How 5G and Edge Computing Will Transform Your Network
By: Ernest Sampera on June 25, 2020
The development of Internet of Things (IoT) devices has been one of the most exciting trends of the last several years. With so many new wireless-enabled devices hitting the network, however, there has been some justifiable concern over how to manage them effectively. Thanks to 5G and edge computing technology, companies will soon be transforming their networks to unleash the true potential of IoT devices and expand their reach into previously underserved areas.
What is 5G?
As the latest generation in cellular technology, 5G offers more than simply an improvement in speed (although it does that too). What distinguishes 5G technology from its predecessors is its ability to transmit data using medium and high-frequency signals over the airwaves. Existing cellular technology operates exclusively on the low-band spectrum, sending out broad signals over a very wide area that can travel long distances and overcome obstructions like buildings. Unfortunately, low-frequency transmissions take up a great deal of bandwidth, which means that the airwaves quickly become overcrowded.
Higher-frequency signals take up a smaller portion of bandwidth while also delivering more data. Unfortunately, they lack the range and coverage of low-frequency signals, which means they struggle to penetrate buildings and cannot travel long distances. The innovation of 5G technology is the ability to transmit signals across multiple spectrums. Cellular signals can be transmitted across the lower band to cover long distances and then relayed through the higher band to deliver more data and faster performance closer to the end-user. By opening up the medium and high-band spectrum, more wireless devices and services can be added without impacting performance or clogging up the airwaves.
What is Edge Computing?
Traditional networks have taken a very centralized approach to managing data. Information is collected on the outer edges of the network where it comes into contact with end-users and IoT devices. That data is then transferred back to the servers in the network core for processing so that instructions or other responses can be sent back to the devices and users on the edge. The problem with this arrangement is that it introduces significant latency delays while data travels back and forth.
Edge computing upends traditional architecture by shifting key processing functions away from the core of the network and out to the edge where users are located. Through a combination of edge data centers and IoT devices with the ability to process data for themselves, edge computing can greatly improve network performance and significantly reduce latency. While the primary advantages come from relocating processing functions closer to where they’re actually needed, the network also benefits from a bandwidth perspective because the overall data traffic flowing to and from the network core is reduced. Since devices can still process data locally or through a nearby edge data center, edge computing networks are much more resilient because they have the flexibility to gather and process data in multiple locations should any part of the network go down.
How do 5G and Edge Computing Work Together?
In many ways, 5G and edge computing seem like they were designed to complement one another. While 5G technology still transmits data over long distances in the same was as existing cellular technology, its ability to deliver massive amounts of data over a local area makes it the perfect match for edge computing networks. For IoT devices to be most effective, they require high levels of connectivity on the network edge. Although they can store and process data locally, their ability to rapidly communicate information to other devices in the area is what makes them truly revolutionary.
For IoT devices to reach their full potential, they need sufficient connectivity to transmit and process large amounts of information quickly. Autonomous cars, for instance, will need to be able to not only take in data from their own sensors, but also share that data with vehicles on the road around them. Edge computing architecture can keep that data close, but 5G technology will be necessary to help it get where it needs to be as quickly as possible.
As 5G infrastructure becomes more commonplace, edge data centers and IoT devices will be able to form localized processing areas that allow data to be generated, collected, and analyzed locally with minimal latency. The network edge, then, will no longer be an edge in the traditional sense, but rather a ring of interconnected 5G networks that make it easier to manage data and prioritize what information needs to be transmitted back to centralized servers.
Driving Digital Transformation with 5G and Edge Computing Architecture
The one-two punch of 5G technology and edge computing framework will help companies to fundamentally transform the way they design and deliver their network services. Rather than designing their infrastructure from the inside out, the focus will shift to the edge where customers are located. Smaller, more versatile edge data centers will become a critical factor for organizations looking to create more responsive and dynamic networks that can empower their IoT strategies.
As the processing capabilities of IoT devices continue to increase and customers demand more data-intensive services (such as augmented/virtual reality and high-fidelity digital media), companies will need to find ways to leverage the speed and bandwidth potential of 5G connectivity to provide them. By integrating that technology with existing edge computing principles, they can overcome the longstanding last-mile latency problems associated with existing network infrastructure.