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How 5G, edge computing and IoT create the perfect storm

In just three decades, cellular network advancements have introduced analog cell phones, text and voice messaging, GPS location capabilities and breakthrough speed improvements with each generation. First introduced in late 2018, the 5G wireless technology is on the horizon with speeds approximately 20 times faster than today’s 4G cellular networks.

With enhanced speed comes a natural influx of data creation at any location on earth at any time. Edge computing has been wildly helpful for quickly processing, storing and analyzing that influx of real-time data produced by a variety of devices. With sophisticated broadband now quite literally in our pockets — along with that calculator your algebra teacher said would never be there — every human with a smartphone could be considered an edge site.

Verizon estimates that about 8.4 billion connected devices are in use — up 31% from 2016 and it will increase to more than 20.4 billion by 2020. As IoT continues to drive the data explosion at the edge, and 5G enters the scene with promises like lower latency, improved speeds and higher capacities, virtualization and powerful edge computing technology must keep up. Today’s edge computing was designed for today’s technology, but there are many innovations that will go mainstream in the next one to two years, including 5G, open source hypervisors and containers. How will the modern IT admin keep up, simplify and automate operations?

Edge-based 5G: Can you hear me now?

5G will make data processing dramatically faster and more efficient. More information than ever before will need to be analyzed quickly, thanks to millions of devices producing data while connected to the 5G network. Prior to 5G, edge computing sites had, of course, used wireless technology whenever feasible, but sites today typically require a traditional, costly wired Ethernet internet connection to access the WAN. This connection is in place to transmit a small portion of data back, such as daily sales transactions, to a home office, cloud or data center for monitoring, backup, archive and data analysis. In some cases, 5G connectivity could eliminate the need for a wired connection, so more edge sites will pop up and be not just affordable, but easier to build, deploy and manage. This will lead to new IoT use cases, data collection and monitoring applications never before imagined.

In a report from Gartner, researchers predicted that by 2024, 60% of countries will have 5G network service provisions available from at least one cloud service provider. As 5G adoption takes place at the edge — where IoT requirements are growing fast — the need for high availability, low cost and simple management becomes even more important because these sites are typically small and have no IT staff to help. Just as 5G needs the edge to be successful, the edge needs 5G to run more efficiently and cost effectively.

IoT reimagined and automated with edge-based 5G

IoT today focuses on how machines and connected devices communicate with each other. In the real world, IoT cannot stand on its own; the network always serves a specific purpose and delivers an operational improvement for an organization. While edge is strengthening the convergence of operational technology and IT, perhaps IoT is also morphing to assume a broader definition: infrastructure operational technology.

5G has greater implications on IoT than simply improving phone speeds; the latest network will increase processing power to connected IoT devices and systems across various enterprises. With 5G embedded in IoT devices, new forms of operational technology and process control will be introduced, alongside new levels of automation that some industries have never seen before. Edge computing, 5G speeds and endless IoT data combine to create automation. Real-world examples include:

  • Traffic control: In smart cities, real-time monitoring becomes more widely available due to faster speeds. Automated decision making improves traffic alerts and rerouting processes, to reduce collision rates and road rage, saving lives.
  • Factory operations: It will become more widespread for food processing plants to automatically monitor temperatures to avoid over- and under-heating, eliminating waste and spoilage, and to deliver higher quality products, saving labor costs and money.
  • Autonomous vehicles: Centralized monitoring could potentially track semi-driverless cars in real time, eliminating the need for a human co-pilot. Centralized co-pilot centers assume human responsibility to monitor directions, upcoming traffic patterns and emergency alerts, ensuring driver safety.

The perfect storm

While 5G is not quite ready for prime time, it is rolling out now. In a Gartner report, researcher note that 5G could become an important enabler of edge computing, but won’t reach its full potential until at least 2023. To prepare, IT administrators should start thinking about how they will incorporate 5G in their IoT strategy to speed transmission and create new applications. Organizations should research and shortlist partners to ease the transition for their future ecosystems now.

Edge has kept up with the technology races and there are many offerings that are simple to operate, not dependent on specific hardware and can encrypt at the software layer to alleviate security concerns in the software-defined 5G network of tomorrow. The future is almost here and promises to be cheaper, faster and better connected than ever before.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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