Every thing Connected: The newest wireless technologies promise exponential change

The first generations of wireless technology helped billions of people to communicate. The next will help billions of things to do so too.

Where next for wireless? The arrival of 5G, to huge public interest, has put this question at the forefront for businesses. A new white paper from DHL Trend Research is set to deliver some answers.

The report “Next-Generation Wireless in Logistics” has a threefold purpose: to explain what’s happening in the newest generation of wireless technologies; to examine how it applies to logistics; and to form a picture of how it could transform the industry in future.

It has taken the internet and more recently wireless technology just 20 years to become a seemingly indispensable element of human society. But while its story so far has been mostly about social media, telecommunication and mobile apps facilitating more elegant connections between people, the focus in the near future will be on connections between things. There are 3.5 billion smartphones in the world, yet most machinery still remains offline, indicating that the potential of the internet of things is only just beginning to be explored. As Ben Gesing, one of the report’s authors says: “Connecting all the things in the world is one of humanity’s next big endeavors.”

Alongside the continued evolution of established wireless technologies, the coming years will see new high-coverage, low-power networks extend their reach to the remotest regions, such as oceans and deserts – an expansion assisted by independent companies setting up their own cellular infrastructure, as with LoRa and Sigfox.

In logistics, meanwhile, changes will include the ongoing shift away from RFID tagging in favor of the wireless NFC-based sensors found in smartphones.

Bluetooth sensor networks, too, can now be used in checking shipments, so that large pallets (of valuable medical equipment or pharmaceuticals, for example) can be precision-tracked down to box level. Using a mother sensor communicating with Bluetooth beacons on each box, logistics operators can monitor the condition of each box and be alerted if the pallet is broken down, mitigating the risk of lost items.

Wi-Fi 6, meanwhile, will double the number of wireless channels available to four, allowing the two new frequencies (1GHz and 6GHz) to be reserved for particular equipment and machinery, freeing up congestion for personal device and telecommunications traffic.

And better Wi-Fi will also mean more robust fleets of robots increasingly being used in logistics.

The trend report includes a specialized section on how the latest wireless technology works, highlights some innovative projects underway in the industry, and provides implementation guidelines for supply chain organizations.

There will be plenty, too, about the superfast 5G, the main drawback of which is that it requires dense infrastructure to be in place globally, a process that cannot easily be accelerated. For the next few years, 5G is likely to blossom in heavily populated, well-equipped areas, such as corporate campuses rather than in entire cities.

Ultimately, though, 5G will be a crucial enabler of such breakthrough technology as autonomous vehicles that can communicate with each other. Already it is changing the technological landscape, with every hardware manufacturer considering 5G-ready devices and components.

Expect exponential change. ― GP Newington


Published: April 2020

Image: Getty Images