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5G supports the scale development of Midea’s Industrial Internet Platform

by Guang Yang | Jan 10, 2022

The evolution of Midea’s Industrial Internet Platform

In my previous blog, I discussed the indoor positioning system in Midea Group’s fully connected factory in Foshan, China. Actually, Midea Group has worked on Industrial Internet solutions for many years. Midea Group kicked off the digital transformation of its factories in 2012. In 2018, Midea Group announced its Industrial Internet strategy and released the Midea Industrial Internet (M.IoT) platform. A dedicated subsidiary – Midea Cloud – was established in 2017, which provides Industrial Internet solutions and services to external partners beyond Midea factories. In November 2020, Midea Group issued the M.IoT 2.0 architecture and released the online platform of M.IoT
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The M.IoT platform integrates the hardware, software, and knowledge of industrial automation as well as the best practice and experience obtained from over 50-year operation of Midea Group. According to Midea Group, the platform provides enterprises 24-hour online industrial services at four levels: Complete value chain digitalization APP (Saas), Industrial Cloud Platform (Industrial Paas), SCADA online platform/edge computing, robotics and automation.

So far, the M.IoT platform has served more than 300 enterprises in over 40 vertical sectors. Midea Group is extending the Industrial Internet ecosystem further.

A unified communications infrastructure is critical for the scale development of the Industrial Internet.

Connectivity is an essential part of Industrial Internet solutions. The wireline solution cannot provide necessary flexibilities in many scenarios. Wi-Fi systems can meet flexibility requirements, but guaranteeing the performance and SLA in the industrial environment is always a challenge for Wi-Fi deployment. When I talked with Dr. Wang Jun, the Chief Architect of Industrial Internet at Midea Group, he also mentioned the issue of connectivity interruption when AGVs move between two Wi-Fi access points.

With the development of Industrial Internet applications, there are increasing requirements for ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC). A recent study of Nokia compared the capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G in terms of achieving guaranteed low packet latency at high-reliability levels in an Industrial IoT scenario. According to the research finding, for Wi-Fi 6, the “operation in a fully controlled environment with no interference in the same spectrum carrier is critical for an AP to deliver consistent low latency performance.” However, as a technology deployed in the unlicensed spectrum, it is quite challenging for Wi-Fi to get a fully controlled deployment environment. So, 5G has a clear advantage in guaranteeing radio performance and network SLA.

Meanwhile, a smart factory will have diverse requirements for wireless technologies beyond connectivity, e.g., the support for indoor positioning services. As discussed in my previous blog, 5G can be the unified communications infrastructure to provide multiple services for Industrial Internet solutions, such as high-speed data transmission, URLLC connectivity, precise indoor positioning, etc. The unified communications infrastructure can simplify network architecture, lower deployment costs, and improve operating efficiency.

Beyond the technical advantages, the business practices in China also highlight the role of telecom operators in accelerating the adoption of Industrial Internet solutions. According to Dr. Wang Jun, Midea Group has deployed a few “wireless only” factories where no wireline networks are deployed. The wireless-only architecture has clear cost advantages compared with a wireline network when the factory is large enough. More attractively, the business model of Chinese operators running 5G B2B networks can effectively ease the financial pressure of enterprises and accelerate the spread of Industrial Internet solutions. It helps Midea Group expand the deployment of its M.IoT platform.

A typical business model of Chinese operators for 5G B2B projects is to provide enterprise customers a total solution package including the network equipment and deployment, data traffic volume, OA&M services, etc. The enterprise will pay the operator an annual service fee to get the service package in a service period, usually 3-5 years. The model transforms the investment in network infrastructure to the service fee across several years. This can ease the financial pressure for enterprises to adopt the Industrial Internet, and then accelerate the deployment.  

Heavyweight players eying the combination of 5G and industrial internet solutions which will benefit both 5G and Industrial Internet developments

To provide a comprehensive M.IoT solution, Midea Group has collaborated with Huawei to develop the 5G Industrial Internet Gateway and 5G Communications Terminal. These 5G products will be integrated into Midea’s M.IoT offers. Midea Group is also studying the 5G-based Cloud PLC for the innovative deployment model of Industrial Internet services.

Midea Group is not the only industrial giant eying the combination of 5G and Industrial Internet solutions. In June 2021, Siemens announced its first industrial 5G router available to its enterprise customers. The router can connect local industrial applications, often provided by Siemens, to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks and support future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles. 

Foxconn Industrial Internet also announced the launch of Gloria AI Edge Box by collaboration with Qualcomm. With 5G as a connectivity option, the Gloria platform can offer 70 trillion operations per second (TOPS) of artificial intelligence computing power to support up to 24 FHD cameras for video analytic applications such as traffic analysis, security, and smart retail. Vietnamese technology company, BKAV, is the first customer to deploy the solution.

The activities of industrial giants to integrate 5G with their Industrial Internet solutions can benefit both 5G and Industrial Internet developments. The knowledge and experience of industrial giants about industrial applications are valuable for developing 5G B2B solutions. On the other side, the skills and resources of telecom operators can also empower enterprises to accelerate the adoption of Industrial Internet solutions. From this perspective, Midea Group’s collaboration with China Unicom for the fully connected factory in Foshan, China, could be a reference model for developing the Industrial Internet ecosystem. 

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