What is a recent innovation in edge computing enhanced by 5G?

As telcos continue their rollout of infrastructure, the transition from 4G to 5G is unlocking new enterprise capabilities. In this article we explore how 5G and edge computing can bridge the gap towards real-time use cases.

In the past few years, we have seen a number of edge POC/trials enabled by 4G technology. Ecosystem players have used 4G as a testing bed for later 5G deployments; but some enterprises have seen real opportunities at the edge with 4G technology. This article will explore which use cases were effectively supported by 4G edge solutions and where the limit for innovation is operating. The most fundamental shift with the introduction of 5G technology is the enablement of real-time use cases. This article will use the example of video analytics to demonstrate how 5G is enhancing edge innovation across a number of verticals.

The 4G/LTE edge network

While edge computing has become somewhat synonymous with 5G, it can work with a host of different connectivity technologies (e.g. 4G, LTE, satellite). Moving workloads and compute closer to the end-user is about enabling more efficient and smarter use of existing resources, amplifying the capabilities of that technology through latency & reliability improvements. There is also a cost imperative for businesses adopting edge. The move towards virtualised workloads and cloud-native is accelerating consumption at centralised datacentres. The demand for cloud-compute is high and enterprises running data-intensive applications can incur large backhaul fees. For these reasons, edge was already an established technology before 5G rollout and is more of an extension of pre-existing technology. For example, CDNs have operated at the edge of networks for over 20 years. They are now integral to streaming services like Netflix who cache content locally to take the strain off centralised web servers.

COVID-19 and recessionary fears are having an impact on both 5G and edge readiness. Growth across the industry has been slower than expected. However, there is still strong evidence of continued 4G/LTE edge deployments. This can in part be explained by the parallel growth in private networks. In a recent STL report, 33% of operators interviewed claimed that they either have a more developed private network offering than edge offering and/or are experiencing greater customer demand for these solutions than edge currently. As network equipment needs to be run on-site in a private network, edge infrastructure is a pre-requisite for these types of deployments. It therefore makes sense for enterprises to deploy dedicated edge servers alongside network infrastructure to enable privacy, data sovereignty and performance improvements. British Sugar’s recent partnership with VMO2 and Nokia demonstrate that ‘factories of the future’ can still use private 4G/LTE and edge, as they deployed across four UK production facilities.

The slow deployment of 5G, particularly high-band spectrum, has reinforced the idea that networks will need to use 4G and 5G across spectrum to ensure workloads can be met. 4G is already delivering edge use cases and will continue to do so- even with further 5G deployments. 4G has been a key driver in delivering video streaming on demand, removing long buffering times and allowing consumers to ingest content on the go. Consumers now expect seamless streaming of content to mobiles, laptops and other devices. However, with an estimated 100 billion connected devices by 2025, 4G is reaching the limits of its capabilities. Edge CDN enables media companies to cache content closer to the end user than traditional CDNs (reducing latency) and offers flexibility to deploy at the network edge instead of within their own locations/infrastructures. Companies like Stackpath and Broadpeak are already enhancing 4G enabled streaming services and while the transition to 5G will bring new capabilities, the use case will remain fundamentally similar. 4G has also continued to enable use cases in manufacturing and extractives like push-to-X. Workers can communicate with one another in mission-critical situations via a ‘walkie-talkie’ device or through video communication. Private networks are often utilised to ensure absolute reliability and security while edge computing offers the opportunity for critical communications to be processed in near-real time. 4G has also been used as a test bed for the rollout of 5G enabled edge use cases. Telstra partnered with VicRoads and Lexus to create connected car driving assistance- using low-latency cellular to give drivers more awareness of potential risks. Their plans will extend to 5G following successful 4G deployments. Last year, Ericsson and OBS deployed their 4G/5G private cellular networks for ArcelorMittal as part of a 3 year plan to develop advanced industrial use cases. 4G edge will continue its role in providing use cases across multiple verticals and as a test bed for 5G edge technology. However, there are limits to the capabilities of 4G and this article will explore how 5G can drive more advanced B2B use cases with greater revenue opportunities.

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The transition from 4G to 5G

5G is a transformative technology that can enable large amounts of data to be processed with ultra-low latency. 3GPP set the expectations of a 100x speed improvement on 4G: an estimated 10 Gbps download rate. The initiative also outlined a sub 1ms latency on 5G networks. These theoretical figures never came to fruition and can only be achieved with supporting technology, as outlined in their recent 5G systems overview. Ookla’s consumer speed tests for Q1-Q2 2022 estimated median download speeds of 161Mbps in the UK and upload of 14 Mbps. The Speedtest also estimated median latency of 31ms. While these are consumer rather than enterprise estimates, it provides a reality check to the current capabilities of 5G networks.

These speeds and latencies can be partly explained by the types of 5G commercial deployments. Low-band carrier frequencies have enabled telcos to deploy 5G that can reach miles from the base tower but sacrifice on speed. The result, in some cases, is comparable to strong 4G LTE cellular. 5G will require large investments across the next few years to overcome its limited reach and improve on existing high-band coverage, beyond small pockets such as stadiums and venues.

There is a large gap to fill between 3GPP expectations and real-world testing

Source: STL Partners & Ookla

Edge computing is an important enabling technology to support the go-slow cycle towards high-band 5G. Low-band 5G and 4G is being deployed with edge computing to enable low latency use cases and demonstrate the business case for high-band 5G rollout. This can help accelerate 5G coverage and device adoption as enterprises demand more developed and smarter use cases. Commercialised edge computing is also proving that enterprise transformation can happen without 1ms latency. Current deployments are providing the runway for 5G to reach maturity through real-time latency capabilities.

STL Partner’s recent report ‘How video analytics can kickstart the edge opportunity’ demonstrates how the capabilities of 5G & edge computing can enhance horizontal video use cases. The analysis of video footage to derive insights or trigger actions is typically carried out today in the cloud or on proprietary cameras /compute, but there are significant drawbacks to these methods, including high bandwidth costs. Moving compute to the edge addresses these challenges, thereby cutting costs and stimulating greater market growth. Furthermore, 5G and edge computing can enable real-time processing of video information. These technological improvements are supporting use cases across different industries:

  • Manufacturing: Video analytics can be used for real-time quality inspection to ensure precise outcomes and reduce defects. Manual inspection of objects is prone to error and can slow cycle times, increase labour costs and become mentally taxing for workers. Low latency is important to provide real-time analysis of potential bottlenecks and quality control. Fast production lines will rely on near instantaneous ingest and analysis to keep processes moving.
  • Retail: Video ingest for flow analysis enables retailers to derive insights into how customers, employees, users and/or products move through their premises. This analysis provides actionable insights such as where to stock high-value goods, where to re-direct traffic, or improved crowd tracking & management. 5G & edge computing enables real-time insights that can be analysed securely, on site.
  • Logistics: Security analytics can route video camera traffic to an edge site rather than the centralised cloud. Security use cases are viable across multiple verticals and can help to reduce operating costs for businesses. 5G has the throughput capability to aggregate video streams from different types of cameras and filter certain events with AI technology. Edge computing can support real-time facial recognition and/or incident detection with alarm systems.

5G enhancing edge capabilities

Edge computing and 5G are synergistic technologies that have the ability to drive genuine digital transformation. The combination enables a wide range of real-time, and sometimes mission critical, use cases that are otherwise not

Thomas Quinn

Author

Thomas Quinn

Consultant

Thomas Quinn is a consultant at STL Partners.

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