What are the Most Common ‘Pain Points’ with Warehouse Wi-Fi ?

Warehouses are fast-paced environments where many pressure points in supply chains converge. When these pressure points are factored into space design and management, the capacity to gain and retain a competitive edge is there for the taking. This special management increasingly involves high-performance networking to underpin an increasingly automated warehouse with Wi-Fi-first devices – from sensors to driverless tech.

So what are the most common ‘pain points’ we see when it comes to warehouse Wi-Fi? There’s a long list, including slow picking and inaccurate data, but one thing they all have in common is their net result: an inefficient warehouse.

Warehouses are difficult environments for high-performance networking, and the odds are stacked (or racked!) against you. But so many of these pain points are caused by avoidable mistakes.
Below we delve into the problems warehouse managers and their IT teams report the most often, exposing their knock-on effect as well as the causes.

1. Inefficient picking

  • Slow Wi-Fi can cause delays in retrieving picking information from the central inventory management system, leading to longer wait times for pickers and slower overall picking rates
  • Frequent disconnections force pickers (human or robotics!) to wait for devices to reconnect and/or reboot, costing additional time
  • Pick paths become defined by the lack of wireless coverage rather than being defined by efficiency

2. Inaccurate inventory tracking due to high packet loss

  • Stutters or breaks in connectivity can result in a loss of data packets travelling between scanning devices and WMS, causing discrepancies between inventory and its records
  • Lag in data updates due to slow speeds can cause staff to double pick
  • Manual reconciliation is then necessary to avoid higher shrinkage rates

3. No real-time communications between staff on order updates, schedules, safety alerts, etc.

  • Not only can a lack of real-time comms impact the efficiency of the warehouse, it can also put employees at risk if safety alerts are not swiftly shared, risking compliance issues

4. Equipment downtime, especially Wi-Fi-first devices (which are increasing)

  • Wi-Fi-first devices are rapidly becoming the backbone of warehouses, especially ‘smart’ ones. Voice picking, IoT, robotics and wearable tech are all becoming essential tools for driving down inefficiencies – but they all rely on seamless, uninterrupted, superior connectivity
  • Often, businesses adopting newer tech think that these systems aren’t providing good ROI, when in reality they simply need the quality of connectivity needed to underpin their success

5. Risk of data breaches through unauthorised access, malware attacks, and more during downtime or at weak points in the network architecture

  • Older networks may no longer receive firmware updates or security patches, leaving your WMS data potentially open for taking
  • Older networks typically have weaker encryption protocols (such as WPA which is no longer guaranteed to be secure)
  • Responding to security risks is much harder to do in a timely manner with older networks that are not bolstered by machine learning, automated processes and real-time analysis
  • Poor role-based security that cannot safeguard your network in a workplace where multiple devices can be assigned to a single user

These issues all ultimately converge to cause delayed dispatching, revenue loss through data inaccuracies, higher shrinkage rates, and customer dissatisfaction.

Longer-term, slow, unscalable or patchy networks cause adopted technologies reliant on high-performance connectivity to ‘fail’. This has a huge knock-on effect on the ROI of investments like sensors, driverless tech, and expensive warehouse management systems.

So what causes these issues?

1. Lack of scalable bandwidth

As warehouse technology rises, bandwidth is a huge factor that businesses must consider – it underpins productivity in a digital age, and waiting until problems arise means you’re already feeling the financial impact

2. Channel congestion

For many this is becoming a challenge for IT functions, reducing speed and capacity, as well as causing bottlenecks – hardly ideal for WMS

3. APs not designed for challenging environments

Warehouses are tough environments where your tech needs to be even tougher. Outdoor connectivity for loading bays, dust, cold, heat… all these factors should inform choices during network design

4. APs with limited throughput capacity

Again, individually small components of your network can determine overall network performance, and older access points are often unable to deliver the throughput needed for today’s warehouses and their connected devices – edge to core

5. Black spots in coverage

Poor network design resulting in gaps in coverage that wreak havoc on picking. We’ve seen cases where racking areas can’t be used due to the inability to pick stock in those zones

6. Interference from electronics, metals, racking, building structures

This is a huge issue in warehousing, with so many objects and materials – static and moving – that can interrupt a consistent signal. This is especially common where networks were planned during construction, or off-plan.

7. Wrong AP antennas

Warehouses are unique environments and the traditional ‘donut’ signal won’t provide the coverage you need. Specialist access points are required with these spaces in mind

8. Wrong AP placement

Poorly placed APs can lead so many warehouses to do entirely the wrong thing – add more! Just take a look at our article on ‘quick warehouse Wi-Fi fixes that don’t work’!

7. Poor configuration

Managing wireless networks throughout supply chains requires a seamless configuration, since supply chains are themselves aiming on seamlessness. Poorly matched security protocols, channel settings, mismatched power levels, and many other mistakes are easy ways to ensure your supply chain has too many sticky patches to be efficient.

High-performing, robust Wi-Fi is mission critical in today’s automated warehouse, so contact us to find out how we can help your warehouse operations meet customer demand.