Industrial automation is seemingly unstoppable as it continues to play a vital role in global modernization efforts. As we continue to automate various functions and incorporate new edge devices for remote monitoring and control, we further this shift toward an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, the IIoT umbrella, while differentiated from consumer IoT demands, is still very broad.
To further separate the stringent demands of users whose operations are critical to the operations of our nation, a new segment known as the Mission-Critical Internet of Things (MC-IoT) is emerging. From modernization of the electric grid to rail automation, the MC-IoT is playing a pivotal role in assuring our nation’s vital industrial networks run in a secure and reliable manner.
The MC-IoT requires bolstered connectivity and highly reliable field area networks. This has resulted in the creation of a new wireless network standard titled IEEE 802.16s, which is designed to provide mission-critical operators with wireless networks that are built specifically for mission critical use and can meet their stringent demands for reliability, low latency, availability and security. With this new standard, the MC-IoT and automation of our nation’s critical infrastructure can continue to grow and thrive.
The IEEE 802.16S Standard And What It Means for the MC-IoT
Public cellular networks use wireless technology standards that rely upon broadband spectrum to implement a wide range of consumer applications. Until recently, no wireless technology standard had been implemented specifically for industrial and mission critical users. Standards such as LTE and IEEE 802.16 require relatively large channel sizes, greater than 1.25 MHz, which aren’t readily available to industrial users or are too costly. This has forced mission critical entities to rely on alternatives that are not standard. These include proprietary network technology solutions, which could potentially be discontinued at any time, unlicensed wireless technologies that are subject to interference and security vulnerabilities and / or the use of commercial wireless carriers which lack the reliability, low latency, security and availability required for mission-critical applications such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA).
With a strong desire to solve this challenge, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Utilities Technology Council (UTC), leading electric utility companies and telecom manufacturers came together to modify the IEEE 802.16 standard to operate in narrower channel sizes. The standard was ratified and published in October 2017 and is known globally as IEEE 802.16s. This new iteration of the standard is frequency agnostic and allows for operation in channel sizes ranging from 100 kHz up to 1.25 MHz with reduced network overhead for maximum throughput in narrower channels.
The Advantages in Standardizing Private Networks and Technologies
The standard is suitable to all critical infrastructure industries and applications that require mission critical connectivity over large geographic regions. It has made it possible for mission-critical operators to establish more reliable networks that enhance security against disruptions from natural disasters and any other external interruptions.
By enabling operation within a broader variety of channel sizes, mission-critical operators are able to create their own private, mission critical wireless networks, independent of the public cellular networks. IEEE 802.16s networks leverage licensed spectrum which further enhances security, availability, and reliability of the network.
Networks that are built to the IEEE 802.16s standard implement point to multi-point coverage for MC-IoT technologies used for monitoring and controlling operations. They are highly secure, application agnostic networks (Layer 2) with the capability to create different levels of service and prioritization based on the device and application. In the event of a natural disaster, a general outage or a cyber threat which could compromise network communications, networks built to the IEEE 802.16s standard have offer a greater sense of priority since they are owned and operated by the mission-critical entity.
The creation of the IEEE 802.16s standard builds a new model for mission critical applications, establishing the ultimate goal of a secure, ongoing, multi-vendor eco-system across large, global critical infrastructure end markets, giving utilities and other mission-critical entities the ability to customize their networks based on their individual needs – a critical advantage when building networks designed to resist any type of vulnerability.
By Kathy Nelson. Director of Technical Product Marketing & Industry Relations at Ondas Networks