Both technologies offer the high speeds and low latencies needed for compelling user experiences: converging the two offers even more synergies

As 5G and IoT technologies take off, data at the edge is expanding. New applications such as the metaverse, web 3.0, AI and ML have driven data center providers to focus on edge capabilities in order to provide low latency access to data anytime and anywhere.

The huge increase in remote- and hybrid working over the past two years has also significantly increased the demands on connectivity. 

Although 5G has been talked about for many years, it is only recently that we are starting to see some real progress. For example:

  • Malaysia’s Jendela Initiative is a national project that includes improving mobile coverage in remote areas and 5G implementation in key cities and to achieve full nationwide 5G connectivity by 2025.
  • Indonesia has launched commercial 5G services in limited areas with the goal of achieving equitable 5G access across the country to keep up with the increasing demand to support digitalization.
  • Singapore recently achieved more than 95% 5G coverage, three years ahead of the government’s 2025 target.

In terms of its impact on the data center, 5G promises faster access to information, which will drive more edge data center builds. More and more data is latency-sensitive and requires faster access, so we are seeing migration from large core, small edge data center architecture to smaller core, larger edge architecture. 

The Edge and 5G roadmap
We can expect cloud core 5G to expand data center builds significantly in private companies. If you can build private 5G that is based on cloud architecture with local radios in the cloud, that is a very data-intensive, latency-sensitive application, and that will drive growth in both data centers and edge data centers. 

The benefits of edge computing distribute computing tasks out from the traditional centralized big data center to many smaller data centers that are closer to the users. In this way, it speeds up everything, so the data does not need to travel back and forth from hundreds of miles away in a big data center.

This low latency will be critical to support use cases such as autonomous vehicles and experiential services involving real-time augmented reality.

Clearly, merging 5G and edge computing could provide added benefits:

  • The convergence will allow greater visibility of the overall network performance in one single view.
  • Unified management also reduces training time and helps IT staff be more productive.
  • Unified visibility across both the wired and wireless domains allows IT to forecast and plan network growth and also optimize the organizational infrastructure. 
  • Furthermore, with a converged edge network, it is possible to automate a number of routine tasks. For example, profiles and configurations can be pre-defined; as new switches and access points come on the network, unified management systems can be automatically pushed to the new elements. Through automation, IT teams are freed up to focus on higher priority tasks to do more valuable work, both improving productivity and the business as well as their enjoyment of the role. This is a crucial lubricant in a global talent shortage. 

With greater control and visibility, a converged edge network provides the flexibility that modern enterprises need.

Challenges to the convergence
While 5G and edge computing have been trends for a while, edge computing has yet to gain critical momentum to deliver widespread local data centers and IT infrastructure.

One of the significant challenges is prioritizing and directing network traffic to ensure that any operator-specific service would work within the same service level agreements on every other provider network. Getting the most out of edge networks will require standardizing parts of the providers’ infrastructures to support the virtual network slicing.

If the industry can work together on a cooperative design, the standardization would eventually lead to the development of ‘off-the-shelf’ modular network components. This component could be used to dramatically reduce the time and cost of maintaining the network.

Ultimately, the full potential for 5G and edge is yet being tapped. If governments and industry can work together to enable this, there will be a huge shift in how businesses use communications technologies. Enabling the physical and virtual world to be more in-sync through 5G and edge could finally deliver the quantum leap in network design and management that so many organizations have been waiting for.