Top 4 Things Standing in the Way of Your Secure Wireless Factory

The agile factory of the future will make manufacturers more efficient and resilient. But barriers — including a lack of understanding about the many wireless options — are preventing some from making the leap to Industry 4.0.

MxD has come up with a strategy to help. Our Request for Solution (RFS) for the development of a Secure Wireless for Factory Operations toolkit recently closed, with the selection process underway. Work is expected to start in early 2022.

The RFS had two goals for the winning team: 

  1. Create a software-based tool, like a checklist, to help companies choose a secure wireless solution, and
  2. Build a testbed to demonstrate what each technology can and can’t deliver.

Manufacturers face tough decisions on these costly investments, but making the right calls will enable secure wireless operation for the next five to 10 years. MxD’s in-house experts, including Technical Fellow Tony Del Sesto, described the four primary hurdles that businesses face. 

1. So Many Wireless Options 

One of the biggest problems for manufacturers — particularly those in the small and medium-size category — is deciding which wireless technology best meets their needs. Wi-Fi 6, 5G, LTE, and ultra-wideband each bring advantages and drawbacks. But it’s complicated. 

Publicly available information to help organizations evaluate each alternative objectively isn’t easy to find. Plus there’s a lot of noise to cut through. For instance, the adoption of 5G has been slowed because most manufacturers don’t understand what it is. And much of what they are hearing are marketing or sales pitches. There’s not just one flavor of 5G. There are dozens of varieties bundled into low-band, mid-band, and high-band millimeter wave (mmWave) and standalone and non-standalone architectures. 

Also, this isn’t like running cables. Manufacturers need to figure out how wireless will “look” in their building; how it’s going to reflect around corners; what kind of distances it has to cover. For instance, 5G mmWave delivers super-high speeds and extremely low latency but travels short distances and can be disrupted by interference from things like machinery. 

2. Choosing a Network 

Manufacturers also have a lot of choices to weigh when deciding on a wireless network. They can get coverage from a cellular company like AT&T, and for those considering 5G mmWave, that’s a necessity. In the United States, that spectrum is owned mostly by telecommunications companies. 

Another choice is building a network. Siemens, for example, is creating private 5G infrastructure in two plants in Germany. In the United States, such private 5G networks are a mid-band option, operating mainly in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. Companies don’t need a license to use that spectrum. CBRS networks are usually less costly and can be privately owned by the manufacturer. But performance in terms of speed is lower. Manufacturers can also hire or partner with a company that will build and operate a network for them.

3. Deploying the network securely 

With security and data integrity top of mind, manufacturers have to figure out how they want to deploy their wireless network. Do they handle it themselves or opt for a Cloud-managed network? Local control can mean less risk but comes with costs for buying or leasing equipment. Cloud solutions can simplify administration but can increase risk since management is outsourced.

4. Securing Your Operation

With wireless factories still on the cutting edge, figuring out the best way to operate securely is a work in progress. It’s all so new that there are not a lot of examples to identify vulnerability points. That’s why MxD believes its planned testbed is a must. After the testbed is up and running, MxD will do penetration tests against, for example, Wi-Fi 6 and different 5G technologies.

Those tests will detect vulnerabilities, laying the groundwork for the next step: figuring out how to fix them.

Interested in entering the field of manufacturing cybersecurity — or looking for ways to upskill your workforce? Download MxD’s free Hiring Guide: Cybersecurity in Manufacturing. The Hiring Guide features 247 current and future cyber roles and recommends how to train and upskill workers to handle them.