China has set out its latest targets for its national industrial Internet program, much of it revolving around 5G.
In its 2021-23 "action plan" released last week, the MIIT says the key "industrial Internet network infrastructure, covering all regions and industries," had been completed, 5G and big data centers are at the heart of the plan, with 30 5G-connected factories in ten key industries already in operation.
According to the action plan, the national network of industrial Internet data centers is nearly complete, and another 20 regional level data centers and ten industry-level facilities are be built over the next three years.
It also anticipates that the number of industrial enterprises based in the cloud will double.
As is common, these kinds of plans skimp on the detail and set targets that are indicative rather than binding.
Notably, the "plan" offers no actual plan on how the goals are to be met.
But it does indicate official priorities and expectations, in particular for the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 28% of global manufacturing value-added.
It says 2021-2023 will be a "period of rapid growth" for the industrial Internet.
There's some evidence of that. From January to September 2020, the volume of investment industrial Internet was 2.36 billion yuan (US$364 million), up 65 times from 2017, Sina Finance reported.
But what the plan doesn't acknowledge is any of the obstacles hindering the adoption of 5G by business and government.
These include "high terminal costs, insufficient network coverage, unclear business models, and insufficient industry adaptation," the Economic Information Daily said.
For example, the head of neurosurgery at the Zhengzhou University hospital directs remote brain surgery in real-time via 5G.
But Zhao Jie, the hospital's deputy party secretary, complained that some of the 5G modules from Huawei and Qualcomm were not compatible with existing medical equipment, leading to unstable 5G connections.
He also said that while the hospital had 5G connectivity it was still unclear how operators were going to charge for it.
Coverage is a problem, too. Other medical institutions in the province have not yet fully covered by 5G so cannot access any of its functionality.
Despite the problems, the number of 5G-enabled industrial use cases is growing. Some other example include:
- A coal company in Henan remotely managing a mine several kilometers away, operating an excavator and other machinery;
- An autonomous bus service in Zhengzhou using low-latency 5G, the Beidou positioning system and laser SLAM to navigate;
- The full automation of Tianjin Port through the integration of 5G, IoT, AI and the cloud to control unmanned container yard bridges, trucks and cranes.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading