The Reinforced Need for 5G and Edge Computing

April 15, 2020

Not only are many employees working remotely, but more of us are turning to digital means of communication for leisure and essential communications. Virtual interactions have become critical, highlighting the necessity for organizations to be able to deliver applications performantly and securely at scale.

The cloud is enabling digital to meet the moment in a way that would simply not have been possible a decade ago. So far, the cloud has been able to pull off the huge surge in demand with relatively few problems.

“Right now, everything is doom and gloom out there,” 2nd Watch Executive Vice President Jeff Aden told CRN. “But the majority of companies have been able to continue to operate because of the cloud.”

Edge computing and 5G can deliver even greater performance benefits with more bandwidth, powering more data and more devices.

Can 5G meet the moment?

In a recent piece on ways in which the coronavirus will affect the connectivity and tech industry this year, Business Insider identifies the way in which “the growing need for remote interactions amid the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a need for 5G technology, potentially accelerating adoption in the long term.”

Business Insider highlights the merits of 5G’s “lightning-fast speeds, near-instantaneous communications, and increased connection density”, all of which make it “primed for remote interactions.”

The positive mention of 5G will particularly be welcome for some in the telecom industry at a time when arson attacks against 5G masts in the UK have become sufficiently serious for the four main carriers (EE, 02, Three and Vodafone) to issue a joint statement urging people to stop spreading false conspiracy theories linking 5G to COVID-19, threatening engineers, and even going so far as to set fire to cellular masts.

Two key areas driving demand for 5G

BI identifies two areas, crucial to maintaining communications during the pandemic, that will prove the value of 5G:

Telehealth

With healthcare providers in the full throes of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and states issuing stay-in-place orders, more hospitals than ever have been turning to telehealth initiatives to diagnose and treat mild and moderate cases of coronavirus and help other patients with their needs. In China in January, two telecom providers teamed up to build a 5G-powered system that enabled experts on coronavirus in one hospital to remotely participate in consultations and diagnoses with 27 other hospitals.

Teleconferencing

There has been a huge surge in demand for teleconferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangout, with employees worldwide working from home. Business Insider predicts that the new reliance on such tools will reveal the value of 5G connectivity in our homes as well as the office, demonstrating how “a 5G connection will be able to provide real-time and uninterrupted communication that’s not possible with most wired connections today.”

The intersection of 5G and edge computing

By definition, edge computing focuses on pushing compute resources and processing closer to end users, resulting in lower latency and reduced data backhaul. The emerging 5G buildout provides critical infrastructure that will serve to expand upon existing network footprints to create a massive global edge network across which developers will be able to run workloads.

There are a number of services currently surging in demand that can benefit from the lag-free compute that edge computing and 5G can deliver together. These include:

  • Telemedicine – helping to deliver smooth teleconferencing. There’s even the potential in the future for remote surgery, protecting healthcare workers and spreading expertise to understaffed hospitals in ways not possible today.
  • Streaming video, recorded and live - by helping reduce jitter and lag, edge computing can help move the viewing experience closer to broadcast quality.
  • Online gaming, large multiplayer games - with a significant reduction in latency, streamed games can achieve near-instantaneous response times between user controls and on-screen action.
  • VR – edge computing can help bolster virtual reality, at a time in which it can help smooth disruptions for employees by offering a more immediate means of remote collaboration and hands-on training despite physical distance.

Looking to the future

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo talks of a “new normal” following the pandemic. This is also likely to be the case in relation to digital transformation of the workplace and home, with technology playing a critical role in supporting and advancing these changes.

“Crisis can be sort of a catalyst or can speed up changes that are on the way — it almost can serve as an accelerant,” Arun Sundararajan, an NYU Stern School of Business professor researching how digital technologies transform society, told Protocol.

Two particular areas of digital transformation that edge computing and 5G can help enable, which may directly help with current and future crises include:

Investment in smart cities

Business Insider discusses this as the fifth way in which the coronavirus will impact the connectivity and tech industry, “proving the space to be a worthwhile investment in a time of crisis.” Tech is proving to be a critical tool in crisis management for governments and public health officials, whether through the development of a contact tracing app in Germany that logs a user’s proximity to others, or the use of drones with thermal sensors in China to detect people in public areas running a fever. The need to urgently respond to the pandemic is accelerating the rate at which governments worldwide deploy such solutions. 5G and edge computing are major enablers of smart cities and IoT, and could play a critical role in supporting them.

Increased automation

It is becoming increasingly clear that a higher degree of automation is optimal in many areas of work, from retail to manufacturing to delivery. Supply chains and workforce gaps have become relatively common in some critical industries due to illness and/or challenges connected to remote working. This is accelerating a trend that has been underway for some time. Edge computing enables “machine-to-machine” speeds in a way that’s not possible with the current cloud.