The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) puts the capability of communication networks to the test. Industrial things come from a variety of manufacturers, employ a variety of wired and wireless interfaces and protocols (many of which are proprietary), range from new to very old, and have widely varying degrees of intelligence. Maximum value of the IIoT is derived when the homogenous, IP-based world of IIoT cloud platforms must communicate with the heterogeneous, divergent world of industrial things.

In distribution utilities, the universe of industrial things includes smart meters and other AMI devices, feeder automation components including capacitor bank controllers, recloser controllers and voltage sensors, substation automation devices such as load tap changers and remote terminal units (RTUs), and streetlight control systems. Truly, a wide range of mechanisms that represent what is at stake in the quest for interoperability, and ultimately grid intelligence.

To enable communications and provide value, wireless networks and devices must provide diverse interoperability. These wireless networks must seamlessly connect to the array of diverse interfaces and protocols supported by industrial things, translating their data into IP traffic on standard physical and logical network interfaces. Standard interfaces can connect to, and IP traffic can be routed over, the Internet to the desired IIoT cloud platforms.

Advanced cloud platforms with the integration of artificial intelligence, such as ABB Ability, can provide utilities with the ability to cross collaborate and intelligently act on and unleash the full potential of data. Big data, connectivity, control systems, smart sensors and other technologies have been largely isolated from each other until now. By bringing all the available data together on one common technology platform, it becomes possible to see broader patterns, predict device performance and asset health through simulations, and identify logistical bottlenecks. Utilities can take preventive action to avoid evolving conflicts or maintenance and safety issues that were completely unforeseeable.

Interoperability is the enabler. It is also the fundamental challenge of IIoT communications. Fortunately, a new generation of wireless interoperability gateways is emerging. These interoperability gateways support standard IP communications and an array of wireless interfaces on the network side. They also support a variety of wired and wireless interfaces, as well as a diverse set of protocols, on the industrial thing or device side. Moreover, they provide edge computing capability, a feature that is especially important when the industrial things connected to the interoperability gateway lack intelligence. In this case, edge computing can, for example, enhance security by adding firewall and virtual private network (VPN) capability at the edge of the network, the ports where the industrial things attach.

Connecting industrial things to IIoT cloud platforms closes the loop, supplying the real-time data needed for utilities to quickly augment processes, gain insight, and optimize control of operations that enhance safety, reduce outages and increase efficiency. Wireless interoperability gateways provide the means for greater connectivity and the most amount of data; an advanced cloud platform provides actionable intelligence; IIoT provides the better bottom line.

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Emma Ritch
Global Business Development Manager - ABB Wireless
Emma Ritch leads Global Business Development in the utilities market for ABB Wireless. Emma has a decade of experience in utilities as a consultant and analyst. She specializes in market strategy and strategic partnerships for wireless communication networks and data analytics. Before joining ABB, she led product marketing for Silver Spring Networks. As a senior analyst Greentech Media, Cleantech Group and E3 Technology Consulting, she worked with clients including General Electric, Siemens, ABB and Ericsson. Emma studied at the University of South Carolina Honors College and the Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Education Program.