5G use cases across the augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), vehicle-to-everything (V2X), manufacturing, health, education and transportation sectors have large data bandwidth needs and strict latency requirements. These use cases mark the beginning of the 5G era. In the medium to long term, numerous other high performance and power-intensive applications of the technology are set to emerge. Moreover, 5G networks will become more complex. This will result in an exponential rise in data volumes and require enormous amounts of real-time computation to deliver content to users.
5G networks, despite promising major improvements in network speed and latency, do not have any inherent computing power. This is where it needs edge computing, a distributed computing paradigm that addresses the limitations of a centralised system by bringing data processing closer to its source, that is, to devices and users. A natural extension of cloud computing, edge computing has gained relevance today as it offers an effective solution to the emerging network problems associated with the movement of massive volumes of data. This is in stark contrast to the existing computing designs, wherein queries are processed in data centres located thousands of kilometres away from the data source or the point of consumption. It brings compute, storage and networking closer to applications, devices and users while enabling lower latency, high bandwidth, device processing, trusted computing and storage, and backhaul cost savings.
Relationship between edge computing and 5G
Edge computing and 5G are complementary technologies. The 5G network provides the bandwidth that allows more room for data to travel. Meanwhile, edge computing processes and stores data outside the core network to reduce the distance of travel, thus eliminating lags. When combined, greater amounts of work can be done faster due to reduced distance and increased speed. In practical terms, edge computing enables the processing of data as close to the 5G antennas as possible, which would reduce the time and distance required for the transmission of data and increase the connection speed.
Edge computing is the key to unlocking the promise of various 5G use cases. For instance, consider a factory with machines and inbuilt cameras connected to a server within the premises for product monitoring and analytics. In the case of cloud computing, the machines would be required to send data to the cloud for computation, and vice versa. The cloud computes data from multiple resources, leading to a higher level of latency. Cloud computing also requires continuous and stable access to the internet, making it less suitable for remote use cases. Edge computing fills the gaps here, and is thus more viable for 5G use cases.
Meanwhile, edge computing needs the agility and ultra-low latency offered by 5G to deliver near-instantaneous data analysis and response. 5G has the power to enhance the applications of edge computing by reducing latency, improving application response time, and enabling enterprises to collect and process data more efficiently.
Benefits of the duo
Ultra-low latency use cases
The need for high reliability and ultra-low latency for use cases in intelligent transportation, healthcare, smart factories, smart grids, and media and entertainment, among others, is ever-increasing. The pairing of 5G and edge computing is critical for ultra-low latency across applications and edge devices.
Enterprises can leverage the combination of the two technologies to collect and process tremendous volumes of real-time data to optimise operational systems and boost productivity and customer experience. Enterprises can achieve near-real-time performance for mission-critical applications by carrying out data processing and analysis close to source.
Enhanced bandwidth usage
Combining 5G and edge computing directly impacts the success of 5G network technology. Edge computing ensures the feasibility of 5G when dealing with millions of devices connected to a 5G network. In the absence of edge computing, these devices would transmit data to the cloud, requiring an overwhelming level of bandwidth and thus countering the effectiveness of 5G.
Advancement of next-gen technologies
5G and edge computing enable the advancement of next-gen technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and AR/VR by moving computing closer to data and minimising network challenges. This, in turn, allows the infusion of these technologies into edge solutions, further opening up new innovation possibilities for use cases and business models.
Ecosystem and value opportunities
An analysis by KPMG identifies the main players in the 5G edge computing ecosystem. The ecosystem is built on four pillars – connectivity, hardware, software and services. Connectivity is the area of interest for telecom operators, providing fixed and wireless infrastructure and service on either public or private networks. Further, there is an increasing range of hardware in the 5G edge computing ecosystem, including sensors, mobile devices and cloud infrastructure. Network equipment manufacturers, autonomous vehicle/robot manufacturers, AR/VR device and platform vendors, IoT producers and semiconductor companies are some of the key players in this segment.
Software providers offer software licences to customers as well as embedded analytics capabilities for many hardware components. Key players in this segment are cloud providers, enterprise resource planning and software vendors, remote monitoring solution providers and specialists in analytics and big data. Lastly, managed services and subscription-based offerings are a significant and growing market, as organisations digitise and technologies converge. The key players are system integrators, and streaming and cloud services providers.
According to KPMG and IDC, the value from 5G and edge computing can be gained through just five key sectors – industrial manufacturing, connected healthcare, intelligent transportation, environmental monitoring, and gaming – by providing connectivity, hardware, software and services. The analysis estimates that the total addressable revenue of 5G and edge across just these five segments is expected to rise from $361 billion in 2019 to $517 billion in 2023. The impressive growth in these industries will be driven by vastly improved connectivity arising from the intersection of 5G and edge computing. Telcos can prepare their networks for enhanced 5G performance by implementing edge computing infrastructure today.
While the amalgamation of 5G and edge computing offers invaluable benefits, the model comes with certain flaws. A few challenges of combining edge computing with a 5G network are:
Implementing edge computing comes at the cost of complexity. This leads to administration challenges and the possibility of misconfigurations and security issues. Also, increased complexity impacts the ability of an enterprise to scale and respond faster to changes in demand.
Synchronising security policies across multiple edge computers often opens up multiple attack vectors for cybercriminals. As a result of the distributed architecture, any vulnerabilities at one site can impact other sites. Moreover, edge devices deployed in a remote location may not be checked regularly for security vulnerabilities or software updates.
Confidential data is at risk with edge computing. For example, an important use case of 5G and edge computing is in the medical field. With the help of these technologies, an ambulance can be assisted by autonomous medical devices and medical professionals, while feeding video back to the emergency room. However, the large amount of the patient biometric data fed through the networks is jeopardised in the process.
Implementing edge computing can result in exorbitant costs to enterprises. As the demand for greater computing power and data processing increases, each edge device will need additional hardware upgrades to serve each location, further requiring additional investments.
Edge devices have a single point of failure. This means a failure in the node will lead to the failure of all the assets relying on that edge device. Due to the high cost, redundant computers are expensive.
Edge computing is set to play a significant role in the 5G ecosystem. When paired with 5G, edge computing offers a future with near-real-time, back-and-forth connections. Industry reports anticipate exponential growth in the global edge computing market, citing the emerging 5G network as a major factor opening up opportunities for market players. According to a report by Frost & Sullivan, nearly 90 per cent of industrial enterprises will utilise edge computing by the end of 2022 and the majority of the data will be processed on the edge even before 5G coverage expands and use cases mature.
Going forward, a thoughtful combination of edge computing and 5G will accelerate digital growth and provide the perfect foundation for futuristic innovations. Enterprises will need to give special attention to the complexities and security vulnerabilities for a smooth roll-out globally.