Industrial Automation

Connecting AMRs and AGVs in Your Warehouse: Cellular or Wi-Fi?

Sam Veng
If you want to take your material-handling operations to the next level with AGVs and AMRs, then consider your network first.


Orchestrating logistics. Reducing errors. Improving speed. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can do all these things for material-handling environments—and much more—as long as they have reliable network connectivity.


As a result, use of this technology is on the rise in warehouses and distribution centers. In a recent Rockwell Automation report, AMRs and AGVs are named one of the top three investment areas for industrial decision-makers in the next 12 months. The market is projected to reach approximately $20 billion by 2028, with expected growth rates of 22% for AGVs and 37% for AMRs in the next four years.


It's important to note that these critical machines aren’t replacing people. In fact, the survey points to the opposite: 94% of respondents plan to either maintain or grow their workforce as a result of adding more smart manufacturing technology to the mix.


The Success of AGVs and AMRs Begins with Your Network

Preparing your industrial network to support the unique needs of AGVs and AMRs is key to optimizing your investment in these machines.


If you want to be able to dispatch and control AGVs and AMRs as part of your material-handling operations, then consider your network first.


Although AMRs and AGVs require reliable network connectivity, industrial environments make it difficult. Obstacles like dense shelving and metal structures, high levels of signal interference, network congestion and coverage gaps often prevent uninterrupted communication and control from any location.


When your network can’t handle the connectivity requirements, then costly AGVs and AMRs won’t function. Instead, they sit idle, causing disruption, frustration and wasted resources.


Robot Connectivity Options: Cellular and Wi-Fi 

When it comes to AMR and AGV connectivity, there are two options to consider: cellular (5G) and Wi-Fi. Let’s explore them here.


What Is Cellular?

Cellular networks divide service areas into cells: 5G is an example of a cellular network. 5G is fifth-generation wireless technology that began to roll out in 2019. Compared to 4G, it offers the ability to customize services with increased bandwidth, density and speeds or lower latency.


Designed to support technology like IoT, enhanced mobile broadband and autonomous vehicles, it offers fast mobile broadband with low latency for industrial environments—but it may not always meet the real-time requirements for safety applications.


To integrate 5G systems into industrial automation applications, 3GPP offers possibilities to implement time synchronization (e.g., through SIB9 messages). Although they’re defined in the standards, these features haven’t trickled down into products for industrial networks yet.


At the end of 2023, only 45% of global networks worldwide were 5G compatible. Although it isn’t universally accessible yet, 5G is gradually expanding. And as 5G continues to permeate, talks of 6G are on the horizon, with the first commercial 6G networks expected to go live starting in 2030.


What Is Wi-Fi?

Based on IEEE 802.11 standards, Wi-Fi is a family of wireless network protocols. It allows nearby digital devices to exchange data by radio waves, tapping into networks with already-established connections.


Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is next-generation wireless technology that provides better Wi-Fi performance in environments with lots of devices. It has faster speeds than previous versions of Wi-Fi and is expected to be able to connect directly to the central network core.


Wi-Fi 6 also features orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), which can increase the number of robots that connect to a single access point in a warehouse without degrading signals or requiring more bandwidth.


Cost Considerations for 5G and Wi-Fi

Recently, 5G networks (especially private 5G) have been the leading choice for AMR and AGV connectivity in material handling. But that’s changing as Wi-Fi networks prove they can deliver the ultra-reliable, low-latency connectivity required for industrial environments.


When weighing your wireless connectivity options for AMRs and AGVs, there are important cost considerations to think about.


When it comes to adopting 5G, for example, you’ll likely need to invest in new active and passive equipment (routers, antennas, cables, etc.). As 5G becomes more pervasive, hardware prices are expected to drop, but that hasn’t happened yet. 5G costs are also higher because of the need to purchase data capacity on a recurring basis. These factors can make 5G deployment more expensive than Wi-Fi in many cases.


It’s also important to note that simply deploying 5G-enabled hardware doesn’t guarantee 5G network access. The technology must also be available in your area (unless, of course, you’re establishing a private 5G network).


Meanwhile, many factories and warehouses already have Wi-Fi networks in place. Utilizing parts of existing Wi-Fi infrastructure can be a more cost-effective option than purchasing all-new. This approach can often accomplish many of the same connectivity capabilities as 5G without the cost and complications of licensing and data charges.


Solving Real Connectivity Problems to Boost Revenue

We recently helped a warehouse automation technology company overcome the common AGV and AMR connectivity challenges we mentioned above. Due to network connectivity problems, they struggled with:

  • Intermittent robot disconnections
  • Network availability timeouts
  • Delays, system reboots and robot collisions
  • Manual retrieval of disabled robots


Because robots couldn’t stay connected to the network, the company wasn’t able to meet its package-per-hour processing rates for customers.


After completing a network assessment and analysis, Belden’s experts and engineers presented a new approach to balancing safety and performance, describing how the company could keep its AGVs and AMRs moving and communicating in a densely populated area—without downtime or compromising safety.


The result is a robust, reliable wireless network solution that supports high availability and performance for mobile automation.


The company is no longer worried about preventing downtime and troubleshooting disconnections. Instead, it can focus on what it does best: delivering advanced automation solutions that make the supply chain faster, more efficient and more profitable for manufacturers, distributors and retailers.


Thanks to improved connectivity across longer distances in the warehouse, the company was also able to reduce the number of AGVs and AMRs it needed to complete routine tasks while increasing production to improve revenue.


Achieve New Warehouse Productivity Goals

Ease of implementation and deployment, flexibility, lower implementation and maintenance costs, and excellent reliability all make Wi-Fi a smart choice for networking and automation in material-handling environments.


Belden can assess your warehouse or distribution center’s specific needs to help you make the best choice for your environment, addressing your unique automation and logistics challenges. Our team has extensive experience in not only network design but also material handling.


We’re here to answer your questions and help you create a practical yet intelligent warehouse, supported by a wireless network that delivers robust and redundant signal strength with gap-free coverage.


Learn more about boosting productivity in your warehouse.


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