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Looking Toward a Future of 5G and Edge Computing

Why 5G needs edge

Edge computing was the buzzword of the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show. The paradigm even has its own Edge global trade show in Europe. So, what is edge computing, and what is the connection to 5G? 

Edge is really a geographical reference. It relocates key data processing functions from the center of a network to the edge, closer to the source of where data is gathered and delivered, instead of in the cloud or in a dozen or so big data centers scattered globally. 

Edge is not a replacement for the cloud, it is shifting computations closer to where they are needed to improve response times and use less bandwidth. Another benefit is potentially greater privacy and security for end-users, problems that have plagued IoT devices since their inception, by keeping critical information closer to home. At the same time, edge computing still interacts with the cloud for a complete package of functions. 

Why is edge needed
According to the Gartner 2021 Strategic Roadmap for Edge Computing, latency is often the main reason for deploying workloads to the edge. Latency is a measurement of how long it takes for a data packet to travel from its origin point to its destination. If that destination is very close to the origin, latency is greatly reduced.

Moving processing and storage closer to users and “things” that are the source of data generation can also improve bandwidth. If you have one IoT device feeding information to a data center across the world, that wouldn’t be an issue. But as IoT expands, the pipelines containing the world’s data can get overloaded. 

IoT and other business process developers are looking at chips in devices that can take on some of the computing load at the edge, even without cloud connectivity. By keeping key data with the device, greater privacy and autonomy can be incorporated into devices. It may be safe for your refrigerator to talk to your robotic vacuum again! 

The edge is not only for locations at a home origin point. Edge servers and gateways at offices and localized computer centers will fill the critical role of intermediary processing between large-scale cloud or enterprise-owned data centers.

5G Above Buildings

5G and edge computing
The 4G broadband cellular network of today cannot handle the need for computing at the edge. 

While edge geographically distributes computing, 5G provides the speed and processing power to address our voracious demand for complex data processing. Ultra-fast speeds and data transferring will be available to devices, and also at the edge of the network. 

Demand for edge computing is driving demand for 5G, and 5G needs that demand to further develop. You may have noticed cellular providers making a strong push for consumers to adopt 5G. Now you know that push has a higher purpose—making edge a reality. 

To create the backbone needed for high level computing, multiple layers of 5G and edge partnerships have to be forged. In addition to device manufacturers, there are carriers building infrastructure, software providers, data hubs, municipalities and key private and public services such as hospitals, plus a lot of financial investment. 

These partnerships are already evolving, and will become more cost-effective over time. In the meantime, the more people that 5G mobile device providers can move to the technology, the better the use case is for building the infrastructure.

2021 is going to be an inflection point between network readiness and availability of 5G, according to a panel at CES 2021. With data speeds 10-100 times faster than its predecessor, 5G delivers the low latency, high reliability and efficiency needed to power applications like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR), vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity, smart cities and smart manufacturing.

5G health and safety
When I last wrote about possible negative health effects of 5G, there was little data to make an evaluation. However, new studies, such as Professor Andrew Wood’s team research at the multi-institutional Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR) has helped form the basis for international discussions on safety regulation and design.

According to Wood, the team has yet to see major red flags at, or below, the commonly accepted electromagnetic radiation limit in the current international standards that apply to mobile technologies. He explains it like this:

“As the frequency goes up, the depth of penetration into biological tissues goes down, so the skin and eyes, rather than the brain, become the main organs of health concern,” Wood says. “The major hurdle is that the power levels involved in mobile and wireless telecommunications are incredibly low, which, at most, produce temperature rises in tissue of a few tenths of a degree. Picking up unambiguous biological changes is therefore very difficult.”

In short, Wood concludes that the health risks are as yet unproven, and in his opinion, the benefits outweigh perceived risks, though research is continuing on bioeffects of 5G electromagnetic radiation.

Industries transformed by 5G
While most news about 5G has largely been in the consumer space, this level of cellular technology is going to drastically change a variety of industries. Here are a few examples.

The time is not far away when a skilled surgeon will be able to use 5G technology to guide a robot operating on a patient thousands of miles away. Probably what we will see first, though, is hospitals being able to quickly download huge files, like CT scans or MRIs, and making a diagnosis. These files can be upwards of 800Mb, typically taking an hour to download with existing technology. Using 5G, a file that size could be downloaded in less than a minute.

Manufacturing is already leading the curve in IoT adoption, and looking at massive supply chain improvements and machine to machine communication using 5G.

People and communities will benefit, too. As 5G is built out across America, remote rural areas will have access to broadband-like speed for the first time. Smart cities will have fast, reliable connectivity and provide better access to services for the public.

The future
According to tech consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, 90% of industrial enterprises will utilize edge computing by 2022. The future of computing using both 5G and edge will help meet rising consumer expectations for security, speed, reliability and capacity. Business processes will expand and develop in new ways, and whole industries will be transformed.

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