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Wireless on the way?

More signs of wireless communications links are surfacing in the packaging space, and when certain standards now in development emerge in their finished state, progress will likely accelerate.

"We're seeing a number of wireless applications that allow people to do their job without having to connect into a wired connection on the plant floor," says Chris Kozup, senior manager mobility solutions, at Cisco Systems Inc. ( ), a leading supplier of networking equipment for the Internet. "Printing and labeling is certainly one area of activity. Scanning is another one, whether it's packaging materials going from inventory to a packaging line or finished goods exiting a packaging line."

Kozup says we are in a period of transition where wireless technology is concerned. Soon to be finalized is the IEEE 802.11n standard, which promises significantly higher speed and range. Here's how Computerworld describes it:

"The 802.11n standard uses some new technology and tweaks existing technologies to give Wi-Fi more speed and range. The most notable new technology is called multiple input, multiple output (MIMO). MIMO uses several antennas to move multiple data streams from one place to another. Instead of sending and receiving a single stream of data, MIMO can simultaneously transmit three streams of data and receive two. This allows more data to be transmitted in the same period of time. This technique can also increase range, or the distance over which data can be transmitted.

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"A second technology being incorporated into 802.11n is channel bonding, which can use two separate nonoverlapping channels at the same time to transmit data. This technique also increases the amount of data that can be transmitted. A third technology in 802.11n is called payload optimization or packet aggregation, which, in simple terms, means more data can be stuffed into each transmitted packet."

Kozup believes the new standard will bring benefits to all of manufacturing, including packaging.

"The 802.11n technology delivers significantly better bandwidth, something like 6 or 7 times better than what previous technology provided. It's also a great improvement in terms of reliability of the wireless connection, which is important in an environment that has a lot of metal, like packaging. All of which makes you begin to see a time where you can put more and more applications over that wireless network that could only have been delivered over a wired network in the past. So yes, wireless is becoming more robust. All the same, we don't think you'll ever see a complete replacement of wireless networking. What's important is that the two are unified so that the IT manager isn't managing two separate networks but rather one consistent network that can be accessed wirelessly or by wired access."

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