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Navigating the Connectivity Challenge: Will Wi-Fi Cut It in the Warehouse Robotics Space?

Understanding IT Infrastructure Needs in Warehouse Robotics

According to Interact Analysis, the deployment of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) is set to reach over 4 million globally by the end of 2027. [1] As shown below, the recent McKinsey report also highlights significant investment going into Warehouse Automation.

This forecast signifies a tremendous growth in the integration of robotics into warehouse operations. However, with each step forward in adoption, new layers of complexities emerge, underscoring the journey of discovery that lies ahead for the industry. As deployment scales, so too will our understanding and capabilities to navigate the evolving connectivity landscape of warehouse automation.

A primary concern around wifi networks with the increasing adoption of robotics is signal interference, predominantly caused by the intricate layouts and extensive metal racking typical in warehouse environments.  This is amplified when dense material is being stored. This interference often results in fluctuating signal strengths, which can severely hamper the operational efficiency of robotic systems and handheld systems. Furthermore, the fact that less than 20% of warehouses worldwide have adopted any form of automation highlights that the industry is still navigating the initial stages of understanding and mitigating the impacts of Wi-Fi connectivity on mobile robotics. [2] This scenario underscores the need for advanced solutions to optimize wireless network performance in complex warehouse settings.

Challenges with Wi-Fi in Warehouse Robotics

Traditionally, Wi-Fi has been the go-to choice for warehouse connectivity because of  

1. Familiarity 

2. Widespread hardware availability

3.  Adequately secured features

But with traditional WiFi setups, around 87% of companies experience poor warehouse wireless coverage, network instability, and random handheld disconnections.[3] Additionally, almost half of the respondents in a study reported that technology problems occur from a few times a week to every day, with 75% noting that the frequency of technology failures is the same or increasing.[4]

The challenges with traditional Wi-Fi in warehouse robotics arise primarily from:

    1. Signal Interference: This leads to reduced operational efficiency, increased downtime, compromised safety, delayed data transmission, and elevated maintenance costs.

    1. Bandwidth Limitations: These represent a critical drawback, particularly in meeting the real-time data transmission needs of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

The Industry’s Evolution: Embracing 5G

Recognizing these challenges, the industry is swiftly evolving to adopt more robust and reliable solutions. The most notable shift is the gradual transition from Wi-Fi to 5G networks. These newer technologies bring several advantages to the table:

    1. Enhanced Connectivity: 5G offers up to 5x signal proliferation, especially vital in vast or complex warehouse spaces where Wi-Fi often falls short.

    1. Low Latency: With ultra-low latency, 5G, in particular, is ideal for real-time operations crucial in robotics, allowing for faster decision-making and responsiveness.

    1. High Bandwidth: The high bandwidth capabilities of 5G are essential for handling the significant data loads generated by advanced robotics systems.

    1. Security – Sim vs password protected devices.

5G technology is still in its infancy and will take time to become mainstream. There are also cost implications that need to be considered.

5G vs Wi-Fi Comparison for Mobile Robots:

The below table shows various categories for wireless connectivity measured against Wi-Fi and 5G. The last column highlights the ideal situation for mobile robot connectivity in a warehouse setting.

Categories Wi-Fi 5G Ideal for Mobile Robots
Network Slicing Not Available Available Availability
Channel Congestion High Susceptibility Low Susceptibility Low Susceptibility
Edge Computing Limited Capability Advanced Capability Advanced Capability
Latency Higher Lower Lower
Bandwidth Moderate High High
Operational Efficiency Lower in high-density environments Higher in high-density environments Higher
Reliability Moderate in complex environments High in complex environments High
Cost of Implementation Lower Initial Cost Higher Initial Cost Varies by Budget
Maintenance Regular maintenance required Less frequent maintenance Less frequent
Data Handling Capacity Limited in high-density scenarios Superior in high-density scenarios Superior

Case Studies and Real-World Examples

Several real-world examples and case studies underscore the benefits of this technological shift. For instance, TCL, a leading e-commerce giant has successfully integrated 5G with ForwardX AMRs into its warehouses, resulting in markedly improved operational efficiency and reduced downtime. [5]

Another example is Del Conca in Tennessee adopted 5G for its AMR fleet, witnessing enhanced communication and coordination among robots, leading to higher productivity and safety standards. [6]


In conclusion, as the warehouse robotics space continues to grow and evolve, the need for more advanced IT infrastructure becomes increasingly evident. The transition from Wi-Fi to 5G promises to bring a new highway of reliability, speed, and intelligence to warehouse operations. Deploying an automated solution, especially a bandwidth intensive one, without the proper connectivity considerations and plan to accommodate new technology would be like building a house knowing the foundation will only last 3 years.

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