General Electric announced Wednesday it will use AT&T's wireless network and cloud system as part of an ambitious growth plan for an "Industrial Internet" infrastructure. At its "GE Minds and Machines" conference in Chicago this week, GE detailed the world-class partners it is tapping to expand this goal, in connecting machines to the network and the cloud.
The most recent partners to support the expansion include Intel, Cisco and AT&T.
The AT&T network will provide connections for deployed industrial products in areas such as aviation, power and water, transportation, oil and gas, and health care systems to cloud computing services.
That means workers using the system will be able to remotely track, monitor, record and operate GE machinery virtually anywhere and everywhere. The partnership between the two is designed to help businesses realize the benefits of connected machines.
The scheme to be sure will make "Industrial Internet" an important concept in business management along with another catchphrase, the machine-to-machine (M2M) Internet.
A shortcut though simplistic explanation to what this infrastructure is all about can be boiled down to a few words, smart machines coupled with advanced analytics.
Basically, the scheme will involve putting data-gathering sensors on industrial equipment. Hardware with these sensors will ensure that machine performance can be constantly measured. The key goal is to improve business productivity through equipment monitoring.
This sensor data translates into information useful for business analysis diagnostics and maintenance. GE, for example, said fuel savings in aviation and gas turbines, as well as more-efficient railway and health care systems, could save billions of dollars annually.
Predictive solutions coupled with products with sensors will allow GE customers to see productivity gains and can minimize the risk of unplanned downtime.
"Observing, predicting and changing this performance is how the Industrial Internet will help airlines, railroads and power plants operate at peak efficiency." said Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO.
This is where AT&T comes in, as the wireless network that will allow connectivity so that workers can keep tabs on their machines. GE will embed AT&T's global SIM, or subscriber identity module, into the industrial products, enabling them to make use of AT&T's network and cloud access.
Andy Geisse, CEO of AT&T Business Solutions, said: "Imagine a world where an airline, for example, can remotely monitor, diagnose and resolve issues with its fleet engines virtually anywhere in the world."
Bill Ruh, vice president and corporate officer of GE Software, said that by connecting machines to the network and cloud, an important step is being taken "to enable workers around the world to track, monitor, and operate our machinery wirelessly and remotely through highly secure and machine-to-machine communications."
GE's Industrial Internet has been an ongoing effort, a critical and challenging build-out that calls for managing industrial data in a secure way. Companies already on board with the build-out have included Amazon Web Services, Accenture and Pivotal.
As for AT&T, the GE partnership marks a valuable step forward for the company.
"This is a significant win for the U.S. operator, which will enable it to add millions of M2M connections to its tally in the coming years, and a significant announcement for the M2M sector," said Morgan Mullooly, analyst at Analysys Mason, a consulting and research firm with a focus on telecoms, media and technology.