No Cables Attached

Nov. 1, 2001

No Cables Attached

Installing communication cables is a big expense for any business. Over the years, industries have tried various solutions that, so far, have succeeded in reducing the amount of cabling.

Now comes wireless technology with the promise of no cables. At all. Just use radio signals to send data almost anywhere. It’s a great idea. And it can offer huge savings for any company.

Plus, there’s no doubt it will work, as it already does in radio, satellite, and in lower-frequency distribution center communications. So the newest wireless technologies should work in your facility. Eventually.

And that’s the issue material handlers need to be aware of now. Eventually wireless will be in your facility. Today, however, it’s very much a case of “here we go again.”

Before you rush to install wireless in your plant, make sure you know what you’re getting into. If you thought the hype was bad during the Industrial Bus Wars a few years ago, just wait. This time, we have the “IT world” involved, and, for many of the marketers, normal speech is hyperbole. (Think back to all the claims made about e-commerce and how it would obsolete brick-and-mortar stores. Or how it was possible to make profit without actually having revenue.)

Wireless is just what you need to “improve productivity, enhance efficiency, lower costs and boost the bottom line.” At least that’s what proponents say. Forgive my underwhelming embrace of these claims, but I’ve heard all of this before. Lots of times. (And, in some cases, I’m still waiting for them to come true.)

Just remember what happened during the Industrial Bus Wars. Interoperability? Yes … but. Yes, some wireless products actually interoperate with others. Just be sure you don’t mix frequency-hopping spread spectrum devices with direct-sequence spread spectrum ones. And that’s just one caution. There are others, depending on the manufacturer of the device (naturally).

Faster speeds? Well … it depends. It depends on the wireless network configuration, how much traffic you’re sending, who else is using the frequency, how much you want to spend to achieve a particular data rate and so on. (Sound familiar?)

Oh, but they’re working on standards, and they’re working on faster standards for better throughput. Uh-huh.

Be careful with that “faster standards” one. You’ll hear a lot about it in the press because it’s new and therefore sexy. Yes, the business press is all excited. But you have to ask yourself if you really need that additional speed – at its additional cost.

Plus, don’t forget that wireless is a “back door” around any firewalls you have that protect your cabled networks.

The most common theme research uncovered is that wireless technology is still in development. That should be a huge red flag. In this issue of Supply Chain Flow, we take a hard look at what’s really available with wireless and what it means for you. Go ahead and investigate and even invest in this technology. Just proceed with caution.

— Leslie Langnau

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