Assessing the Various OT Trends in the Industrial WLAN Market

In this Research Highlight, we take a deep dive into the industrial Wide Local Area Network (WLAN) market. You'll read about demand forecasts for this connectivity technology, key strategies for network equipment vendors, how Wi-Fi HaLow and 6 GHz spectrum will be used in OT settings, the role of WLAN trials from regulators, and more.

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Market Overview

  • In light of an uncertain financial future, demand for Access Points (APs) in industrial manufacturing will be unexciting in 2023 (300,00 more than in 2022). This is similar to the lackluster AP growth in 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread plant lockdowns and supply chain disruptions.
  • In 2024, when the economy will look brighter and standard power 6 Gigahertz (GHz) APs with external antennas penetrate the industrial manufacturing market, ABI Research forecasts stronger growth for APs (about 4.5 million AP shipments) than in 2023.
  • From 2024 and on, slow but steady growth is anticipated, as a result of the greater embracement of 802.11-enabled industrial devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor networks, and the increased adoption of mobile robots.
  • The number of standard power AP deployments worldwide will increase from 1,300 in 2023 (both Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7) to more than 300,000 in 2028.
  • Thanks to favorable regulatory environments, some regions, such as North America and developed East Asian economies, will have the highest number of enterprise standard power AP deployments.

“The greater performance and range of standard power 6 GHz Wi-Fi APs positions them to be particularly attractive for networks that straddle indoors and outdoors, such as warehouses, and IIoT networks.”

Andrew Spivey, Industry Analyst at ABI Research


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Key Decision Items

Use Network-as-a-Service Business Models

Industrial wireless customers, given uncertain economic times, want to reduce financial risk as much as possible. To help make this happen, equipment vendors can offer Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) pricing models. A NaaS model is flexible, scalable, provides rapid deployment, and above all, reduces the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

These pay-as-you-go business models strip Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and focus more on Operational Expenditure (OPEX). In other words, NaaS customers can scale their networks up and down in accordance with demand. This reduced network complexity will be highly attractive to Operational Technology (OT) teams.

As the world economy worsens, it would be a good idea for network equipment vendors to begin piecing together ironclad partnerships with system integrators. These partners can, in addition to operating the network for clients, design and deploy the networks.

Keep an Eye on the Emergence of Industrial Wi-Fi HaLow

Wi-Fi HaLow (802.11ah) has up to 10X greater range than traditional Wi-Fi equipment and its sub-1 GHz capability makes it a good choice when trying to avoid the heavily congested 2.4 GHz band. These features make Wi-Fi HaLowa great candidate for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications, such as vibration monitoring. In this scenario, low-power wide-area technologies like LoRa lack sufficient throughput to carry the required data, while low-power, short-range technologies relying on the 2.4 GHz spectrum like Bluetooth do not perform well in harsh industrial environments.

Although the bedrock of Wi-Fi HaLow in the industrial space has been in place, now regulators need to ramp up their efforts. For Wi-Fi HaLow to truly blossom on a global scale, regulators must conduct myriad trials, while working to allocate spectrum and promote power harmonization of the technology.

Incorporate 6 GHz Spectrum into Harsh Industrial Settings

Because the 6 GHz band shines in dense, unforgiving industrial environments, equipment vendors should accelerate development for 6 GHz-supported products. The additional capacity provided by 6 GHz helps solve the congestion constraints that often worry OT teams. In turn, this can increase 802.11 adoptions.

The clean, unchallenged spectrum provided by the 6 GHz band meets the demands of industrial customers that often use high-throughput, low-latency demanding applications, such as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs).

To stimulate greater awareness of the 6 GHz spectrum, vendors should carry out trials and case studies. These efforts will be key to demonstrating the value of the 6 GHz spectrum in mission-critical applications.

Build Automated Frequency Control Capabilities

The problem with industrial operators using the 6 GHz spectrum is that it’s already being used by some incumbents. To avoid interference, equipment vendors, especially those with little to no experience handling spectrum database management, must quickly identify and build relationships with reputable Automated Frequency Control (AFC) partners.

As demonstrated in the world’s first Standard Power 6 GHz AFC trial, AFC can successfully be used to manage regional 6 GHz spectrum and authorize standard power Wi-Fi operation, while protecting incumbent users of the 6 GHz band.

When weighing options, it’s important that the AFC partner is committed to a long-term partnership because Wi-Fi equipment customers will require long-term assurances that they can access third-party data with no hindrances.

Develop Advanced Mobile Robotics Solutions

By 2028, nearly 6X as many AGVs and AMRs are forecast to ship compared to 2022. With this boom in robotics adoption, industrial companies will need more robust wireless solutions. While 5G is one such area that will be explored for robotics connectivity, 802.11, with the right features, is a perfectly fine option, too.

The Multi-Link Operation (MLO) capabilities of Wi-Fi 7, as well as the 6 GHz spectrum, can effectively handle the greater demand for high-throughput, low-latency networking that robotics deployments entail. For these reasons, ABI Research recommends that Wi-Fi equipment vendors develop products that reflect the migration to industrial robots and show off these capabilities at events and other marketing avenues.

Key Market Players to Watch

Dig Deeper for the Full Picture

To learn more about the pros and cons of emerging 802.11 technologies in industrial OT settings and to read about seven detailed case studies, download ABI Research’s Next Generation Industrial WLAN in OT Environments research report.  

Not ready for the report yet? Check out our How to Capture a Slice of the LE Audio Market Research Highlight. This content is part of the company’s Industrial & Manufacturing Technologies and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth & Wireless Connectivity Research Services.

Research report that delves into next-generation Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) in Operational Technology (OT) environments