Consumer and B2B news outlets and advertisements have been buzzing with edge computing and 5G terminology for years. This era of advanced technology promises smartwatches that detect when a user is experiencing a medical emergency and alert EMS. Or cameras/sensors monitoring a city’s physical infrastructure, which can detect deterioration and alert city personnel before a disaster occurs. Some individuals believe these concepts are theoretical; however, industries are currently adopting this new-age technology made possible by edge computing and 5G communication. The concepts are real and edge compute use cases continue to evolve; however, the technology can be difficult to understand. Here’s a quick overview of edge compute and 5G communications (the terminology is often used interchangeably, but the two are different).
Traditionally, data travels from a user’s device to a central location for processing (data center), and in some instances, a specific outcome/action is returned to the device. The sheer volume of connected devices and the desire for faster, more reliable processing is expected to overwhelm networks in a centralized system.
Edge computing is decentralizing the approach: data from edge devices travel to an edge data center, or micro data center, that physically sits closer to the user and edge devices. The proximity of this new data center creates a shortened path which enables more total compute power: increased data analysis and transfer at a faster rate with fewer potential points of network failure.
Edge devices popular in the consumer market include smart thermostats, doorbells, baby monitors—the list is ongoing. Edge devices also include those common in enterprise applications: manufacturing machines, building management security systems, drones, etc. All these edge devices are commonly referred to as the Internet of Things, or IoT devices.
5G, or the fifth generation of mobile networks, touts increased speed, decreased latency, and more capacity through a cellular network. While the benefits of 5G and edge are identical, the way that each increases speed is different. Many edge applications function with existing wireless and cellular networks. Other edge applications that require zero latency are now made possible by combining edge computing with 5G. For example, an autonomous car with IoT sensors can collect data in real-time about traffic patterns, detours, and pedestrians; this data is analyzed quickly so that, if necessary, the car can respond instantaneously to avoid a collision (e.g. when an unexpected person or object enters the car’s path).
Despite many advancements going unnoticed, edge applications are creating improved experiences in the present consumer world. Examples include:
- Thousands of fans in a crowded stadium can simultaneously upload content and live stream their experience
- Gamers have a better user experience with immersive graphics and environments that interact in real-time
- Families stream an uninterrupted movie on Friday evening, a common time for many streaming subscribers to take to the TV and typically overwhelm networks
Current enterprise and government edge examples are not as evident to the public, but these edge applications are meant to create better products, services, and peace of mind for the public. These examples include:
- Sharing real-time traffic patterns with public transportation and ride-sharing vehicles so that drivers can avoid congested areas
- Monitoring employee movement in a workplace and alerting of potential hazards to avoid workplace injuries
- Integrating networks of various US Department of Defense agencies for improved communication and response efforts across air, land, sea, space, and cyber domains
Edge and 5G implementation will become more widespread within the next year—55 billion edge devices are expected to be in use in 2022, up from 15 billion in 20191. New edge infrastructure, including micro data centers, will be deployed to support this massive increase in devices. And as more devices are brought to reality, society will continue to experience a change in everyday life.
1IBM. 23 October 2019. Edge computing changes everything. https://www.ibm.com/blogs/industries/rob-high-edge-computing/
2Latency graphic retrieved from: https://connectorsupplier.com/how-the-rise-of-edge-computing-will-reshape-the-data-center-landscape/