Bolick, the "the only wireless network a plant needs." The implication was that users who adopted other vendors' solutions would find themselves having to manage a plethora of protocols, several potentially conflicting wireless networks. Clearly Emerson, which has been selling its HART-based wireless networking for a year, was the primary target against which this marketing volley was aimed. Honeywell suggested that, by focusing solely on field device networking, Emerson was not giving its customers the opportunity to take advantage of wider possibilities offered by Honeywell's much broader OneWireless in-plant wireless networking solutions.

Now Emerson has responded by announcing an alliance with Cisco which offers users pretty much everything that Honeywell's OneWireless offers after ISA-100 is released, plus the added bonus of WirlessHART based wireless networking now.

Cisco, the mainstream networking "big gorilla", has once again (previous alliance with GE-Fanuc fizzled) entered the industrial automation arena. CISCO sees the growing convergence of the IT and automation worlds, and hopes to extend its reach from the corporate level to the plant, not quite recognizing the intricacies in fragmented markets that it does not really understand.

At Hanover, Germany in April 2007, CISCO announced collaboration with Rockwell Automation with a plan to develop what they called "a common technology view". A few months later, they announced their own wireless solution, specifically targeting the upstream Oil and Gas markets.

Under the newly announced CISCO agreement with Emerson, the two companies will collaborate "to offer open-standard solutions for wireless process and plant management applications". Many Emerson customers already use Cisco's wired plant network applications, and are expected to extend into the wireless domain right down to the device level using Emerson technology.

The Plant networks will be based on Cisco's Unified Wireless Architecture which provides industrial-class wireless access points, controllers and network management software. Emerson will use Cisco technology to provide ubiquitous, highly secure wireless LAN coverage and integration within a plant's existing IT infrastructure, thereby eliminating the need for a complex wireless overlay network.

Configuration and management of the Wi-Fi network will be handled centrally by Cisco's Wireless Control System. This allows Emerson to offer applications such as worker mobility, voice over IP, personnel and asset tracking and video, under a common umbrella. In effect this is equivalent to Honeywell's OneWireless.

This is clearly a marketing game of ping-pong, with CISCO playing all sides. Honeywell must soon come up with a response to this latest Emerson initiative. Or, they should forget it, and simply focus on gaining market-share - which is the real prize.

DUST everywhere

WirelessHART, as embodied in the newly released HART-7 specification, adopted the concept of self-healing mesh networking, but did not completely include the Dust Networks proposals, as originally used by Emerson. However, within days of the release of HART-7, Dust smartly announced WirelessHART compatible Wireless Sensor Networking (WSN) based on its TSMP (Time Synchronized Mesh Protocol) which is the foundational building block of the WirelessHART standard.

With Emerson and many other companies already using its technology, Dust Networks are clearly expecting that their products will quickly become the de facto standard in the process measurement and controls industry. Use of Dust products should enable vendors of HART-based field devices to develop WirelessHART compatible versions quite quickly, with retrofit kits for already deployed HART devices. That's a significant market - look for several products to emerge.

Same Old, Same Old

This kind of standards noise is similar to what occurred during the "Fieldbus Wars" which started almost 2 decades ago. ISA was coordinating the SP50 Fieldbus standard, which never really got anywhere. In the end, some 10-15 different industrial networking protocols were approved as "standards". The situation was too funny to write about in regular prose - people would be offended by clear statements of what was happening. So, I turned to poetry - a crisp, lucid way of describing the situation.

Here is my new poem on the Wireless Wars, in the lilt of Lewis Carroll's "The Lobster Quadrille" from Alice in Wonderland. I trust you'll enjoy it.

The Industrial Wireless Quadrille

"Will you walk a little faster!" cried Honeywell to the ISA snail
"There's an Emerson right behind me and he's treading on my tail!
We need ISA-100 now for wireless to advance
End-users have been waiting long and they will join the dance
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
    "You can really have no notion how delightful it will be,
    With this broader standard, why can't we just agree?"
    "WirelessHART!" cried Emerson and would not change their stance
    ABB, Siemens, E+H too, just would not join the dance.
    Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance!
"Lets join our games, pretend we're friends!" then Emerson replied
"'Cause everyone wants WirelessHART, it's ready NOW beside
ISA-100 will take too long, it really has no chance
So why don't you just join our game and then we both can dance!
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?"
    Honeywell an open letter wrote, "Can't you see that HART's too narrow?
    ISA-100 includes all protocols that we will need tomorrow."
    Then lots of others gave their view, each trying to enhance
    With open-letters flying around, it was the strangest dance
    Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
These wireless wars have now become a Fieldbus deja vu
New SP-100 equals old SP-50 times two
The industry keeps spinning round while the leading vendors prance
Each seeking the advantage in this latest wireless dance
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
    The wireless market's growing fast and who will be the champ?
    The lobbying goes on to see who now will join which camp
    In this dance and whirligig, are end-users there perchance?
    'Cause this is for them, the vendors swear, as they prolong the dance
    Will they, won't they, will they, won't they, will they join the dance?
©Jim Pinto

Wireless Inflection Points

It's important to remember that, while the process automation majors are primarily focused on the benefits of wireless-enabled versions of conventional field devices, the full range of potential applications of wireless technology is considerably wider and deeper. There are lots of applications which can use the versatility of self-healing wireless mesh network technology, and this will contribute to substantial market growth.

Says Andrew Bond in his widely respected Industrial Automation Insider newsletter:

    "The future of wireless in process automation could well turn out to be a battle between those who use it 'incrementally' - in effect to replace copper in conventional applications - and those who use it imaginatively to reshape the applications themselves."
My own advice: don't get bogged down in the "wireless wars". Push the inflection point. Develop applications that provide your customers with the significant advantages and benefits of wireless deployment, and you'll find the growth and success your company is looking for.


I'd like to acknowledge that several points in this article have used the good insights and writings of Andrew Bond in his respected monthly newsletter, "Industrial Automation Insider".

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Copyright 2006 : Jim Pinto, San Diego, CA, USA