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Does 5G Need Mobile Edge Computing To Deliver On It’s Promises?

The role of edge computing in revolutionalising 5G deployment has been much talked about. Will Mobile Edge Computing also benefit from 5G deployment? Or the deployment of the next-gen 5G network will make Edge computing outdated?

For the past couple of years, 5G has been everywhere. The fifth generation of technology standard is poised to significantly improve the performance of applications and enable huge amounts of data to be processed in real-time.  The only problem is, for the average consumer, 5G isn’t that thrilling. Most providers, phones and local infrastructure still can’t support 5G networks. The promises 5G made is being delivered by the edge now

5G and Edge:

Mobile Edge Computing decreases latency by bringing compute capabilities into the network, closer to the end-user. Businesses across industries are already flocking towards investments in edge computing, realising the value of local data collection and analysis at key manufacturing and processing sites. Enterprises are using data to optimise existing markets and explore new ones, which are being built using next-generation technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).  Data is the “heartbeat of modern user experiences and services,” according to International Data Corporation. IDC predicts that nearly 30 percent of the world’s data will be in real-time by 2025 – double of what it is today. Processing this huge amount of data requires an exorbitant amount of time.

5g and MEC

Practically, it is nearly impossible to backhaul data to and fro from one point, via a 5G and fiber network to cloud-based data centres for AI-based data analytics processing in real-time. To enable a real-time response, data processing needs to be as close as it can be to the end-user. This makes edge computing crucial for a wide range of emerging applications, such as autonomous vehicles streaming video, smart cities, augmented reality, location-based services and IoT.

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What is Mobile Edge Computing?

The terminology related to edge computing can be quite confusing at times. Edge is the generic term referring to the movement of compute, storage and networking outside of the traditional data centre. Edge is how your Home Internet connects to the world. Edge and Mobile computing, both are jointly referred to as Fog or Core Computing. 

Meanwhile, Mist computing, as defined by the US Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is a “lightweight” form of fog computing that uses microcomputers and microcontrollers to feed into fog computing nodes. It is placed at the edge of the network fabric, and is responsible for bringing the fog computing layer much closer to “smart-end devices.”

The Infamous 5G Go-Slow cycle:

No single company or person owns the 5G network spectrum. However, several telecom companies within the mobile ecosystem are contributing to bringing 5G to life. Operators in different markets have diverse approaches toward 5G. Research reveals operators in the US, China, Korea and Japan are chasing 5G most enthusiastically and back that enthusiasm with real investment. The three companies who have majorly invested in the 5G spectrum and will have the highest patent ownership are Ericsson (ERIC) Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson from Sweden, Finland’s Nokia and America’s Qualcomm.

5G development

“We are all in on 5G. Every dollar we spend is a 5G dollar, and our agreement with Nokia underscores the kind of investment we’re making to bring customers a mobile, nationwide 5G network,” T-Mobile’s CTO Neville Ray stated.

At the start, European Telecom Operators such as Orange, Telefonica, Veon, Deutsche Telekom, BT, Telenor and Vodafone, did not hold back from taking part in the 5G jamboree. However, their approach was limited, and they couldn’t see much development. More importantly, they continued investing heavily in their LTE networks in their pursuit of an easy-path to 5G. Recently, a few of them such as BT (EE) and Vodafone have announced early 5G deployments in major cities of Europe. “

“3G technology was overhyped, the price was overhyped, and the consumer was underwhelmed by the experience. That said, we learnt some valuable lessons, and opened people’s eyes to doing more on their mobile. 3G taught us a lesson in financial prudence while 4G taught us how to deploy rapidly at scale,” Marc Allera, BT’s Consumer Division CEO, talks about learning lessons from the past.

 

Operators in South East Asia and the Middle East are cautious of the prospects for the rapid roll-out of a broad coverage. In denser urban locations and potentially fixed wireless access (FWA) in certain suburban ones (where fibre has not been widely adopted), 5G offers compelling cost advantages over LTE for enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB).

The United States is a unique use case for this because most countries see cell phone towers at least partially owned by the public. In the U.S., it’s neither service providers nor the government, but mainly third-party private businesses Crown Castles and American Towers who run them.

The lack of a 5G ecosystem creates a predicament for the Telcos, how to expand beyond this 5G island? Without a deployed coverage network, how can operators catalyse ecosystems to invest in new services (low-latency, immersive or Massive MIMO)?

Enterprises and Application developers have repeatedly posed their demands for these capabilities. However, the telcos are yet trying to agree to the standard for the later release of 5G. 

Even the application owners don’t have enough incentive to develop applications that use the technology if coverage of 5G in these new use case domains and end-users with 5G devices isn’t available.

Why Mobile Edge Computing is a key technology towards 5G:

While we see the first wave of 5G appear, it will not be until next year before we see enterprises and individuals hook into its power. But it does not mean that enterprises can’t start deploying edge right away. Retail, industrial, transport and warehousing are already exploring its potential, for example.

Edge enables 5G

Right now, 5G technology is still comparatively new and hasn’t been deployed throughout the world. The availability of the ecosystem only in a few highly controlled markets has made way for edge computing systems as a way of processing, filtering and protecting data locally. This will be beneficial for enhancing the value of 5G networks. 

An enhanced combination of 5G and edge network provides:

      • Reduced costs of cloud storage and processing
      • The ability to run more applications at the edge 
      • The ability to remotely control and manage edge assets.

This combination also requires significantly reduced data to function and therefore adds an extra cybersecurity benefit. This will be an extremely critical feature for enterprises where data is highly regulated or critical to operational success. 

5G will elevate cloud and edge cooperation through real-time control

With companies aiming to take full advantage of 5G and its capabilities to establish an array of IoT devices, the need for a real-time machine-controlled system arises. Edge components deployed in a hybrid model with cloud components can foster this demand. 5G’s increased network capabilities will only strengthen the connections between edge devices and cloud computing knowledge centers.

Helping manufacturers understand consumers.

It is extremely challenging for a business to navigate the necessary steps of the supply chain to assess consumer needs and feedback. Manufacturers are often struggling to understand the consumers their product is serving. To resolve this challenge, 5G connectivity and edge analytics capabilities will gather performance data of IoT consumer products and provide this data to manufacturers even after deployment, without sacrificing customer privacy.

To give you an example, with the deployment of this combination of 5G and edge, manufacturers will have a clearer picture of which parts are performing well and which might need more frequent replacements in a product. This level of data will definitely help manufacturers improve their existing products.

5G and edge computing are symbiotic technologies. 5G is still in its infancy. Edge computing providers, however, have got off to a head start, and advanced security and data protection features are being built into edge computing devices. As intelligent data becomes more paramount in the digital economy, businesses using edge computing will realize the benefits of 5G networks. This mutually beneficial relationship will underpin a wide variety of exciting new IoT applications for businesses and consumers alike.

So the stage will be set for a 5G/edge computing combo that will help to transform our smart cities, smart traffic, drone-enabled supply chains, virtual reality, and other innovations far faster than we ever anticipated.

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Prakhar Sushant
I follow business and Technology passionately. A native of Delhi, living in Bangalore. I am an avid reader, a traveller but not a tourist.

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