FreeWave touts industrial radio for 2.4 Ghz band

A Colorado company has become the latest wireless industrial radio manufacturer to add the ability to transmit data over the unlicenced 2.4 Ghz band to its lineup.

FreeWave Technologies Inc. said Monday that its new GX family gives network managers, solution builders and original equipment manufacturers a better choice for organizations wanting to take advantage of unlicenced spectrum.

“It provides another option where the 900 Mhz band is congested, or where OEMs or partners manufacture products that are shipping globally,” said Tim Stevens, FreeWave’s product manager for embedded systems.

Wireless industrial modems connect to supervisory control and data acquisition  (SCADA) devices, and are used in wide range of industries to send data from remote sensors to collection servers. The oil and natural gas industries may come first to mind, but they can also be found in the agriculture industry regulating irrigation systems, monitoring hydro equipment.

Police agencies use wireless modems attached to video cameras, while armed forces use them in remote flying drones. And they have been attached to golf carts so their locations can be tracked.

There are hardened cellular modems, but they aren’t of much use in outlying rural areas. And, carriers charge monthly data fees. Unlicenced spectrum, on the other hand, is free.

The GX series is almost identical to FreeWave’s MM2 radios for the 900 Mhz band, with one major difference: Because the propagation characteristics of the 2.4 Ghz band isn’t as good as the lower band, signals can only carry up to 20 miles (32 km) under ideal conditions – about one-third of the MM2’s capability.

But increasingly the 900 Mhz band is running out of room.

“Getting crowded is putting it mildly,” says Michael Rozender, a wireless consultant based in Grimsby, Ont. “You can’t get 900 Mhz frequency allocations from Industry Canada for anything more than a few kilohertz of bandwidth, and that’s not enough for broadband throughput.”

And broadband is the key, he said. It used to be that SCADA devices put out a small amount of data – is the sensor or control unit working or not. Today, companies want a large range of data about sensors, including video. So the relatively unpopulated 2.4 Ghz band is in demand.

Barry Blight, manager for field automation at Spartan Controls of Calgary, which resells FreeWave modems, said the GX series’ 2.4 Ghz capabilities might be useful in factories, where noise interference from machinery is a concern, as well as foreign countries Spartan sells to.

However, he added, Spartan’s oil and gas customers in B.C. and Alberta aren’t seeing any transmission problems yet in the 900 Mhz range.

Some FreeWave competitors, such as Synetcom Inc., have already released 2.4 Ghz versions of their products.

Initially the GX series will have three versions: The GX-C, which lists as US750 for OEMs, integrators and companies that already have an equipment cabinet the circuit board can slip into; the GX-M [pictured], which lists at US$650, for use in embedded devices, and the GX-CP, which lists at US$900, for companies that use cathodic corrosion protection for buried pipes and tanks.

Later this year it will release two enclosed versions for end users that will be similar to FreeWave’s FGR2 900 Mhz shoe or rail mount radios: the GX-PE, with two Ethernet and two serial ports; and the GX-CE, with four serial ports.

The GX series outputs 500 milliwatts of power, but that can be capped at 100 mM to meet European standards.


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