One of the biggest challenges in dealing with data is a fragmented system with data scattered in unstructured environments of cloud, hybrid, endpoints etc. Initially, 5G is going to add to the heterogeneity of data challenges as even more data is expected to be generated from endpoints and IoT devices. According to Ericsson’s latest report, 5G data will account for 45% of global mobile data traffic by 2025. And Gartner predicts that Edge computing will account for 75% of enterprise-generated data by 2025.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are staying indoors, consuming copious amounts of data every second. In 2018, global mobile traffic amounted to 19.01 exabytes per month, according to Statista. By 2022, it is estimated to reach 77.5 exabytes per month, they predict. This emphasises the need for real-time processing, edge compute processing, and data storage. Supporting the data requirements of the future requires careful planning and synergy of two key technologies—5G or fifth-generation mobile networks, and Edge computing.

Defining the Edge

According to Gartner, “Edge computing represents an emerging topology-based computing model that enables and optimises extreme decentralisation, placing nodes as close as possible to the sources and sinks of data and content.” It allows critical network functionalities and applications to be placed closer to where they are needed. Combine this with mobile networks and we may have the next telecommunication revolution that we have been waiting for. This mutually dependent relationship would significantly improve data processing, energy efficiency, and computing power at both network and device level. Edge computing would enable 5G to deliver on its latency and bandwidth requirements, and 5G network speeds would enable real-time processing, while controlling data costs.

Near-zero latency has been the promise of 5G+Edge computing. That is one millisecond (ms) or 1/1000th of a second—faster than the blink of an eye which is only 1/10th of a second. Verizon’s 5G Ultra-Wideband network, for example, has reported peak speeds of 1Gbps and latency less than 30ms in Chicago and Minneapolis—23ms faster than current 4G metrics.

Intel and AT&T have been working together to demonstrate how 5G can be enhanced with Edge computing. In 2016, they launched what AT&T believes was the first 5G business customer trial at Intel’s Texas facility. Their open source project is a long-term research and innovation project to accelerate the development of a standardised Edge computing infrastructure that targets carrier, provider, and IoT networks.

The impact of 5G and Edge computing on industries

Currently, 5G’s primary focus is to provide an enhanced mobile bandwidth experience to consumers. But expanding bandwidth is just one aspect of it. The biggest beneficiaries of 5G’s ultra-low latency and edge computing’s decentralized data-processing are expected to be the gaming and VR industry, manufacturing, autonomous cars, traffic systems, and healthcare.

Gaming at the Edge

Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game by Niantic, became popular in 2016-17. Pokémon fans would regularly host Pokémon Go parties where hundreds of people would gather to catch them all. The fallout? The parties would crash mobile coverage for everyone around as the 4G networks simply could not handle the bandwidth. Since then, Niantic has partnered with Deutsche Telekom’s MobiledgeX Edge servers and 5G network to help deliver scaleable end-user experiences.

The demand for immersive gaming experience will push the frontiers of what current devices can achieve. The need for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) mobile gaming would require astronomical levels of computing powers. 5G and Edge computing will transform how gaming consoles are designed. Typical mobile games operate with a latency of 100ms, but AR/VR would require a latency of less than 20ms to create a positive gaming experience. Gamers would know that a few milliseconds could be the difference between winning or losing.

Smart manufacturing units

Faced with pandemic-related challenges, several manufacturers shifted to a completely automated solution, that is dark factories. The two pre-requisites for these efficient factories are: high-speed processing devices and automatically generated storage and recovery systems. Remote manufacturing sites that have restrictive broadband reach can benefit from the coupling of wireless connected devices with a dedicated Edge server. The recent Verizon-IBM deal is developing collaborative 5G Edge solutions to address this situation. Using IBM’s Maximo Monitor and Watson services, the companies are set to develop enterprise applications that achieve near real-time cognitive automation for industries including asset tracking and management, predictive maintenance, product quality management, and address worker safety.

An ecosystem built around a flexible 5G platform and scaleable Edge computing offers a future-proof platform for high-volume manufacturers. IT solutions firm Coforge sees this as a key element for the development of future technologies. For instance, Edge computing could lead to the next generation of robotic manufacturing.

