Caixin
Jun 24, 2013 05:14 PM

Connecting People, Data and Machines

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(Beijing) -- Many company leaders have seen that the development of the Internet is bringing about a new revolution in the means of production. As General Electric chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt has said: "[It is] an open, global network that connects people, data and machines. The Industrial Internet is aimed at advancing the critical industries that power, move and treat the world."

Wang Jianzhou, former chairman of China's largest telecom operator, China Mobile, would agree. Since 2009, at almost every important occasion Wang has said that the changes taking place are leading to a revolution in how things are produced. For three years, his proposals at the country's top legislative meeting all involved this subject.

Now, the retired telecoms veteran has retained an active role in supporting the Internet revolution. The start of this revolution can be traced back to the end of the 1990s, when the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) proposed the concept of the Internet of Things, referring to a network that used QR code, infrared, GPS, laser scanning and other information sensing equipment.

To date, this revolution has been moving beyond the concept, concretely raising companies' efficiency and transforming the means of production. As Immelt said: "There are thousands of complex networks ranging from power grids to railroad systems, which tie machines and fleets together. This vast physical world of machines, facilities, fleets and networks can more deeply merge with the connectivity, Big Data, and analytics of the digital world. This is what the Industrial Internet Revolution is all about."

On May 28, Wang explained his understanding of the industrial Internet revolution in an exclusive interview with Caixin. "So long as I think of the evolving relationship between people, their data and machines, I am excited," he said.

Caixin: In what stage of this revolution of the Internet moving past consumption and directly transforming the means of production is China currently in? 

Wang Jianzhou: The Internet expanded from connecting people to people to connecting people to objects and then to connecting objects to objects. This is no longer an idea; it is already entering stages of rapid development in China. The most impressive application I have ever seen is in agriculture, which is absolutely revolutionary. The city of Shihezi, in Xinjiang, is currently using this technology to advance agricultural drip irrigation. You can give every plant a dropper, and you can control when drops are given and how many drops they receive.  It is impossible to imagine this if you are using humans, but it is now achievable. This kind of drip technology can conserve 50 percent of the natural resources of water. China Mobile is already involved in this project.

This kind of application is impressive, but it does not seem to be widely adopted. Why?

This is indeed the case. There are many displays and exhibitions of this kind of application, but the real scale of the applications is comparatively small. We have to solve three problems in order to achieve large-scale application. First, we have to turn thought into action. We already have the technology and Internet development conditions to fulfill this. Second, we must stipulate standards and specifications. Third, we have to ensure network security. For example, how can I prevent others from controlling my networked device? If there are no security safeguards, why would I venture to use it?

The technology of the Internet of Things consists three levels. The first is using sensors to detect an item's temperature, the humidity level, velocity, vibrations and other characteristics. The second is sending the data detected by the sensors to the Internet. The third is application, that is, after data processing, put them into different practice. After several years of development, conditions are in place for all the three levels of the technology.

Cost is among the obstacles to large-scale applications, but it is not a major obstacle. On the whole, the development of new technology will actually reduce costs.

How do you view the relationship between this and big data?

For the past few years, the information technology sphere has produced new technology like 4G, cloud computing, 3D printing, big data, etc., all of which are pushing the development of the foundation of the new Industrial Internet  Revolution.

Combining big data with the Internet of Things could lead to the expansion of the applications of data. Through combining sensors and intelligent computing, data about speed, temperature, position and humidity level of machines, buildings, roads and even plants and animals can be collected, transmitted and integrated. Big data's holistic nature, instantaneity, and ability to produce value through integration and analysis are very helpful.

The value of data is increased through integration and analysis. After data integration and analysis is omnipresent, it would be possible to make new advances in extracting data from data sources. This would cause data to become analogous to capital, ore, oil and similar resources, insofar as data's actual worth would be akin to that of a new natural resource.

In the end, what can this comprehensive change in production bring about for us?

Future changes have two aspects. First, the means of production will undergo their largest change since the Industrial Revolution. After every device and piece of equipment has a sensor and transmission module, the "dialogue of people and machines" and the "dialogue between machines and machines" can then become reality. Long-distance control, real-time supervision and automatic operation are no longer just imaginary. This has increased efficiency, reduced costs and saved natural resources. On the other hand, modern life will continue to change. For example, when we are riding an elevator and something goes wrong, we will no longer need to push an emergency button to seek help. The elevator will automatically detect the problem and take the initiative to calm you. "Please don't move, remain calm, we will promptly commence repairs."

In reality, the essence of this new revolution is to give objects intelligence. After objects have intelligence, relationships between people and machines, as well as between machines and machines, can be realized. I think the most important objective is to allow this Internet to be as large as the mobile phone Internet.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Finance are continuously pushing for this revolution through special funding. Governments across the country are also launching complementary policies, but implementation of these policies is running into problems. Do you think government or the market should lead this revolution?

The forces of government support and cooperation, as well as market propulsion, are all important, but nevertheless, there must be a process. Right now, all levels of government are highly supportive. The enthusiasm of companies and firms is also very high.

Who are the major players in the market?

For data transmission, telecoms carriers have an important role. Presently, all major players rely on telecoms carriers' wireless networks. It also relies on all types of IT companies to detect and collect data.

In this domain, several companies, especially small or medium-sized enterprises can play a larger role. At the application level, the major players are software development companies. They are using existing technologies to develop new applications.

What does this revolution mean for telecoms carriers?

This is not a simple increase in business for telecoms carriers. This is a completely new market. From telegrams to fixed-line phones to mobile phones, the rate of adoption would be calculated with regards to every one hundred people. Overall, when every office and household had a landline telephone, the market became saturation. When everybody has a mobile phone, it will also approach saturation. But the penetration of the applications of this new Internet could be even higher. This has great importance for the telecoms industry. 

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