This post originally appeared on LinkedIn

This week, GE and some leading partners made two announcements, highlighting our collective progress in wirelessly connecting the world’s machines and — just as importantly — connecting the world’s leading innovators to the next big advance in cellular networks: 5G. 

The first announcement addresses how GE, Nokia, and Qualcomm are using the world’s cellular standard, LTE, in shared and unlicensed radio spectrum.* The second press release shows how GE, Intel, and Ericsson are working together create an innovation center for technology companies, industry leaders and academia here in Silicon Valley using 5G next generation cellular.

These new developments come in advance of Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona and are likely to cause quite a bit of interest in GE Digital and Predix as we continue to be firmly identified as the world’s leading digital industrial innovator. Let’s take a deeper look at what this really means.

The team behind GE’s Predix Industrial Internet platform successfully demonstrated with Nokia and Qualcomm the platform working over “private LTE,” a new technology that lets us use the incredibly successful cellular standards in shared or unlicensed radio spectrum.* Translation: we can use 4G (and 5G) privately in industrial buildings, factories, ports, warehouses, train yards, airports, etc., without needing a third-party provider. Put another way, we don’t get a mobile phone bill every month.

There will continue to be many ways to connect industrial assets (read: machines) to each other and to the cloud. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, mesh, LoRa, RPMA, light, infrared, radios, fiber optics and wires will continue to change and be used for various use cases from now until long after this writer is done writing. We at GE will continue to work with the various existing and emerging connectivity options for the Predix platform.

The short story: our options to wirelessly connect devices are expanding with new capabilities and possibly significantly lower operating costs. And at GE, we test new technologies to someday open them up to our customers and the rest of the industrial world. 

There are a number of technical advantages, too, found in LTE over other wireless standards like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. For example, LTE is self-organizing. The cell sites configure and organize themselves automatically, as do the mobile devices. There is no PIN, SSID, password, and so forth. Just stick in a SIM card and you’re good to go. LTE also has Quality of Service (QoS), low latency, and a level of security that just doesn’t exist in Wi-Fi. And then there is the mere fact that you can seamlessly go from cell to cell without dropping your connection. Finally, the available bandwidth, range, and maximum number of connected devices are much higher and only limited by the amount of spectrum. All of this said, LTE modems are more expensive than Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modems, but the pricing continues to follow Moore’s Law and decrease even as the capabilities increase.

With Intel and Ericsson, we announced a collaboration with GE, Honeywell, and UC Berkeley to create the 5G Innovators Initiative (5GI2), an open industry initiative designed to create transformative experiences that change lives, businesses and society. The first focus of the 5GI2 will be the Industrial Internet of Things and development of pilots for application of technologies — like augmented and virtual reality for first responder drone surveillance of hazardous environments. The pilots will include step-by-step blueprints of the network, cloud and 5G connectivity requirements – from speed and responsiveness to security and analytics. As other participants join, the pilots are expected to expand to other industries where 5G will enable societal improvements, such as autonomous driving, smart and connected cities, healthcare and media. The pilots will also facilitate accessibility and transparency of results, encouraging progress in support of 5G industry standards and validation of new business models.

5G, the next evolution of cellular, will support higher bandwidth, lower latency and many other capabilities beyond what we have today. For example, it will support narrow-band IoT, as well as very high bandwidth uses like augmented, mixed and virtual reality without the need for cables. A firefighter may eventually be able to overlay the blueprint of the building they’re saving while they’re using their hands to fight a fire. Similarly, a surgeon may be able to use mixed reality with voxels coming from GE’s medical imaging devices while they use their hands to remove a tumor. The next generation of cellular is designed to go beyond even what the movies have imagined.

These technology providers are working with us at GE, as Predix continues to be one of the clearest ways to bring these new things to the Industrial Internet market. Having cellular connectivity be made available inexpensively in shared and unlicensed radio spectrum will aid GE, its partners, and its customers build out the Industrial Internet. Further, having a community of innovators working with us and the fifth generation of digital cellular (5G) that is faster, more responsive and even more flexible, will drive the Predix ecosystem to a new level.

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About the author

Vice President, Advanced Concepts, GE Digital

Peter serves as vice president for advanced projects at GE Digital. Prior to coming to General Electric he was the Chief Technology Officer for the City of Los Angeles. Under his tenure the City implemented the open data portal (#1 in the US), cyber intrusion command center (CICC), CityLinkLA (broadband), significant improvements in fire dispatch and control, partnerships with numerous technology providers, and the nation’s largest deployment of body-worn cameras for police officers. LA was recognized as the #1 digital large city in 2014 and #2 in 2015 by GovTech / League of Cities.

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