WLAN in logistics: More efficiency with a new standard

Michael Weinbeer

The birth of general cargo networks for data packets - if you want to describe the enormous technical progress in wireless data transmission simply, you could use this metaphor. Because despite many new wireless standards with ever higher speeds, wireless networks only master reliable multi-user transport of data packets to the internet in the new expansion stage Wi-Fi 6. A new WLAN era is dawning. Logisticians should directly consider the technology when planning new locations in order to stay connected more efficiently.

It was a milestone for transport logistics to be able to transmit data wirelessly. As a supplement to the wired LAN, only wireless networks enabled package handling in its current form: by scanning a barcode at each new transport stage as a trigger for a new status in the transport progress. Mobile data terminals (MDE) have been a familiar sight in logistics for more than 30 years. Among other things, employees use them to register the receipt and loading of packages. The prerequisite for this is a wireless network within the logistics facility in order to transmit tasks and loading lists to the devices and to transmit the results of the scanning back to the central system. With mobile terminals, the basis for IT-supported logistics with fast accompanying communication has broadened enormously. Rarely discussed is the fact that this technological quantum leap has since relied on networks whose frequencies were enormously limited from the beginning. Interference and technical difficulties in equipping logistics facilities, on the other hand, have already been discussed. But what are these limitations?


Traditional WLAN: the one-way street principle

Anyone who is familiar with the properties of Wi-Fi technology quickly understands its limitations, especially in comparison with road transport: 2.4 and 5 GHz radio has a restricted frequency band. In addition, the channels can interfere with each other - which slows down data transport. For comparison: let's imagine a freight forwarder who is only allowed to load the goods of a single customer into a local transport truck and bring them to their destination via one-way streets. As if that wasn't hard enough, the carrier has to wait for the same vehicle to return via the same one-way streets with a changed traffic direction before the next loading. This is how the delivery of data packets takes place within the radio networks. Here, a WLAN access point corresponds roughly to a forwarding depot and the number of overlap-free channels to the free one-way streets connected there.


WLAN development: speed beats efficiency

Of course, technical progress does not stop at WLAN. Over the past 15 years, wireless networks have achieved ever higher speed levels as well as higher data throughput through modulation. But the development of new standards has not solved the basic technical problem: the complete occupation of the individual radio channel with a single, ongoing data transmission. With reference to the freight forwarding example, local transport trucks would now be travelling at 200 kilometres per hour during transport and could be loaded in double-deck mode. However, they would still only be allowed to use one-way streets and only load for one customer at a time. With the Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5 wireless standards, possibilities for channel bundling were also introduced (at a lower range). Since then, we no longer use local transport vehicles in the example, but rather articulated lorries or even long trucks. For these, however, the one-way streets had to be widened, so that subsequently there were fewer free traffic lanes available overall.


New-generation WLAN: Wi-Fi 6 creates system logistics for data packets

New-generation WLAN: Wi-Fi 6 creates system logistics for data packets With the next development step, the premises for WLAN are now also changing: Wi-Fi 6 not only opens up a new frequency range. For the first time, the focus within wireless networks is now on efficiency. A system for simultaneous data transmission is being created. Data packets can now be transmitted simultaneously to several different terminals through the same channel. Translated into our image: the freight forwarder can now send groupage trucks with mixed loads over significantly more transport routes to several recipients. So what has already worked in logistics for more than four decades is now being emulated in wireless data transmission. This technical quantum leap has significant implications for new projects in logistics. Anyone planning and implementing WLAN networks should:

  • use Wi-Fi 6 Access Points and certified devices
  • design the entire infrastructure to be Wi-Fi 6-compatible
  • allow parallel operation of all currently available frequencies (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and in future 6 GHz)
  • always plan with the latest generation of devices.

The new standard offers additional advantages. The access points send a so-called colour coding in their channels with the data packets. This allows the transmitting network to be identified and greatly reduces the potential for interference from overlapping channels. Especially in handling facilities and logistics halls, where many access points are used, the devices can thus more quickly recognise signals of the same colour that are relevant to them. Their operating speed increases and their susceptibility to interference is significantly reduced. Read more about the technical background in the blog post "Wi-Fi 6 - What you need to know about the fastest WLAN".

Conclusion

High-performance WLAN in logistics facilities needs Wi-Fi 6

Hardly any other industry benefits as much from WLAN and real-time data transmission for its business processes as logistics. It depends on interference-free networks and error-free data transmission. That is why logistics benefits particularly from the possibilities of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard. When companies equip new logistics facilities, there is no way around the advanced technology. Today, no one does without the achievements of system logistics either.


Michael Weinbeer
Michael Weinbeer
System administrator

The system administrator has been implementing various large-scale WLAN projects, especially in logistics halls, for almost 10 years. The certified expert manages the WLAN on more than 500,000 m² at various customer sites on a daily basis. For him, no temperature fluctuation is too extreme or warehouse goods too different to create optimal WLAN reception in all hall areas.


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