Ruckus Wireless has announced that its ZoneFlex Smart WiFi products and technologies have been selected by Katoen Natie, one of the most popular global, value-added logistics providers, to support its vast warehousing operations worldwide.
Founded over 150 years ago and headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium, Katoen Natie is an international logistics service provider and port operator for a wide range of clients ranging from consumer goods and industrial manufacturers to chemical companies.

With operations in over 154 locations across 34 countries in five continents and employing more than 10 000 people worldwide, Katoen Natie offers integrated logistics, including warehousing and storage, packing and repackaging, transport and distribution, value-added services, cleaning and repair, projects and process engineering, and port operations.

“Given today’s warehousing environments where time is money, a reliable wireless system is no longer negotiable,” says Ian De Winter, Telecom director for Katoen Natie.

“Moreover, we found that conventional WiFi technology was simply unable to adapt to our constantly changing RF environments. For us, Ruckus Smart WiFi has been the ideal solution to addressing all of these problems.”

“Warehousing and logistics represents a major, new vertical opportunity for Ruckus, because these environments play perfectly to our core strengths of wireless reliability and adaptiveness,” says Rob Mustarde, VP of Worldwide Marketing for Ruckus Wireless.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen strong penetration into this market, having added dozens of new warehousing customers around the world, and striking strategic relationships with major players in this segment such as Intermec. Validation from world-class organisations such as Katoen Natie clearly demonstrates our leadership in this emerging vertical.”

Katoen Natie is using a wide range of Ruckus indoor and outdoor Smart WiFi products to support its in-house warehouse management system.

Ruckus ZoneFlex dual-band 802.11n access points support workers, armed with WiFi hand scanners from Intermecor Unitech, who are roaming Katoen Natie warehouses to unload, pick, pack and ship products and manage customer inventories.

Reliable Ruckus SmartMesh Networking technology allows Katoen Natie to reduce cabling costs and provide on-demand WiFi services in areas where cabling is non-existent or cost prohibitive.

“Our warehouse management system cannot work without WiFi and in the high season we have thousands of workers roaming the floors, so it simply cannot fail,” says De Winter. “Having thousands of people do nothing for 10 minutes costs us a lot of money. The Ruckus gear has allowed us to keep our costs down while improving the reliability of the infrastructure and the services we can provide customers.”

The Ruckus Smart WiFi system is also used by Katoen Natie to support its outdoor port operations, tracking container shipments from all over the world. In addition, Ruckus point-to-point/multipoint WiFi devices are used to extend broadband connectivity between buildings to reduce recurring broadband costs.

Management of the Ruckus Smart WiFi infrastructure is provided onsite through dedicated wireless LAN (WLAN) Ruckus ZoneDirector controllers, or remotely using a single ZoneDirector supporting multiple sites.
According to Katoen Natie, simplified and intuitive management was an essential requirement for its new WiFi system.

Katoen Natie also stated its legacy WiFi system suffered a number of problems, including spotty coverage, erratic performance, dropped connections and the inability to adapt to obstacles and interference.

With the Ruckus system in place, De Winter estimates a 2X improvement in client performance and WiFi signal range, with fewer access points being required.

“One of the important lessons that we’ve learned is that within our environments, the fewer access points the better, not just from a capital expense perspective but relative to delivering better performance,” says De Winter.

“Our previous system required more APs to provide greater coverage. This caused co-channel interference and performance problems.”

Looking forward, with a reliable WiFi infrastructure in place, Katoen Natie is able to consider new WiFi based applications such as push-to-talk, IP-based voice services, video surveillance and new mobile applications that can add value to its customers and worker base.

Warehouses can be incredibly hostile environments for operating WiFi networks because they are filled with metal structures, unfriendly RF obstacles, competing handheld WiFi devices, and sparse amounts of Ethernet cabling.

More importantly, warehouses are in a constant state of flux with inventory continually moving in and out of vast spaces. This changes RF conditions, often having a dramatic effect on WiFi performance as obstacles and interference cause connectivity and performance problems.

WiFi is a cost-effective way for distributors to make their warehouse processes more efficient by allowing universal access to real-time inventory information and eliminating counting and picking errors. However, the inability to maintain consistent and high-speed WiFi connections to weak handheld scanner and bar code readers has hampered its effectiveness.

Warehousers around the world, like Katoen Natie, are now standardising on advanced WiFi systems that overcome these problems by automatically adapting WiFi transmissions as RF conditions change using sophisticated directional signalling technology.

Unlike conventional WiFi systems, Ruckus Smart WiFi is uniquely designed to support challenging and harsh RF environments. Patented Ruckus BeamFlex adaptive antenna technology constantly forms and directs WiFi signals over the best signal paths to yield the highest possible performance to any given client.

In addition, through the use of dual-polarised directional antennas, Ruckus WiFi access points are capable of transmitting and receiving WiFi signals at different angles. This is important for delivering high-performance connectivity to users with low-powered handheld devices, who are continuously changing the orientation of these devices.