The role of 5G edge computing

(Image credit: Akamai Technologies)

The rise of 5G, which is being increasingly welcomed across the globe, is a natural evolution of the process implemented before with 4G and 3G. Yet the impact it will have in expanding our business and social operating powers is set to be extraordinary. 

As more organisations and governments look to utilise the technology, and the number of connected devices continues to proliferate, now is the time to better understand what this could mean for the way we use the Internet.

"Edge computing is located at the intersection where networks interact and connect with end-user devices. This is far more efficient than massive cloud data centres."

Luca Collacciani.

The boom of the Internet of Things (IoT), driven and enabled largely by widespread adoption of 5G, will undoubtedly lead to the growing necessity for edge computing. In simple terms, this means that as organisations increasingly look to move away from large, centralised cloud data centres, which have limited capacity to process data quickly due to latency issues, edge computing will become essential to help manage the web. 

The reason for this is significantly due to how the edge’s servers are based in the final mile of the network. Edge computing is located at the intersection where networks interact and connect with end-user devices. This is far more efficient than massive cloud data centres that are centralised and have limited capacity to process data quickly due to latency issues. Data cannot move any faster than the speed of light, so requests to servers hundreds or thousands of miles away inevitably take a lot of time.

So, with the future set to be all about 5G and the edge, what are the avenues that society could soon see the benefits in?

Connecting through the edge

A key example where collaboration of edge and 5G could prove vital is in the financial services industry. Businesses are regularly required to process many payments in little time, making it difficult to detect fraud at speed. Therefore, a combined approach with 5G and edge technology is needed to better detect threats before they can breach a network.

This rise in demand for 5G technology, driven primarily through greater need for large amounts of data to be transmitted at a faster rate in today’s fast-paced society, must be achieved via secure methods. 

Therefore, with edge networks’ scale and security, it is imperative that organisations effectively make use of these capabilities when adopting 5G. By transitioning to this combined approach, both consumers and the business community can win. Ensuring a quicker and more protected connection is undeniably an improvement from the frequent connectivity issues encountered daily, including latency, drop-outs and, as a worst-case scenario, a threat actor in the network.

Window(s) shopping through 5G

Edge computing promises to fundamentally transform the way we consume applications. Whether end-users wish to work or shop, the distributed servers in an edge network ensures speed at scale. Moreover, by not placing the majority of its computational capabilities in a few central locations, edge computing safeguards organisations against congestion appearing across their networks. This is vital for brands that experience heavy traffic or peak periods. The strategically placed servers ensure customers won’t have to experience any potential bottlenecks and can have a better, smoother experience when surfing online.

5G, therefore, serves as an important enabler for applications, and this will evidently be the case for rich, data heavy functions, such as those increasingly used for augmented reality or specifically designed for autonomous vehicles. By working alongside the edge, 5G will transform our browsing experiences and provide a faster route through its utilisation of the borders of a network. Consequently, 5G is understandably set to attract massive investments through its network upgrades, enabling organisations to provide real-time decisions and better support billions of devices worldwide.

Driving Tech to the Future

"Whereas 5G will enable more connected devices, it will too present more opportunities for threat actors looking to hack devices."

Luca Collacciani.

When it comes to real-world decisions, the requirement for data to be shared at speed is crucial for self-driving cars. Manufacturers must ensure that vehicles can make split-second decisions and avoid possible collisions. 

While most modern cars use offline local data for collision avoidance, lane-keeping, and adaptive cruise control, the advanced autonomous driving features transforming cars into self-driving vehicles will require better intelligence. This intelligence, vital when making decisions in split seconds by efficiently analysing data from the surrounding environment, must be transferred at speed securely, otherwise the original technology is made redundant.

However, whereas 5G will enable more connected devices, it will too present more opportunities for threat actors looking to hack devices. For example, the transponders in connected cars used to communicate with smart gates which grant car owners entry to their property pose an opportunity for budding cybercriminals. Manufacturers and industry bodies must be vigilant in the production processes and compliance with regulation to ensure the correct security preventions are implemented. 

It’s all one big game

Despite the billions of devices now connected to the Internet, by far the largest demand for edge computing working alongside 5G will come from the boom of mobile devices looking to run and stream video games. 

Historically, video games have relied on the limitations of the existing technology they are played on. Eventually the local machine responsible for generating every aspect of the gaming experience will become outdated. Cloud gaming will change this entirely.

Whereas a large percentage of gamers are continually frustrated by huge updates requiring hours to download new content, a 5G and edge collaborated approach will enable flexible and an always up-to-date experience. Upgrading from existing infrastructure to a 5G network will provide a much better user experience and, therefore, customer satisfaction. This combined approach will work efficiently to cache data local to the user and reduce the possibility and frequencies of any latency. As opposed to 4G, 5G’s latency is expected to be a third of its predecessor, ideal for real-time gaming, downloading and upgrading for end users. Consequently, the esports industry will undeniably face a massive uplift from this.

Whilst this remains a way off from mainstream adoption, by entwining 5G technology with an edge network cloud, end-user gamers will have the ability and capacity to play securely and at speed anywhere, anytime. Gamers won’t have to play from a specific location with hardware which will one day become outdated. The clear popularity and excitement around devices such as Switch and Google Stadia suggest there is a substantial demand for portable gaming. If the 5G coverage is good, end-users will soon be able to play complex games from either a chateau in the Swiss mountains or on a sunny beach in Spain. 

Coming up next

Whilst the concept of connected humans seems far-fetched and rooted in sci-fi, we shouldn’t disregard this notion. Elon Musk’s Neuralink, aimed at creating a 2Gbps route from the brain to the cloud, is currently under development, and with 5G presenting many more opportunities for developers we can expect our technological horizons to expand significantly over the next decade. 

The golden era of edge computing is upon us and we can safely expect end-users themselves to be part of the final step of the edge. So, whether you’re a manufacturer developing a connected device or car, or a games publisher about to launch the next big thing, the two-pronged approach, utilising 5G and edge networks alongside one another is a necessity. Those that embrace them fully will have the speed, scale and security their customers are demanding in this connected era.

Luca Collacciani

Luca Collacciani is Senior Director of Web and Security at EMEA Akamai Technologies, where he focuses on the challenges facing connected businesses today, and the role 5G will play in connecting our working lives. Luca has been at Akamai for over 11 years, and has established himself as a thought leader in the web arena. As a result, he is very knowledgeable in cloud computing, connectivity as well as the importance of security in each process.