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Remote Working Drives New Growth for 5G and Edge Computing

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5G mobile
(Source: Pixabay)

Since the dawn of the internet, our world has been becoming increasingly data-driven each day. The World Economic Forum estimates that there is 44 ZB of accumulated data generated by this year. That's 44 sextillion bytes – 40 times more bits of data than exist stars in the (observable) universe. But the pandemic drastically accelerated that process.

It's been over six months now since most Americans started quarantining and social distancing to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. With businesses relying on and enforcing remote working policies during these months, employees have learned to become masters of the art of Zoom and embrace dozens of new digital services to support their work.

Naturally, this digital boom strained the network infrastructure – almost to the point of breaking. In the starting months of quarantine, Netflix and YouTube had to enact resolution caps to keep up with the increased traffic, while Zoom couldn't handle the initial stress and crashed. It became obvious that the infrastructure these solutions were relying on wasn't up to snuff. This quickly led to immense investments in the latest hardware solutions in 2020, which are only expected to continue into 2021 as businesses accelerate their digital transformation plans.

For these businesses, many of the network issues they wish to avoid and application capabilities they want to embrace are perfectly suited for the inherent capabilities of 5G – making the current opportunity for this rising technology huge. This demand for improved digital infrastructure has led to the development and adoption of new 5G and Edge technologies, particularly for two major parts of the network: the network core and the radios themselves.

5G meeting demand

The industry is starting to embrace new hardware solutions that adopt open 5G RAN architecture for the evolution of 4G to 5G networks. One of the basic premises of 5G networks is that they are designed to leverage virtualization and containers on open hardware platforms to reduce dependence on proprietary legacy hardware. Hence, network cores are naturally trending towards cloud-native and virtualized systems. This is also partially thanks to the widespread adoption and advancement of machine learning solutions that allow these virtualized systems to operate and automate much better than before.

The radios themselves, which are constrained by the digital signal processing, are similarly evolving to meet new technological applications. While the radios can normally be operated in a controlled environment like a core or regional datacenter, in rural or widespread urban areas, they need to be moved closer to where bay stations are located. But the improvements of 5G change this dynamic notably.

5G offers up to 1,000 times more bandwidth than 4G and LTE, with a tenth of the latency, and the ability to support millions of connected devices per mile. This allows for much more widespread network reach and device deployments, even in more rural areas. And the demands of new 5G applications are pushing data centers out to the edge, empowering new and improved hardware solutions for both storage and compute.

Opportunities at the Edge

New types of edge servers and micro data center solutions are being developed and appearing on the market. Some are the size of a refrigerator, making it easier for businesses to build and manage localized data centers in cramped or urban locations. And others are essentially a "data center on a pole," designed to survive harsh environments and allow compact edge computing solutions to be built into small cells and cell towers themselves.

As data center technology is being designed for 5G and the edge, there is a need for increased performance, open-source software, and new data standards to adapt to 5G applications, like virtual shopping experiences for retailers or connected wearable and internal health devices. These allow new opportunities for telco operators or businesses to effectively deploy and manage widespread deployments and networks across the cloud and customer environments. This is especially vital for scenarios where a company's workforce is spread across a wide area, such as the current reality where most employees are still working remotely.

The move toward virtualized architecture is also key for modern IoT deployments or edge computing solutions that require continuous AI inferencing. It allows businesses to adopt new and advanced AI compute models that are pushing machine learning solutions at the edge forward.

Taken all together, these new technological advancements will drastically boost the development of smart cities, transportation, retail, and entertainment by providing seamless computer automation and interfaces via wireless technology. It also will also crucial in the establishment of the autonomous vehicles market and enabling AI and machine learning, data processing and analytics, and virtual reality at the edge.

Jeff Sharpe is Director of Embedded 5G/IoT Edge Solutions at Supermicro.