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Moving Towards the Edge? We’ll Need 5G and AI to Get There

When it comes to tech innovation, it seems as though we've reached an inflection point. Over the past five years, we've seen massive digital advancements move from the ideation through the conversation stage and finally toward actual implementation. Edge computing is one of these technologies. While not necessarily new, we’re just now starting to see how edge computing – the move from centralized data centers or cloud areas to more distributed computing that's closer to the source of the data – is becoming a key tool for certain industries. And rightfully so. Edge computing has the power to dramatically accelerate innovation in these sectors. But for organizations to experience the full benefits of the edge, they’ll need to understand the role advanced technologies like 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) play in introducing disruptive new use cases.

5G is the next-generation iteration of mobile communications that will allow much lower latency and higher throughput for wireless services, improving greatly on its predecessors. 5G is also ushering in other changes in mobile networks, including cloud-native software-driven components and open interfaces all of the way down to the radio network (RAN). All of this new technology comes with more complexity, but mobile operators can’t afford to increase the cost of operating their networks to deal with this complexity. That’s where AI comes in. AI is critical to the success of 5G and edge computing by enabling self-monitoring capabilities that ensure high quality and low latency of service. While neither of these technologies may be new to the business tech stack, they've never been more relevant or critical to what enterprises need right now. Here's how they'll affect each other and where we'll see the most impact:

The impact of AI on 5G

The future possibilities for AI application developers and 5G service providers are growing – especially when the two technologies are leveraged together. On its own, 5G’s capabilities allow for increased speeds; however, when combined with AI, entirely new opportunities are opened up. AI-based applications can react in near real-time to data being generated from 5G networks, giving way to an entirely new frontier of possibilities for automation. And for 5G, the automated capabilities of AI are critical. 5G networks are more complex than their predecessors and need consistent monitoring to ensure they are functioning at optimal levels. This observance cannot be completely owned by humans, as it requires around the clock management to guarantee the network is optimized and running well. Leveraging AI for automated monitoring capabilities does just that, helping to manage not only 5G networks but also control cost; as such, many service providers will adopt AI to build networks that can self-manage and self-heal.

The impact of 5G on AI

5G’s capabilities to provide higher bandwidth and lower latency open up many new opportunities for AI applications. For example, think about the AI-powered voice assistant. When a user asks Siri or Alexa a question, there is a small lag in the response due to the technology’s need to travel to the cloud center to process the request and identify the answer. This short delay might be fine when asking casual questions. What the weather is, who won last night’s baseball game, or otherwise? But these seconds can be critical in more urgent cases that require a response in milliseconds. When combined with the capabilities of 5G networks, AI applications will be able to work smarter, faster. We'll see this create new opportunities in vital industries like healthcare or in the military and also provide enhanced experiences in consumer-facing sectors like retail and gaming.

Where will we see this play out?

Industries that adopt 5G and AI will change drastically, enabling new opportunities that can be leveraged as a competitive differentiator. Manufacturing is one that elicits the most promise in terms of being transformed by advanced tech. The sector is on track toward being completely automated, leveraging AI to ensure it’s acting and reacting intelligently, without human intervention. But it will also need 5G; not only for the reduced latency requirements but also to facilitate edge computing adoption. Edge computing usage in manufacturing will allow the necessary data being disseminated across the network to live as close to each machine as possible so that it's being accurately relayed in real time. Industrial equipment will be able to work intelligently and autonomously, with the ultimate goal of all aspects of production being managed autonomously.

On the less critical side, 5G and AI will allow for enhanced experiences for gamers. Gamers are a committed group, and every millisecond of latency can alter or ruin their experience, especially as technologies such as augmented reality are introduced. They need the advanced speed and connectivity that 5G can provide and the ability for the self-management of the network that AI drives.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced enterprises to recalibrate and reconsider every aspect of business and how they're managing product development, which innovation strategies are successful, and what tools to incorporate into their tech stacks. With the economy in flux and the marketplace growing increasingly competitive, enterprises need to strongly consider how they’ll gain an edge as they navigate the new normal. Now is the right time to adopt the new technologies that will completely transform our industries. Edge computing, fueled by 5G and AI adoption, is the right technology for this moment and beyond.

Tom Foottit is VP of Product Management at Accedian.

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