Faster than many in the market may have anticipated, several technologies – such as the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, are closer to reality rather than fiction today. The Internet of Things (IoT), in particular, is amongst those generating the most buzz. This is unsurprising, given its potential applications and impact. A new paradigm of connectedness is on the horizon, with the concept no longer restricted to devices like mobile phones and tablets. Instead, connected households are where the tech action is likely to be. The success of this vision though, relies heavily on industries meeting the storage and processing requirements they bring.
The cloud is a major incumbent in this context, with it powering a majority of the world’s data storage and analytics, for customers of all sorts and sizes – from the individual masses to large industries. However, a relatively young concept is quickly gaining traction in tech circles – edge computing. In a nutshell, it is infrastructure that allows for the processing of data closer to the source, enabling near-instantaneous data analysis, and improved reliability and performance, especially where the applications are time-bound. It helps save valuable resources, since the analysis happens as close to the source of data as possible.
The IoT market is well positioned to explode in volume and adoption – Gartner predicts we’ll have over 50 billion active IoT devices in the market as early as 2020. Such a staggering number of devices will, of course, generate very large amounts of data – all of which will need to be processed in an efficient manner. How does the industry plan to meet this need?
Enter 5G, or the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications. Promising speeds of more than 20 Gigabits per second, it’ll be about 100 times faster than our 4G networks. What makes it more impressive though, is its low latency rate – of less than 1 millisecond. Almost real-time.
How will these two technologies shape our future? Some thoughts:
5G + Edge Computing: Exciting Times
With the amount of data we’re processing on an upwards, one-way trajectory, the need for higher speeds and large bandwidth is here to stay, even on edge computing devices. With 5G, a range of industries will benefit from easier access to (and processing capabilities for) real-time data even on the cloud. But the burden on the central servers would increase, potentially slowing down processing capabilities. This is where edge computing will step in, which, coupled with 5G, will enable quicker communication, and aspire to handle a bulk of the new network load we generate. Some fairly exciting potential use cases include:
- Autonomous cars, where real-time data processing can result in the difference between life or death.
- The manufacturing industry, where 5G edge computing can be used to monitor machine tools in real-time.
- Forecasting applications, where real-time monitoring and analysis would greatly improve accuracy.
Applications like these will take advantage of new technologies that will continue to evolve and grow in tandem with 5G and edge computing. For example, consider beam forming – a signal processing technique allows us to position signals directly in the direction of the device engaging in the transmission. This allows us to improve on latency and signal strength – both parameters of significance as the number of IoT devices continue to rise.
Speaking of numbers – a typical 4G radio system has the capacity to host about 1,000 devices per square kilometer – hardly an impressive figure in today’s times. 5G standards support 10 times this capacity. As the IoT market expands, the consequential increase in demand in edge computing will act as a catalyst for 5G going mainstream.
This is already happening as we speak. In 2018, Deutsche Telekom began studying the potential impact of beamforming on 5G networks via an edge computing lab it set up. As the industry continues to engage in innovating in this space, both consumers and enterprises are in for vastly improved QoS and entirely new applications.
Of course, such a symbiotic relationship is not without challenges. Security risks can arise from the increased number of devices on the network, placed in geographically diverse locations. Since all these devices gather data, a security breach can prove fatal to the system itself. Such challenges will require a rethink of our approach to security – involving architectures and strategies previously untested and untried. Expect edge network security to become a thriving industry in itself.
The economic models behind large scale deployments also remain to be ironed out. Will network operators own edge devices? Or will they be leased, with cloud service providers adding value in the chain as well?
5G being in its nascent stages, the tech will need time to mature and evolve into a successful mass offering vis-a-vis more well-established networks. Fortunately, industry-wide adoption is growing at an encouraging pace already. Just recently, American telecom carrier Verizon announced its partnership with AWS’ Wavelength offering, which will allow developers to build the next generation of apps and services for edge computing devices using 5G networks. As the sector progresses at a rapid pace, there is little doubt that this relationship between 5G and Edge Computing will be one to watch out for.