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Test Center Proposed for Wireless Product Qualification

Backers see need for an independent third party as a way to mitigate “wild claims” made by some wireless vendors.

Wayne Manges, Program Manager for Industrial Wireless Programs, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Wayne Manges, Program Manager for Industrial Wireless Programs, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Does the industrial wireless networking community need a facility that can perform qualification testing on wireless products, to confirm that they do what their vendors say they will do?

Wayne Manges thinks so. “There are vendors out there who are making wild claims and selling product,” says Manges, who is program manager for industrial wireless programs at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and co-chair of the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society’s (ISA) SP100 standards committee on Wireless Systems for Automation.

Manges, for one, believes that the “smoke and mirrors” being propagated by some vendors is one factor holding back the growth of wireless industrial networking. To help remedy that situation, Manges is proposing a plan by which an ORNL organization known as the Extreme Measurement Communications Center (EMCC) would take on the responsibility for qualification testing of industrial wireless products.

The effort would require funding from industry sources. Between $300,000 and $500,000 would be needed, Manges estimates. The Wireless Industrial Networking Alliance (WINA), a non-profit coalition of industrial end-user companies, technology suppliers and others, has agreed to serve as the funding conduit, according to Manges, who sits on the WINA board of directors.

Third party needed

The idea has at least one strong supporter in the wireless vendor community. Manges made his remarks during a recent dinner event sponsored for customers and others by Accutech Instrumentation Solutions, a Hudson, Mass., supplier of wireless industrial sensors and networks. And Accutech President Gene Yon is pledging a campaign to contact customers, as well as competitors, to urge support for the proposal. “We’re an active supporter of this,” says Yon, who adds that the industry “needs an unbiased third-party” for testing of wireless sensor and networking products.

Current activities of the EMCC—which is jointly funded by the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—include modeling, simulation and characterization support for industrial and other harsh environments where wireless networks may be deployed.

If the testing center proposal pans out, Manges says that funding received by the EMCC would be used initially to develop a qualification standard for performance testing of wireless industrial products. Testing would be performed to determine whether products meet the specifications claimed by the vendor, and whether they are compliant with any standards claimed. These results would then be made public, Manges says.

While initial activities would center on qualification testing, later EMCC work would include development of a certification standard for the wireless standard currently under development by the SP100 committee, Manges says. The SP100 committee hopes to have a draft standard available by the fall of 2006, he notes. Whether the EMCC would perform later certification testing or whether that would be handled by another facility remains to seen, Manges says.

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