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Be on the Edge to maximize 5G

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In the business world, we expect one plus one to be greater than two for the simple reason that the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. In the case of 5G and Edge computing, the outcome is exponential rather than being additive. These two technologies promise to deliver plenty, and hence a combination of the two is expected to yield tremendous results. As per Gartner, the 5G network infrastructure market would be at $8.1 billion in 2020 and IDC forecasts that the 5G connections worldwide will grow with a CAGR of 217% from now till 2023.  In the same period, it is also expected that 60% of the infrastructure deployed will be in edge. These statistics are clear forward indications of the complimenting effect of 5G and Edge computing. The article examines, through 3 different angles, how this complementing effect will be playing out in the future.

Edge as an enabler for 5G

5G, or the 5th generation wireless technology, can provide ten times higher speed and one-tenth of latency than its predecessor. 5G Core is a fully distributed cloud-native architecture (CUPS & Service Bus Architecture) and deployed on distributed environments. The infrastructure on which the 5G functional software is deployed has a significant role to play in achieving high performance.

Edge computing, on the other hand, through its acceleration components (NPU, GPU, ARM processor arrays and sometimes custom ASICs) and distributed deployment model, allows workloads to be hosted near the user and thereby facilitates high performance and low latency. Edge computing avoids vast volumes of data to be sent to the central cloud for processing, thereby reducing the backhaul traffic load.

It is logical to think that Edge computing provides the best hosting method for 5G workloads. The distributed cloud-native nature of 5G allows it to be deployed by keeping only the right functions to lie near the user and others to be located elsewhere. In this way, Edge computing enables the performance of 5G. Fortunately, that both of these technologies are maturing together.

Edge as the use case for 5G

The high speed, high bandwidth and low latency provided by 5G make it an exciting connectivity mechanism for those enterprises who work with a large volume of data and require quick feedback. Manufacturing is a good example of where 5G usage can value-add. Digital manufacturing and smart factory floors can use private 5G as a connectivity mechanism and Edge as the infrastructure for processing the data. Edge could be hosted on the factory floors itself with the data processing and analytics performed there to provide closed-loop feedback.

Edge, as a use case, is also essential for those enterprises who look for application take outs from their premises to reduce cost, increase flexibility without compromising security.  Banking is a good example where the data can lie on the Edge and not on-premise yet can deliver the same experience through 5G connectivity. The security is least compromised as the data lies closer and is only separated by a high bandwidth pipe and is not on the cloud in distant locations. This enables the banks not to be tied to the premises and facilitate virtual banking.

The above use cases are a perfect fit for communication service providers (CSP) for their multi-access Edge computing (MEC) implementations.

Edge and 5G together enable new markets

Edge computing and 5G together open up newer use cases and market opportunities.  Categorizing them based on their characteristics, these use cases are –

Hyper connectivity and high resilience – These are use cases that require high speed connectivity as the response must be real-time, and data processing must be as close as possible for the feedback loop to be completed on time. A good example is in tele-robotics, where a robotic arm operates from thousands of miles away, or an expert surgeon performs telesurgery from a different country. 5G brings the connectivity, and edge enables the resilience for these use cases.

High mobility and high availability –Most of today’s connected vehicle scenarios involve vehicles sending spurts of data to a static cloud. The data typically relates to performance or location but does not provide feedback to the course of the vehicle or vehicle controls in real-time. The future which edge and 5G promises is Vehicle to Everything (V2X) communication where either end would be in motion. In the case of autonomous vehicles, data from the vehicle must be instantaneously processed and fed back. Data processing at the nearest Edge can be valuable in such cases.

High bandwidth and glitch-free experience – There is a category of use cases that are driven by the experience. Immersive media streaming (360 Degree VR) while watching live sports or cloud gaming where the people in different locations play a cloud-hosted game. 5G guarantees the bandwidth and Edge content streaming enhances the experience.

The essentials for going on the Edge

Like any technology, integrating edge computing and 5G has its nuances. Plus, the networking industry itself is going through a revolutionary phase.

  1. Increased disaggregation – Technology components such as infrastructure, RAN, and core are increasingly becoming open and disaggregated. This implies the need for the right technology and engineering integration partners for successful end-to-end integration.
  2. Wider ecosystem – Along with the traditional standard bodies (GSMA, ETSI, TMF), there are open forums (O-RAN, ONF, ONAP, Akraino) that also contribute to the reference architecture and implementation. So, a wider ecosystem and collaboration is essential to harness best practices.
  3. Players switching sides – Hyper scalars are acquiring network OEM capabilities and Network OEMs are moving towards As Service models.
  4. Software-defined and intent-driven controls – The control plane layers are becoming completely software-defined, orchestrated, and moving towards intent-based networking (IBN). Therefore, extreme software skills and AI and automation technology expertise are required for implementation.
  5. Use case driven approach – Heavy technology investments must be justified by lucrative use cases to ensure ROI. We see a use-case driven approach for developing a business case for Edge. This requires vertical domain expertise and deep understanding of the enterprises.

Concluding thoughts

As you would have realized by now, 5G and Edge is a larger ecosystem play consisting of Open forums, disaggregated partners and use case providers with enterprises and Service providers on either side of the market. Therefore, a proper ecosystem orchestration and a live enterprise view is required for bridging the two sides and create the complimenting value. We strongly believe, software technology providers who are multi-vertical domain experts, who can engineer the solutions and can accelerate using right AI and automation skills will play a pivotal role in this transformative journey of 5G plus Edge and help industry harness the maximum value.

About the Author:

Associated Vice President & Senior Principle Technology Architect, Infosys Ltd.

Sreekanth Sasidharan is an AVP and Senior Principal Technology Architect at Infosys Ltd and is a global leader in next-generation network architecture and consulting. He is the Technology Practice Lead for Next Generation Network Engineering (SDN, 5G, Edge, Network Automation and Open Networks)  architecture and consultancy. He is  also responsible for partnerships with industry bodies and organizations to define standards and co-create innovative solutions to support network transformations. He champions open source and open network adoption and has helped rollout carrier grade open source solutions for supporting next generation networks for multiple operators.


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