Autonomous cars

Self-driving cars is seen as the future we want to be in. From the Jetsons to the Batmobile, pop culture has boasted the benefits of driverless tech. But are we there yet? Companies like Tesla and Toyota are on their way to testing self-driving cars on roads, while some mobile operators such as AT&T have already implemented Edge computing on 4G. By positioning servers near the Edge, AT&T reduced latency from 100ms to 20ms. While the current 4G technology is great for online streaming, it is not enough when human lives are at stake. With 5G, AT&T aims to achieve 10ms or less to support automated driving. Ensuring passenger safety in these cars would critically depend on low latency, where even milliseconds matter. Every autonomous vehicle would have to transmit critical data pertaining to road conditions, weather changes, traffic, etc. and adjust accordingly. With 5G and Edge computing, most of this data will be transmitted between vehicles instead of relying on distant cloud servers.

Traffic systems and drones

Traffic management systems are also evolving to support the connected vehicle technology with intelligent transportation systems (ITS). The technology enables bi-directional communications from vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) to promote safety across transportation systems.

The best use-case of 5G and Edge is its application to improve drone technology. Over the past few years, drones have seen a sharp increase in usage from personal photography projects to offering delivery solutions (think Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery system). Today’s infrastructure limits the use of drones to the user’s vicinity; with 5G, the unmanned vehicles can venture further into low latency areas, expanding the use-cases for industries.

Smart harbours

With global supply chains effected, industries are looking to regulate ports with the help of automation. These ‘smart harbours’ would greatly be benefitted by the application of 5G+Edge technologies. Ericsson and China Unicom, for instance, are developing a 5G smart harbour at the Port of Qingdao in China. The field trials involve an automated ship-to-store (STS) crane to lift containers from a remote-controlled centre over a 5G connection. The experiment shows that labour costs can be reduced by up to 70% when a harbour uses 5G automation compared to traditional fully automated harbours.

Connected stadiums, arenas, and events

Sports fans are in a for a treat with the applications of 5G and Edge. Smart stadiums and arenas are here to change how fans interact with the sport with life-sized digital versions of players and live stats overlaid on fields. AT&T, using the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phone, demonstrated this at the home stadium of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. Claro Brasil and Ericsson were able to create a holographic transmission at a 5G-enabled stadium in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Musician Lucas Lima was able to perform at the Allianz Parque while being 17 km away from the venue. Connected stadiums and venues allow sports and entertainment sectors to create unique user experiences at scale, bringing together access, communication, operations, and most importantly entertainment onto a single platform.

Improving security and surveillance

The security and surveillance sector is always innovating with new gadgets and accessories to secure anything from physical doors to virtual windows. In banking, 5G+Edge technology can be used to enhance the security of mobile ATMs. And facial recognition or fingerprint verification can be applied to establish secure communication channels via 5G and Edge computing nodes. In an industrial setting, surveillance technology would be greatly improved with data being collected wirelessly, processed at the Edge of the network, and providing quick action points to identify and rectify anomalies to machine failure. For instance, Samsung and KDDI were able to test real-time transmission of 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD) surveillance video on a train platform in Japan. The real-time processing reduces the extensive manual monitoring of footage, detecting dangers in advance, and improving overall safety.

Smart grid automation

Most energy and utilities have a power grid monitoring solution in place that uses advanced analytics, relying on wired communication networks over power lines. But with increased digitisation, wired communication is no longer enough to operate these giant power grids. The solution involves extending their connectivity to the grid Edge with high-speed, low latency 5G wireless communication. Lower power wide area wireless technologies such as Cat-1, LTE-M, and NB-IoT, are offering an economical option to connect a wide array of network devices for metering and monitoring purposes. The 5G Edge computing technology enables a distributed gateway to be connected with local traffic processing and logical computing—meeting the ultra-low latency requirements of industrial control services on the power grid.

5G and Edge will transform businesses and will open up use-cases which have not been envisaged so far. This will also open the landscape for the next wave of technology companies that will capitalise on the opportunity that this will provide.

Views are personal. The author is chief marketing and strategy officer, Microland.

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