October 10, 2013, 3:38 PM — AT&T and GE have teamed up to connect what could be millions of future GE industrial lights, engines and other hardware with AT&T's global wireless network for remote tracking, monitoring and even operation of the machines.
In an agreement announced Wednesday, GE said it will embed AT&T global wireless SIMs (Subscriber Identity Modules) in industrial products that will communicate over AT&T's cloud-based network. Using GE software called Predix, the two companies will collaborate to build software to maintain and remotely control industrial machines.
The industrial machine-to-machine (M2M) agreement could have enormous implications. "This is a hugely significant win for AT&T," said Morgan Mullooly, an analyst at Analysys Mason. "We expect a tremendous number of M2M connections to be activated in the next two to three years, as millions of industrial components roll off GE productions lines fitted with embedded M2M modules and ... dispersed around the globe."
With the partnership, an airline could remotely monitor, diagnose and resolve problems with its fleet of GE engines anywhere in the world, AT&T Business Solutions CEO Andy Geisse said.
AT&T already has 15.2 million devices connected to its network and saw a 38% increase in M2M customers in the past year. Financial details of the GE and AT&T agreement weren't disclosed.
GE calls such M2M connections the Industrial Internet which GE estimates will grow by 2025 to affect half of the global economy.
Mullooly said the Industrial Internet is a subset of what some companies are calling the Internet of Things (or as Gartner and Cisco term it, the Internet of Everything). Sometimes M2M is used synonymously with Internet of Things, he added.
While Internet of Things refers to all forms of connectivity, including Wi-Fi, RFID, NFC and Bluetooth, M2M is generally viewed as a subset that is managed by a service provider such as AT&T. M2M may also use specific protocols, and buyers of M2M services are businesses and organizations rather than consumers, Mullooly said.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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