Is a mesh network the right choice in warehouse operations?

Today’s warehouses are increasingly automated. The necessary ubiquitous connectivity required demands a different approach to networking around the warehouse. Are mesh networks the answer? What benefits can mesh deliver to warehouse operators, especially around cost and ease of ownership and seamless service?

The warehouse has been an essential feature of global trade for millennia. Over that time, it hasn’t changed much – even today, many processes remain manual and analogue. However, things are changing – through digitalisation, robotics and automation, today’s warehouses are becoming much smarter.

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The need for improved connectivity in modern warehouse operations

The warehouse automation technology market was worth USD 19.88 billion in 2022 and is projected to nearly triple in value by 2030 to reach USD 54.60 billion.

With higher degrees of automation and digitalisation comes a need for better connectivity: if all the automated systems are to function effectively and the data is to flow around the warehouse as required, a reliable, high-speed ad real-time data communication network is prerequisite. 

Traditionally, warehouses have often made do with Wi-Fi networks for connectivity across the location. However, traditional Wi-Fi has limitations, with black spots in coverage being fairly common, especially on larger or remote sites or where mobile assets can block signals.

In a Wif-Fi network, the traditional router acts a centralised access point, creating the potential for a significant single point of failure and making areas of poor coverage more likely. Mobile devices and equipment need to change access points as they move around the area, which can further disrupt connectivity and coverage. As more connected devices are added, more demands are placed on the network and additional signal boosters or routers must be added to ensure signal strength.

What is a mesh network?

There is another solution: creating a mesh network. 

Mesh networks are different because the fabric of the network is decentralised – a mesh of connected devices which, together, create a fabric of connectivity across the area. The mesh infrastructure makes it easier to add to, expand or adjust connectivity more flexibly and in line with demand.

Unlike with the tradition “hub and spoke” model of a Wi-Fi network, mesh networks are particularly well suited to large spaces, especially if you have changing connectivity demands. Devices can share Internet connectivity or talk to each other directly without going through the Internet. This adds flexibility and reduces latency.

Configured correctly, a mesh network will have fewer dead spots and areas of weaker coverage. Mobile equipment presents no problem; the network is flexible enough to adapt. Self-healing algorithms reduce downtime because a mesh network requires continuous connections and the capacity to reconfigure if a path is broken.

What are the advantages of mesh networks for warehouse operators?

In a warehouse, a mesh network topography is especially beneficial. That’s because signals can be dynamically rerouted around changing obstacles and areas of high interference. This is perfect in an industrial environment with many changing or moving parts.

Their decentralised topography means they are more resistant to failure than traditional Wi-Fi works; they don’t have the same single points of failure.

Further, mesh networks can be scaled up and down quickly without incurring significant extra costs. Nodes can be added without disrupting existing communications. This adds agility and is especially useful for warehouse operators who are incrementally increasing digitalisation and the number of connected devices across their sites. In this way, a mesh network is a great way to add flexibility to your network.

In an industrial environment, where the number of connected devices is increasing almost exponentially, cyber security becomes an important priority. In a mesh network, all communication is encrypted. A mesh network more secure than a traditional Wi-Fi network.  

Is a mesh network the right choice in warehouse operations?

Mesh networks offer some significant advantages for warehouse operators, especially for larger sites. These include: scalability, easy expansion and visibility as well as increased coverage and reliability.

As warehouse operators seek to modernise their operations and drive competitive advantage through the adoption of new, digital and IIoT technologies, a mesh network is better suited to support these developments.

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