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The Future of Digital Communication: Why 5G Needs the Edge

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When we talk about the future of connectivity, 5G is at the center of attention. The fifth generation of wireless technology is expected to revolutionize various sectors such as homes, cities, vehicles, retail, health, and wellness. With the vast number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices currently in use and those yet to emerge, the potential for innovation seems limitless. However, there is another crucial aspect to consider – the “edge,” which has been a key concept since the 1990s when Akamai introduced its content delivery network (CDN). Understanding Akamai’s history helps provide insights into the significance of the edge in digital communication.

The Story of Akamai

In the early 1990s, while teaching at MIT, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, foresaw the congestion issues that would arise as more people gained access to computers and the Internet. To address this challenge, he urged his colleagues at MIT to devise advanced methods for delivering content like images and videos. This led to the creation of Akamai, a platform that intelligently routes and replicates content across a network of distributed servers geographically closer to users. Today, many global companies rely on Akamai for content distribution.

It’s essential to understand that while Akamai demonstrated the importance of the edge, it also highlighted that 5G is reliant on the edge. As 5G networks expand, along with the deployment of millions of sensors connecting IoT devices wirelessly, the edge plays a vital role in facilitating real-time data sharing and communication among people and devices. Furthermore, the edge is crucial for supporting the next wave of consumer and enterprise applications and services, which are primarily edge-native.

Edge-native applications, designed for cost-efficiency and rapid deployment, leverage edge computing architecture to deliver mobile, high-speed performance with low latency, privacy, and security features. This becomes crucial, especially with the current shift towards remote work during the global pandemic. According to IDC, by 2022, over 40% of enterprise cloud deployments will incorporate edge computing.

Utilizing Edge Computing

With a 75% surge in smartphone cellular data consumption in March 2020 compared to the previous year, driven by increased usage during lockdowns for social media, video conferencing, and streaming, it is evident that video content dominates mobile data traffic. Additionally, a significant number of active gamers and e-sports professionals are now gaming on mobile devices, leading to a surging demand for cloud storage and bandwidth. This underscores the growing importance of the edge in addressing connectivity needs.

Edge computing presents compelling use cases across various industries, including smart cities, smart homes, connected vehicles, telemedicine, and industrial IoT. Real-time asset monitoring at the edge can reduce operating costs, improve worker safety, and minimize downtime. Many cities worldwide are already deploying sensors to collect data for enhancing traffic management, pedestrian safety, environmental monitoring, and overall quality of life. By processing data at nearby edge data centers, cities gain real-time insights that aid in making informed decisions efficiently and cost-effectively.

When it comes to IoT solutions, the emphasis is on the edge, prioritizing the “first mile” over the last mile. In traditional internet connectivity, the last mile involves connecting a cable from the curb to the customer’s premises. However, in the IoT realm, data starts at the edge and holds value when consumed by enterprises or consumers in close proximity to its source. Edge computing is vital for ensuring privacy and security as organizations navigate the demands for enhanced digital experiences amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conclusion

The integration of edge computing will be pivotal in realizing 5G’s potential to offer enhanced experiences and accessibility to a broader audience. The recent virtual setting of CES® 2021 underscores how innovation continues to advance rapidly. As we navigate through a world shaped by the pandemic and interconnected technologies, enabling seamless real-time communication among various devices and systems remains a critical challenge. Edge technology emerges as a crucial solution, bringing us closer to a connected future.

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