Despite a global pandemic and the associated economic challenges, the world has moved to 5G four times faster than it did with 4G LTE, according to 5G Americas
In the midst of this rollout, how can industries ensure that the benefits of 5G investment warrant the long-term investment costs? Or to put it another way, how can industries leverage 5G technology to build cost-efficient connected industry on a global scale?
The answer is the intelligent edge. The intelligent edge is the analysis of data and development of solutions at the site where the data is generated. By doing this, the intelligent edge reduces latency, costs and security risks, thus making the associated business more efficient. As 5G puts compute closer to the user (whether that be a human or a device) it enables a new paradigm of capabilities with AI, machine learning and a host of related use cases.
5G for connected industry
With its ability to offer faster speeds, ultra-low latency, bandwidth, security and scalability, 5G is a key enabler for connected industries looking to leverage the intelligent edge. In a recent study, we found that over 70% of respondents in the US and Europe are looking to the intelligent edge to improve the effectiveness of products and services, increase opportunities for innovation, improve cross functional collaboration, and create more insights to improve operations among many other expected benefits including reducing opex. For those who cited "reducing overall OPEX" as an expected benefit, 88% of them expect a 20% reduction at least, with most expecting something between 20% to 40%.
While the survey respondents have high expectations from a 5G-powered intelligent edge, most of them are looking to leverage the technology via infrastructure-as-a-service. Meaning, they do not wish to build and manage their own networks but would rather take advantage of something like a Private 5G service offered by a network operator.
Cloud computing at the edge enables new technologies
The intelligent edge enables a host of new technologies, particularly when it comes with the high availability and low latency of a 5G network. We found that with such a network in place, respondents expected they would increase their investment in key technologies. The top four on the list are: autonomous/collaborative robots, AI, additive manufacturing/3D printing and remote operations and maintenance.
Not only would they increase investment, they would also accelerate adoption of technologies. The top four technologies they expected they would adopt immediately are: cloud to edge PaaS (platform as a service), AI/ML technologies for visual processing, video/camera analytics and machine/equipment diagnostics.
Changing the network model
The power and flexibility of 5G is key to providing the technology infrastructure so industries can take full advantage of an intelligent edge. For decades, networks have been designed and built using bespoke equipment from a small set of equipment manufacturers. While there are some advantages to this model it tends to be somewhat rigid and fixed. Most are looking toward virtualization and disaggregation for the future in order to take advantage of the flexibility and best of breed choices it enables, particularly as we move to a distributed edge cloud model.
But, deploying a distributed edge cloud with multiple vendors providing components is one challenge which can be partially addressed via open source and open standards that provide a standard for interoperability. However, once the edge cloud is deployed, managing that cloud's performance with monitoring and analytics will be an ongoing requirement for operators.
Imagine a 5G deployment as a huge geo-distributed cloud of more than 10,000 sites, generating massive amounts of data every minute of every day. Only a big data and machine learning engine can manage that data to perform key network management functions, such as predictive analysis, outage avoidance, self-healing and future planning. Technology and solutions must evolve to meet these new use cases.
A fully connected, intelligent world is fast approaching. Global digitization is accelerating as new technologies like 5G, AI, cloud and computing converge with industry applications. This will make the intelligent edge a cornerstone for economic development of the connected industry. Those of us in technology, and specifically those of us in telecommunications, have not only the ability but also the responsibility to support the connected industry by pushing the limits in how we deliver new technologies in order to support our customers in their pursuit of greater efficiencies, collaboration and innovations, and ultimately to unleash the power of 5G and successfully build the future connected industry.
— Jeff Gowan, Product Line Marketing Manager, Wind River
Photo by Rob Lambert on Unsplash