5G and edge computing are very much symbiotic technologies, whose mutually beneficial relationship will support a wide variety of exciting new IoT-based applications and other emerging technologies for businesses and consumers alike. While organizations across a broad range of industries are already driving investments in edge infrastructure, despite the massive hype surrounding 5G, this next-generation wireless solution has to date only been deployed in a few controlled markets.  

However, as our cars, homes, office buildings, public services, health care, manufacturing plants, and even entire cities become “smarter” and more connected, we can anticipate that 5G will undergo an increasingly aggressive rollout, and the demand for edge infrastructure will only continue to rise. Especially where these twin technologies concern the expansion of the IoT, to borrow another acronym from aeronautics that describes the best possible flying weather — CAVU — the ceiling and visibility is unlimited. 

Gartner defines edge computing as solutions that facilitate data processing at or near the source of data generation. Edge computing is a distributed, open IT architecture that features decentralized processing power, enabling mobile computing and IoT technologies. In the context of the IoT, the sources of data generation are typically things with sensors or embedded devices. With edge computing, data is processed by the device itself, or by a local computer or server located in an edge data center or colocation facility.  

Providing the solution to overcoming cloud overhead in latency and bandwidth, while meeting the demand for more local processing, edge computing is poised to enable billions of new IoT endpoints and real-time, localized artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications for autonomous systems. Critical for emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, edge computing allows smart applications and devices to respond to data almost instantaneously, as it’s being created, thus eliminating lag time. 

Compared to current 4G LTE networks, 5G provides very high data rates, extremely low latency, an increase in base station capacity, and significant improvement in quality of service (QoS). 5G wireless is expected to provide gigabit speeds and sub one-millisecond latency. To understand just how fast that is, a 4G LTE connection takes approximately six minutes to download a two-hour movie. On a 5G network, the same movie could be downloaded in less than four seconds. In more technical terms, ABI Research anticipates that 5G will provide a 10 times improvement in throughput, a 10 times decrease in latency, a 100 times improvement in traffic capacity, and a 100 times improvement in network efficiency as compared to 4G. 

For the autonomous vehicle of tomorrow, the low latency capabilities of 5G will be essential for the continuous vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure type of communications necessary for a self-driving car to avoid collisions and adjust to traffic patterns in real-time. By 2030, Forbes estimates that one in four cars will be self-driven.  

At the macro level, such as a developing smart city, 5G’s capacity to wirelessly connect 2.5 million devices per square mile will become critical to serving densely populated urban environments comprised of smart buildings, intelligent transportation networks, and smart air quality sensors. According to the National League of Cities, wireless data consumption last year reached approximately 1.8 exabytes per month in North America alone, and that number is projected to increase by a factor of six by 2022 with the growth of smart technologies. 

The combination of edge computing and 5G provides a reduction of cloud storage and processing costs, the ability to run more applications at the edge, as well as the capability of remotely controlling and managing edge assets. Moreover, cybersecurity is enhanced because the edge reduces the data and therefore the threat landscape of data transmitted over any network. For industries where data integrity is critical to operational success or data privacy is highly regulated, such as health care and financial services, this increased security posture is a must-have. 


The importance of colocating at the Edge 

As discussed, edge computing assists data networks in handling large influxes of information locally, thereby reducing backhaul traffic to the cloud. However, many edge devices and smart systems will lack scalable storage for the exponential increase in data and the computing power needed for advanced analytics associated with the IoT. Meanwhile, moving data back and forth to the public cloud presents challenges of latency, bandwidth, and security that are non-starters for self-driving cars and IoT-enabled industrial robotics, applications for which decisions have to be made with lightning speed for reasons of human safety. 

For this reason — and as the number of IoT-enabled devices and systems grow, and smart cities move from ambitious planning to the mainstream — secure and reliable colocation facilities, and not just in Tier I cities but across Tier II markets as well — will become the foundation of smart technologies. 

That said, it’s essential that these data centers are located as close as possible to the edge of the network to ensure low latency so that smart systems and applications can function optimally. Even today, this is one of the principal reasons why we’re witnessing what the industry now refers to as “cloud repatriation,” whereby cloud users move at least one or more of their workloads from the public cloud to a private cloud at the edge because of how far the data sets are from the people and applications that need access to those data sets, thus affecting performance. 

But beyond low latency connectivity, storage, and compute, colocating at the edge in a hybrid IT model must also provide technical infrastructure with the necessary flexibility as well as an abundant, reliable power supply and cooling resources. In turn, 5G’s increased networking capabilities will become pivotal in strengthening the connections between edge devices and centralized cloud computing centers, as well as to colocation facilities offering hybrid IT capabilities. 


The layered ecosystem enabling next-generation technologies 

So, in light of the powerful combination of edge computing and 5G, what types of next-generation business and consumer applications can we expect in the near future?  

While much has been written about the role that IoT-based systems and smart city technologies will play in driving the growth of 5G and edge computing, some industry experts believe augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will provide equally murderous killer apps that will push 5G adoption and edge infrastructure. According to Research And Markets, the global AR and VR market is expected to reach $94.4 billion by 2023, with the AR device segment alone expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 74% in four years. 

Targeted at the retail sector, Evercoast is developing a “virtual fitting room” that uses as many as 16 high-definition cameras panning 180 degrees to capture video of a person, then delivers that imagery in 3-D format to VR goggles so that the customer can view their self in various outfits or settings. Another company’s AR-powered object recognition tool enables customers to receive product details instantly by holding their smartphones up to a retail or grocery store shelf. If a parent has a child who is vulnerable to food allergies, he or she can immediately identify which items to avoid given their ingredients. Gartner, the global research and advisory firm, predicts that by next year, 100 million consumers will be using AR and VR technology to shop in-store and online. 

Providing use cases for emergency medical services and law enforcement, a company called ThirdEye has created an AR platform that enables first responders to see drone-generated  views and maps in a smart glass device while navigating to an accident scene. The technology, which also has telehealth applications, allows the user to stream their live point of view and receive instructions from remote medical personnel on how to provide treatment for an injured person. 

Meanwhile in the manufacturing sector, a recent survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch on AR/VR found that more than half of manufacturing organizations are currently testing AR given its potential to increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve output with higher accuracy. Notably, the report also recognized that the implementation of AR and VR technologies still faces several challenges, including companies lacking adequate bandwidth, processing speeds, and AI-analytics capabilities to fully embrace the new technologies. Here, again, the powerful combination of 5G and colocation in strategically located data centers in Tier I and Tier II markets at the edge of the network will provide low latency for optimal performance, ensure data security, and reduce the cost of long haul network transport. 

That said, it’s important to realize that the IoT, AI, ML, AR/VR, and smart city technologies and applications will require a layered ecosystem of colocation in edge markets, hybrid IT, high performing fiber-optic networks, traditional macrocell towers, and an aggressive expansion of small cell deployments in metro areas and towns across the nation. While 5G may provide the highway, the destination is always the enduser, the valued customer. We develop technology and provide compute, storage, and networking services to people and businesses, not machines. Hence, these next-generation systems and applications must arrive at our doorsteps, streets, workplaces, and mobile devices as technology humanized — which is to say, easily consumable, reliable, secure, and accessible for all.