5G and the edge – it’s not just the future
We’re moving to a 5G world. It’ll be one where data is vital to our daily lives. Data now needs to be instantaneous. Any delay, even for an nth of a second, could be catastrophic in an always-on world. That nth could be a tenth of a second, nothing more. But no matter how fast your fibre connection, if information has to travel across continents to get to you, there’s going to be latency, writes Jack Pouchet, the vice president of business development at Vertiv.
Imagine sitting in an autonomous car at 70mph with vehicles whizzing all around you. That nth of a second could be the difference between a collision and a smooth journey home.
Smart cities, the Internet of Things (IoT), connected cars, online gaming and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications are all driving the demand for instant connections. This, in turn, is driving the trend to edge computing.
On-the-edge computing, as the industry calls it, removes that latency and provides the instant connectivity the modern world and mission critical applications demand.
History to lead the future
As a result, the edge will both benefit from, and drive the development of, more reliable and faster internet connections. It makes for a shared future between the edge and 5G. However, it’s not just the future that connects them – these technologies could in fact benefit from key learnings in each other’s past evolution. The implementation of 4G LTE (long-term evolution) is a great example. Whereas 3G could connect society more easily, 4G truly brought high-speed data connectivity to the masses. It expanded quickly and became integral to society’s day-to-day life.
This illustrates that businesses and society will eagerly adopt any new developments in 5G as well. Given its correlation with the edge, it could imply that the edge needs to be 5G ready. But how can you be ready for something that’s undefined at the moment? This is not impossible, as it primarily means the edge needs to be communication ready, and this is already feasible. Vertiv can, for example, offer fully integrated and scalable systems with high-quality communications capabilities.
Another key learning from the 3G/4G/5G evolution is its inherent influence on infrastructure development. Whereas 3G allowed for places of leisure, such as McDonald’s and airports, to become connectivity hubs, 4G enabled the further implementation of technology globally, both in cities and rural areas. With the boost in implementation and usage also came an increased need for more robust, secure edge resources.
Similarly, the edge will see a change in infrastructure needs with the progress of 5G. We don’t yet know what 5G cellular architectures will look like. However, we know they will enable more consumer applications, as well as potential other applications we haven’t imagined yet. This means that telco, cloud and colocation architectures will evolve to meet 5G and edge needs. It is expected that cloud and colocation companies will continue to expand their footprint to provide services closer to users. This, combined with the continued deployment of edge-ready local infrastructure, matched to archetypes and use cases, will create an edge ecosystem that extends far beyond traditional small-space edge deployments.
The current edge
It seems like the direction of future developments is not as mysterious as one might think. So how ready is the industry for 5G and edge computing to really take hold? In an effort to understand and foresee future demand, Vertiv analysed a variety of emerging use cases, resulting in the ‘Edge Archetypes’ report. The report identified four primary edge archetypes:
- Data intensive
This represents use cases where the amount of data makes it impractical to transfer over the network directly to the cloud, or from the cloud to the point-of-use, because of data volume, cost or bandwidth issues. This includes the technologies needed for smart cities.
- Human-latency sensitive
This includes use cases where services are optimised for human consumption, for example smart retail and augmented reality. Speed is of the essence for these use cases, hence the need to use the edge.
- Machine-to-machine latency sensitive
This segment covers use cases where services are optimised for machine-to-machine consumption. Machines can process data much faster than humans and therefore require a higher speed. Examples include developments for Smart Grid and Defence force simulation.
- Life critical
The final archetype speaks to the imagination: it covers use cases that directly impact human health and safety – thus requiring speed and reliability. Technologies such as drones, digital health and smart transportation fall into this segment.
Developments in 5G cellular networks will both enable and drive the evolution of these archetypes, and the edge in general, to allow for the implementation of edge-dependent applications.
It might seem like these developments are still out of reach and need to be government-driven due to its vastness. However, the commercial sector is more likely to truly drive this evolution with the development of consumer-oriented services and apps – increasing the demand of the edge’s capabilities.
With the available knowledge at hand and the opportunity for the commercial sector to drive demand, the realisation of edge computing and 5G cellular networks might just be closer than you think.