Warnings about threats to U.S. critical infrastructure are a constant drumbeat here in Washington, D.C. We have Congressional hearings, we have endless talk in agencies, but it has begun to seem that while there’s plenty of hand-wringing about the perils that could befall the critical infrastructure, solutions don’t seem to be at hand.
But that is starting to change. General Electric has introduced something it calls the “Industrial Internet,” which is a communications environment aimed at infrastructure companies that exists in parallel with the public Internet. But it doesn’t rely on the public Web for mission critical needs.
While parts of the GE Industrial Internet have been around for awhile, in some cases as long as 25 years, the company has now created a unified communications system that’s interoperable and which uses a variety of communications media. On April 10, GE announced that it’s added 4G LTE communications to the mix.
According to Tom Mueller, GE’s product manager for Industrial Communications, the Industrial Internet serves public utilities including water and sewage services, electric utilities, transportation (including air and rail systems), mining and other heavy industrial applications. GE business units such as Lentronics provide fiber optic networks while GE MDS (Microwave Data Systems) Orbit MCR-4G provides a variety of wireless communications. But in addition to providing an alternative to the public Internet, GE also goes where the Internet doesn’t.
Speaking of GE’s customers, Mueller said, “They’re often in remote locations with very harsh conditions. There may not be public infrastructure or they may not feel they can rely on it,” he said. But Mueller said that with 4G communications becoming ubiquitous, the Industrial Internet is now making use of Verizon’s LTE in addition to other private wireless solutions.
But private networks and private wireless systems have been around for years. What makes the Industrial Internet different is that it’s designed to provide its users with the services of the public internet without the risks to reliability or security. Mueller noted however that the Industrial Internet does offer access to and from the public Internet and he claims it does so securely. “One of the cornerstones of the Industrial Internet is that it’s completely secure and supports FIPS140-2.” He added that the GE system supports several other security and encryption standards.
While the Industrial Internet does provide services similar to the public Internet, it avoids some of the risks. For example, GE uses LTE only for non-mission-critical applications because of the potential for interruptions during emergencies. However, the fact that these applications aren’t mission-critical doesn’t mean they’re not important.