Challenging and Hazardous RF Environments (and How to Overcome Them!)

Ryan Hall Published 7 Sep 2018

Hands-on and gritty jobs exist in every industry.  It may come as a surprise that these jobs even exist in IT networking, an industry more closely associated with miles of multi-colored cables, stacks of well-organized switches, and large temperature-controlled rooms.    

However, with the increased usage of and reliance on robust Wi-Fi connectivity (and its’ supporting network infrastructure) to empower critical day-to-day functions, maintain operational uptime, and optimize efficiency, businesses in even the most challenging, unique, and hazardous settings must develop creative RF solutions for their environments. Many of these businesses also have a guest population with their own set of expectations related to mobility and network access, adding another layer of complexity to a deployment. 

A few examples of these environments and their respective challenges may include:

Retail

The retail challenge is two-pronged.  For guest-facing, in-store deployments the pressure to deliver an enhanced, personalized shopping experience has only increased with the rise of digital retailers.  This includes providing reliable and secure Wi-Fi connectivity, seamless mobile onboarding and roaming, and a central management platform to ensure the network is properly maintained and secured – in many cases, for a large number of distributed locations.  For more on retail’s in-store digital pain points click here.

The back-of-house side of the businesses comprises of extensive storage and shipping facilities that require complete coverage and capacity despite their massive, cavernous environments. They also extend outdoors, have a range of temperatures, and support a diverse set of in-house applications and devices. More details surrounding these environments below.        

Sports & Public Venues

Similar to brick and mortar retailers, a quality mobile experience is now part of game day for sports venues, whether professional sports or collegiate sports.  The focal point is providing strong and reliable Wi-Fi connectivity for guests, ensuring uninterrupted access to the Internet, social media, and team-centric content and services through the club’s fan-facing application.  Wi-Fi is now seen as an expectation and a utility, causing teams across major sports leagues like the NFL to invest in purpose-built Wi-Fi solutions. 

However, the physical characteristics of each stadium or arena and the business requirements of each club that inhabits it are different.  Surveying the venue and deploying a Wi-Fi network requires careful planning and fine-tuning, especially to identify effective and non-disruptive mounting locations for wireless access points.  Various businesses and their devices within the venue need access to the network too.  For multi-use venues the network may need to be provisioned accordingly event-to-event, and let’s not forget about the +70K users and their devices that enter and continuously roam around the environment.  Click here to learn more about sports venues and essential network technologies.   

Transportation & Logistics: Trains and Railways

T&L are faced with a litany of unique considerations and challenges when deploying Wi-Fi solutions, simply due to the number of different environments under the T&L umbrella.  Let’s take trains and railway deployments, which are installing network technologies to help with security, enable predictive maintenance, and improve asset tracking.  For passenger-carrying trains and railways, access to real-time travel information, mobile ticketing, and customer-facing Wi-Fi connectivity are just a few of the benefits rail digitization offers passengers. 

There are also serious challenges.  Some deployments must adequately and securely support three categories of services, includes passenger experience services, business process support services, and operational data and voice services – all on one network.  Many railways are older, making the initial cost of a retrofit deployment expensive and the complex task of integrating legacy systems a challenging one.  Train and railway networks are nearly always in operation, making network implementations difficult in-of-itself, but because of their continuous uptime network reliability and availability are critical, but guaranteeing RF coverage can be very challenging with bridges, tunnels, and viaducts part of the railway environment.  On the topic of guest-facing wireless connectivity security is also a concern, as these networks are more vulnerable to outside interference, intrusion, and attacks.

Transportation & Logistics: Shipping Docks and Ports

Shipping docks and ports stands to gain impactful benefits from digital transformation as well, including advanced analytics, integration of IoT, autonomous vessels and robotics – among a number of emerging technologies. However, shipping docks and ports face the obvious deployment challenges that are inherent to sprawling, mostly outdoor environments. This means the technology must be able to endure harsh weather conditions and extreme temperatures; it also means engineers must resort to creative design methodologies and mounting options to ensure the coverage and capacity of the solution is adequate.  The equipment and staff within shipping docks and ports are also moving constantly.  Detailed data surrounding the shipping workflow are critical to the supply chain process, and also enable predicative analytics and optimization through AI, underscoring the need for a reliable Wi-Fi solution.

Manufacturing & Warehouses  

Manufacturing facilities and warehouses exhibit many of the RF and network challenges cited in the sections above.  With their large and cavernous spaces, the physical layout itself makes propagating strong Wi-Fi connectivity difficult.  To go a layer deeper, what actually populates warehouses creates challenges too: from the materials being stored at the facility, the material of the racks, to the mobile machines in operation- everything has to be taken into consideration when implementing a Wi-Fi solution.  This includes mobile-centric warehouse staff who roam the environment incessantly, and who rely on warehouse management systems and other in-house business applications to effectively manage all the moving parts.

Security is a major consideration and a potential problem as well.  IoT has serious benefits for these environments and their organizations, but with more and more connected devices and ‘things’ in warehouse settings to better support the day-to-day operations and optimize existing assets creates more vulnerability.  Any connected device has the ability to be hacked or compromised if the network isn’t properly secured.     

Next Steps to Learn More!

Do you want to learn more about challenging, dynamic, and hazardous RF environments?  Furthermore, do you want to understand the design principals and purpose-built network technologies to solve these challenges?  Watch our live webinar, Overcoming Challenging and Hazardous RF Environments with Creative Deployments, to learn how we cover all of the industries listed above and more.

To read more about the digital trends and business challenges impacting transportation and logistics today, check out our latest infographic and blog post .

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