Investigating the 5G, IoT, and Edge Computing Market

October 10, 2019

The combination of 5G, IoT, and edge computing will be transformational for both communication service providers and their customers, most notably business clients in enterprise, industrial, and government segments, says Mind Commerce.

The consumer market ecosystem will evolve over a longer period of time as compelling applications emerge that both scale and have positive overall ROI.

Taking a rational view of 5G, Mind Commerce does not see 5G as a panacea for legacy communication service providers (CSPs). In fact, 5G will have some downsides for carrier CSPs as Over-the-Top (OTT) app providers and other third-party CSPs will benefit from lower data costs, fueling innovation for many new data-hungry apps for which carriers only derive data revenue and not application or service revenue.

However, 5G is NOT just another “G” It is truly unlike any of the former generations of cellular communications as 5G networks promise to improve many aspects of wireless communications, supporting enhanced mobile services, greater scalability for Internet of Things (IoT) systems, and ultra-reliable communications for mission-critical applications.
As with most everything within the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry, there is no shortage of acronyms. Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) is a concept developed by ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) that aims to bring computational power into Mobile RAN (radio access network) to promote virtualization of software at the radio edge.

ETSI later re-termed “MEC” to refer to “Multi-access” Edge Computing. The intent of MEC is to (1) bring cloud-computing capabilities and an IT service environment to the edge of the telecom networks and (2) bring virtualized applications much closer to end-users as a means of ensuring network flexibility, economy and scalability

In physical terms, the edge can be defined relative to the center, such as computing occurring far away from centralized computational infrastructure. By way of example, a term sometimes used in IoT to refer to decentralized cloud computing is “Fog Computing” (e.g. cloud computing at the edge). Fog Computing is used in a non-cellular context, which is to say that WiFi and other wireless and wired technologies are used for connectivity and communications in support of IoT.

Regardless of the specific terminology or acronyms used, edge computing represents the implementation and operation of computing applications, data, and services away from centralized nodes to the logical extremes of a given network.

However, edge computing is about a lot more than just localization as an edge compute architectural approach allows networks to minimize data hops, packet loss and data re-transmits that lead to latency. In other words, it’s not just local processing – it’s ensuring that there are no throughput delays. Therefore, edge computing is an alternative to high capacity private transport networks, which in aggregate are very expensive. Instead, edge computing provides computation power very close to where it is needed.

With competing architectures between MEC and Fog Computing, it is easy to be confused as a technology buyer or seller. However, efforts have been made to rationalize the edge computing market. By way of example ETSI’s Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) Industry Specification Group (ISG) and the OpenFog Consortium (now part of the Industrial Internet Consortium) agreed to cooperate beginning in 2017 with a focus on edge computing APIs.

The decision to start with APIs made sense as they will be critical to the edge computing market for many reasons including the need for open access for provisioning, administering, and managing edge computing enabled applications. Some of the more notable mobile edge computing APIs are Application Enablement API, Radio Network API, Location API, User Equipment API, and Bandwidth API.

The specific architecture employed to support a given edge computing deployment will vary by specification, group, use case, and vendor approach. However, Mind Commerce sees one of the more compelling considerations to be the relationship between 5G and MEC.
Implementation and operation of MEC has profound implications. For example, there will not be a need to always route completely through the entire switching fabric for Internet transport. In other words, certain content and applications can be consumed locally rather than relying upon back-hauling and/or hair-pinning through a home gateway to the (central) cloud.

While MEC will provide many benefits overall, the proverbial “Sweet Spot” for MEC is to identify those applications and content that are latency dependent, computationally “heavy” (e.g. they require a lot of computing power, so better to do at the edge than burden the entire network), and/or require mobility.

Some of the applications that will benefit most from MEC include autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, and any service that will benefit greatly from real-time, location-based data analytics. Illustratively speaking, one app that obviously fits into the MEC Sweet Spot is driverless cars as they are on the move, latency dependent, and generate enormous amounts of data.

Another app that will potentially benefit from this MEC sweet spot is the teleoperation market, which is a term referring to operation of a machine at a distance such as manufacturing equipment or a robot. Prior to 5G and MEC, Teleoperation is largely relegated to fixed communications connections. 5G and MEC will enable Teleoperation anywhere there is 5G coverage , enabling many new consumer and industrial automation scenarios involving robotics.

While LTE benefits from edge computing, 5G will absolutely need MEC and that is a big reason why most people refer to “mobile” as opposed to “multi-access” when they speak of edge computing for cellular.

MEC deployment with 5G provides a very powerful combination based on some of the latter’s key attributes such as network slicing, which in conjunction with localized computing provides unparalleled opportunities for Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) optimization for both consumers and enterprise users.

The combination of edge computing and 5G supports both high throughput and low latency. Some applications, such as wireless cloud-based office apps, require high overall throughput in the range of 100 Mbps to 1Gbps, but can tolerate higher latencies (up to 1 second) than other apps such as real-time gaming.

Highly latency-sensitive apps such as virtual reality and tactile Internet, require extremely low latency, ideally less than 1ms. The autonomous vehicle market is a perfect example of the need for both low latency and high throughput. Other application areas fall in the middle, such as first responder connectivity and other public safety apps.

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