The edge: Introducing 5G and infrastructure sharing

Edge computing is opening up the door to the future of connectivity. Just as the cloud service expanded our mobile storage capabilities, edge computing is set to do the same for data processing.

5G will bring the high speed, low-latency connectivity society needs, but this is just one piece of the puzzle. The edge is essential for making this 5G network possible. It will connect people, business, and infrastructure together for faster connections than ever.

 What is edge computing?

 Edge computing is a software system which collects and processes data in close proximity to where it was generated. This technology analyses the data on the edge of the network. In contrast, the cloud transfers data to a distant centralised server, also known as a base station, for processing.

Edge therefore brings computing abilities and data centres into the network itself. This has several benefits for the development and improvement of connectivity.

 Why is edge so important?

 Massive volumes of data are being produced by connected devices in the UK. With every “smart” feature created, or internet search typed, more data appears – and standard computing systems are struggling to keep up. Edge computing is crucial for continuing to support society’s growing data transport, processing, and storage needs.

For example, just think of the amount of data a single Smart City will create. The sensors alone – for traffic speeds, weather, security cameras, air quality and more – will severely push the boundaries of current capacity. The internet of things (IOT) has completely changed the way we produce information.

Businesses need somewhere secure and robust to store, collect and process their data in real time. It needs to be a sustainable infrastructure that will handle an exponential growth in input. One company or physical system can’t handle this alone. Moving computing into a shared network increases the system’s capabilities exponentially.

 How does edge affect 5G?

 The power of Edge computing will introduce 5G standards. The computer processing your data will be closer to where the data is created, reducing the distance information needs to travel. Therefore, interference is minimal, and internet speeds and quality will rise dramatically.

5G technology requires edge computing to meet its true potential. 5G technology can provide low-latency and gigabit speeds. However, without a processing speed to match, it won’t realise its full potential. This means that the two technologies need each other to survive.

4G networks and edge computing can also work together to help meet the demand for 5G before it becomes universal. Although not at the same level as 5G, as a pair they come close.

 What are the benefits of edge computing?

 The most obvious benefit is speed. The UK’s ambitious plans for 5G, such as Smart Cities, E-Health and connected vehicles, require lightning fast connections. Long lags and delays will have larger consequences than a few seconds wasted. That’s why reducing latency and boosting processing speed is vital.

It’s also a sustainable technology. As data-rich devices and infrastructures become more prolific, our data storage and processing demands also rise. Cloud computing is much more scalable than a hardware system, making it a viable solution for data processing long-term.

It can also be shared by different providers and operators. This increases data capacity and speeds for business all over the UK, enabling rapid expansion of network capabilities and 5G deployment.

Large operators will be particularly interested in this model. It is beneficial to them to have data centres in various locations. The easiest way to achieve this is through provider partnerships.

This solution is also much more cost-effective than expensive hardware systems. Building out physical networks is a huge investment. Not only would businesses need to continually expand infrastructure, they will also need to replace old, outdated technology. Instead, edge uses the IoT and edge data centres to help businesses and technologies grow their capabilities.

Unlike centralised systems, the edge is located in various smaller centres across the network. They only hold small amounts of data temporarily, which is then transferred to a long-term storage facility. This makes your data more secure and less susceptible to disruption.

All of these benefits lead to a natural conclusion. Edge technology is more powerful and more cost-effective than a centralised system. It not only changes the capabilities of connectivity technology, but the ecosystem of the industry. The time for fully private operators is coming to an end.

Where will edge computing be used?

Edge computing is just one piece of technology in a large integrated infrastructure. The networks of tomorrow won’t rely on just one solution. It won’t entirely replace centralised systems or backhaul, but it will become a major piece of the overall puzzle.

Although it has been designed to accommodate the growing IoT device network, edge computing has become particularly useful for real-time applications. This is all because of its low-bandwidth, close proximity to the service, and low-latency capabilities.

Existing technologies that will be particularly enhanced by edge computing include:

Gaming: Realistic graphics and immersive gamer experiences require high-end performance technology. However, most mobiles and handsets still don’t have integrated 5G. Edge finds a way around this issue. It increases capabilities for 4G meaning gaming companies can target a wider use base.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV): CAVs may be one of the most important use cases for edge computing. Life or death decisions need to be made by a car instantaneously. Using edge, vehicles can communicate more quickly with each other and the smart sensors around them. The introduction of a remote service would make these products unviable. For example, small cells are one technology being introduced on roadsides to make processing quicker.

Healthcare: Smart technology is being implemented in hospitals to improve efficiency and productivity of health workers. Patient monitoring and more advanced tech such as robotics are also making their way into the NHS. Just like CAVs, this requires real-time updates. Edge computing prevents potentially fatal delays, inaccuracies and mistakes.

Video conferencing and streaming: Streaming Netflix and video calls can be temperamental. Now imagine trying it on a high-speed train. Edge computing combined with 5G can smooth the process, bringing servers closer to your device and improving the quality and speed of transfer.

AR: Augmented reality is more than video games and Pokémon Go. It has real tangible uses for businesses in trade, design, engineering and more. For certain industries, this needs to work just as well off-site as it does in the office. Edge computing enables workers to use AR headsets or applications beyond the confines of current 5G coverage.

How will edge computing enable infrastructure sharing?

 Edge computing promises to encourage collaboration and sharing within the telecom industry. With this new system in place, operators will likely want to share network edge data centres with third parties. This will boost their data computing capabilities.

Telecoms companies and large operators traditionally don’t have the right infrastructure to build a strong edge network. That’s why it makes more sense to partner with other providers to provide the technologies they can’t ensuring them a stake in the IoT, Smart City, and enterprise market.

This new dynamic also creates interesting opportunities for outsiders making room for smaller companies and niche providers in the market.

Not only does the edge minimise hardware costs, it extends the reach of its users. Ultimately, it’s in everyone’s interest to implement the 5G network of tomorrow. Sharing infrastructure through edge computing will create a larger, wider network for the UK. A universal, integrated connection will be what’s needed to bridge our connectivity gap.

 What does this mean for UK 5G Infrastructure?

UK 5G will eventually be hosted by neutral edge providers. The future of connectivity will be founded by telecoms, cloud providers and more, sharing infrastructure and technology.

Interestingly, operators and MNOs will no longer be able to monopolise the connectivity sector. Cloud providers and edge technology developers now have heavy influence over the current market. With this new dynamic telecom operators are unlikely to try for a full-service offering, which will further encourage and establish the need for industry collaboration.