Industrial wireless networks are an integral part of most control or enterprise communications. They collect data, convey video and trigger actions that are critical to operations. In fact, industrial wireless networks are so integral that it can be difficult to determine where to start troubleshooting when a problem arises.

Errors Can Occur

One of the most complicated problems to troubleshoot is a communication loss, or “comm loss,” which occurs when a request for data is sent to a remote location and there’s no response. In this situation, there’s rarely any specific troubleshooting information provided, such as which specific component failed. 

Instead, this comm loss error can be generated by many possible problems, including lost radio communication, power loss, antenna damage/blockage or a simple bad interface cable.  Any one of these will look like the same problem of not retrieving data.

Planning it Out

While the situation can be difficult to parse, a good troubleshooting plan can help get at the root of the problem.  The first step in any troubleshooting is to break the system into separate pieces and test each independently.  We all troubleshoot every day but may not realize it.  For example, if your car will not start, it could be out of gas or have a bad battery or a problem inside the engine.  You will mentally check each one of these when trying to figure out the problem, because each one of them needs to operate correctly together to make the car run.

This type of common-sense troubleshooting can also be applied to complex communication systems.  The first step will be to isolate the industrial wireless network from the other connected components and test its operation.  We have developed five simple troubleshooting steps to help determine if the radio system is the problem:

Step 1 – Verify direct communication to the radio itself.  All ESTeem radios are programmed through an Ethernet interface either using a software utility or the computer’s web browser.  Can the computer recognize and open the radio for configuration?

Step 2 – Verify the radio’s configuration.  The operating parameters of the radios, such as the address, frequency and programming commands, are saved in each radio.  These parameters need to be checked for any changes.

Step 3 – Check the antenna and coax cable.  Start with a physical inspection of both components.  Further testing will require some simple testing hardware such as a directional watt meter, but this step will verify the output power of the radio and the operation of the coax and antenna.  We have technical bulletins available to help with this step if needed.

Step 4 – Measure the receive signal strength.  The receive signal strength is how much radio signal is being “seen” by the connected radio.  This signal level is available for all radios in either the programming software utilities or internal web page.  If the receive signal level is greatly reduced from a previous measurement or system commissioning, the issue may not be at the remote end but at the receiving end.

Step 5 – Conduct network diagnostics.  This last troubleshooting step will verify that the radio system is able to reliably send and receive data across the network.  This testing can be done though a software utility program or simply by conducting a TCP/IP Ping test between the radios.  A Ping test is available in any computer and tests data transfer in both directions on the network.

Next Steps

If any of these troubleshooting tips uncover issues, your best next action is to contact us for support.

If all five steps look good, the problem is most likely not in the radio system itself, and additional troubleshooting can be done.

Another simple but effective troubleshooting method to help determine if a specific radio has a problem is to exchange the hardware at one location with another that you know works.  If the problem follows to the new site, the hardware is most likely the problem.  If the problem stays at the site, further troubleshooting is required.