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Rapid roaming tech helps to keep mobile equipment connected

28 January, 2022

A Californian communications specialist has come up with a relatively low-cost technology that allows communications to be maintained with vehicles or autonomous robots as they move around a site. Antaira says that its “rapid roaming Wi-Fi” technology overcomes the 100m range limitation of Wi-Fi communications based on the 802.11ac standard. It argues that this range is usually not enough to ensure reliable operation and requires multiple access points (APs) to be installed to cover a large area, with vehicles or robots constantly having to switch from one AP to the next with a strong signal as they move around.

One solution is to use 802.11r systems that manage switchovers with transitions that take less than 50ms. However, Antaira points out, 802.11r is costly to implement and there may be some parts of a factory or warehouse that may not support the standard – which is where the company’s new technology comes into play. It prepares new possible access point connections before signals die down or drop off. The rapid roaming protocols seek a new AP while communications are still healthy, thus ensuring transitions with switching times of less than 150ms.

The IEEE introduced the 802.11r standard in 2002 and is still developing it. The protocol has been particularly useful for maintaining voice communications with moving sources. But to implement 802.11r, the wireless infrastructure needs to support the standard. This requires a significant investment because most systems that support the standard need a wireless LAN controller in addition to the APs. Antaira argues that its new technology, supported by a new dual-radio industrial wireless access point, offers many of the same benefits, but at a much lower cost.

The rapid roaming technology uses a client device that scans for nearby APs. When signal strengths drop to a point that a new connection is needed, the client performs fast scans looking for a new AP and connects to it automatically while dropping the current connection. This process eliminates weak signals and prepares a new connection ahead when needed.

Antaira’s rapid roaming technology allows transmissions to be handed over from one access point to the next as robots and people move around a site

Antaira cites an application in a warehouse in which autonomous robots move about stocking shelves and fulfilling orders. A traditional Wi-Fi network was already operating at the site, allowing workers to connect their PCs, tablets and phones, but it did not support 802.11r. To upgrade the facility, each robot was fitted with a wireless router that implemented rapid roaming at a fraction of the cost of installing a new wireless network.

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