Wired vs. Wireless Monitoring: Making the Right Choice12 min read

by | Mar 16, 2016 | Blog

In recent years, environmental monitoring in mission critical facilities has become a common practice for ensuring the safety of IT equipment and optimizing the environment for energy efficiency. By detecting a wide range of environmental conditions and displaying them in real-time, monitoring provides facility managers with a valuable tool to help optimize their entire data center environment. Now, while many of the benefits of environmental monitoring are well documented and commonly discussed critical facility managers still must decide whether a wired or wireless system would work best for their environment and their goals. Since our company offers both wired and wireless monitoring solutions, we wanted to provide some insight that could help critical facility managers decide which solution might be best for them.

Both wired and wireless environmental monitoring systems have their own benefits over the other, as well as their own drawbacks. Knowing these benefits and drawbacks will help you make an informed decision when considering an environmental monitoring system for your facility. One thing to keep in mind is, there’s no overarching ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer when asking wired or wireless? One solution might be the ‘right’ answer for the needs of one facility, whereas the other could be the ‘right’ answer for somewhere else. Knowing the specific needs of your facility is an integral part of the conversation when weighing out the pros and cons of wired and wireless monitoring solutions.

Benefits of Wired Monitoring

  • Solid security: The degree of control that wired products offer is one of their greatest attributes. With no wireless network broadcasting data, hacking into a wired monitoring system is extremely difficult. All connections are physical, and so facility managers control who has access to the monitoring system and its data.
  • Reliability: Traditional wired monitoring products have been evolving and improving for decades, and significant advancements have been made to ensure that wired offerings are extremely reliable. They use direct physical connections and do not have to account for interference on the same scale as wireless produces.
  • Cost-effective equipment: With no batteries to replace, wired sensors have typically enjoyed a longer active life than their wireless counterparts. In addition to replacement costs, labor costs have also been less as staff do not have to spend time identifying and replacing expired units.
  • Speed: In general, wireless networks have always been slower than wired. Wireless signals can be affected by outside influences, such as walls, floors, and cabinets in the facility, as well as suffer interference from other electronic devices. Wireless data transmission is also distance sensitive, and so performance will often worsen the farther away sensors are from wireless access points.

Drawbacks of Wired Monitoring

  • Lack of mobility: Because wired monitoring relies on a physical network of cables, there is a lack of flexibility when changes need to be made. Redeploying cable is often a time-consuming endeavor, depending on how much needs to be rerouted and the barriers between access points.
  • Difficulties with scalability: The larger the wired network needed for facility monitoring, the greater the investment will be in planning and constructing it. Just the cost of the cabling can be excessive. As a monitoring network grows, facility managers have to contend with issues like port availability, cable management, switch configuration, etc. Wired systems rely on hardware which needs to be purchased, installed, and configured as the network becomes increasingly complex. As the network grows, so does the cost.
  • Cable damage: One of the largest points of failure in wired monitoring systems, damage to cables connecting the system are a noteworthy vulnerability. They may become unplugged or loosened due to human error, or more significantly, become cut or otherwise damaged in the process of network expansion.
  • Installation and maintenance costs: The initial costs of installing a wired monitoring system can be high. The same applies for its long-term maintenance. Cables need to be run through walls, under floors, and in some cases buried. The labor costs associated with these projects can be prohibitive, and if a problem is later discovered, gaining access to the cables can provide significant challenges.

Benefits of Wireless Monitoring

  • Easier to physically deploy: One of the main advantages of a wireless monitoring is the ability to convey facility data without having to run a cable across rooms, through walls, floors, and ceilings. New wireless sensors are also utilizing plug and play technology, including auto-discovery and configuration, further helping to reduce installation time. Sensors can now be shuffled from different cabinets or walls with minimum effort. Facility managers no longer have to spend time on managing or repairing cables.
  • Easily scalable: Growth in wireless sensor networks is no longer the hurdle it once was. Just as with the advantages of deploying a wireless monitoring system, the growth of the system shares many of the same benefits. Multiple sensors can be connected to a single node and numerous nodes can comprise a single network. The need for running additional wiring to accommodate network expansion is removed. Modern wireless monitoring networks are capable of receiving data from 150 individual sensors, greatly diminishing the need to create multiple monitoring networks in a facility.
  • Becoming more cost effective: In addition to lower deployment, maintenance and scalability costs, the sensors used in wireless monitoring networks have also been decreasing in cost as the technology has become more widely adopted.
  • Extended range capability: Substantial progress has been made in extending the range of wireless sensor networks. Advances in high-performance routers have created a dramatic increase in the range of wireless transmission over the last generation of equipment, decreasing the need to install repeaters and signal boosters throughout a facility.

Drawbacks of Wireless Monitoring

  • Short battery life: One of the most common complaints in wireless monitoring sensors, short battery life has been a headache for facility managers. As the data transmission rate increases, the life of the sensor batteries decreases. Facility managers have often been left with the choice of not utilizing sensors to their full potential or using valuable man hours to replace dying batteries before there is an interruption in the data stream. Upsite’s new EnerygLok® EMS 300™ overcomes this with sensors that last up to 4 years at 10-17 second intervals.
  • Slower speeds compared to wired monitoring: When analyzing the real-time conditions of a critical facility, it’s imperative to receive the data stream as fast as possible. On the whole, wired connections have almost always been faster than their wireless counterparts. In specific circumstances, technology has been available to create comparable speeds in wireless data transmission, but the cost of that technology has been high.
  • Complex to configure: Configuring wireless sensor networks to achieve optimum performance is an ongoing challenge for anyone in the field. When new variables are added to the sensor network, as they often are, facility staff has to redeploy and reconstruct the network to ensure that the sensors are maintaining data transmission at best possible speeds. The new EnergyLok® EMS 300™ overcomes this typical obstacle with the ‘auto-discovery’ feature that makes it easy to set up, and seamless to integrate with an existing facility management system.
  • Limited signal range due to interference: Wireless data broadcast over the radio frequency (RF) spectrum has always had to deal with a wide variety of obstacles. Walls and doors in shielded areas can lessen signal strength and lower transmission speed. Other devices that operate on the same frequency will create conflicts. The distance between sensors and the facility monitoring hub is a limiting factor. A large gap between these two points can result in a degradation of data. The new EnergyLok® EMS 300™ overcomes this with an optional point repeater that features an integrated 900 MHz antenna to extend the range of battery-powered sensors.

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