Lately, a lot of folks have been questioning the value of 5G at the edge. Can’t we just use Wi-Fi? We can just set up a Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) network for our Internet of Things (IoT) devices and technology. Is 5G even ready to make a difference? I don’t see the difference on my smartphone. These are all very good questions and concerns. So, why does and will 5G matter at the edge?
Why Does 5G Matters at the Edge?
Here is the thing, 5G is not only an evolving technology in its early stages; it is even earlier in its deployments across the globe. There are markets that don’t have much 5G, and those that do are barely getting off their old LTE core networks. We have a long way to go. As I mentioned before in my piece on Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC), the technology is nascent with few operators having really made a meaningful and mainstream foray into it.
So, what is there to get excited about? There is quite a bit if you are looking forward to some of the 5G features that are coming to the edge that make it quite differentiated from alternative forms of wireless and wired access for your distributed edge applications. Let’s go through some of them.
5G, especially with Release 16 and beyond, will bring about some great features that will make ultra-reliable, low-latency mobile wireless communications a thing. This is a big deal. It won’t be pervasive, and deployments will be carefully planned and highly engineered. However, there are and will be scenarios that make critical mobile communications a big deal and highly valuable.
Deterministic Wireless Communications
5G in advanced releases really starts to build out deterministic networking capabilities. This means real-time applications that need to be highly synchronized will be possible over a private 5G or some areas of an operator’s network.
Why is this a big deal? Until the recent releases of 5G, mobile networks have been the best effort. With Standalone 5G networks with a 5G core, a new breed of deterministic network services will start to come to market. Keep an eye out for this at the carrier near you.
Generally speaking, 5G brings massive bandwidth, which means huge capacity and throughput. That means a sense of faster download speeds and, as such, some enhancements in uplink capacity. This is due to the new spectrum in the mmWave spectrum range that 5G makes usable, as well as more efficient use of the legacy spectrum used for 4G, 3G, and 2G, which will eventually be re-farmed.
Massive IoT Device Support
5G networks will be able to support a huge number of devices per square kilometer and bring about new classes of connected intelligent devices thanks to a new feature called 5G NR-Light for Reduced Capability or RedCap. NB-IoT (Narrow-Band IoT) is starting to make traction, especially in China, allowing operators to offer economical connectivity for low-power IoT devices deployed in both unconstrained and constrained environments and scenarios.
Avoid the Wild Wild West
The Internet is crazy and best-effort at best. Operator networks are highly secure and reliable. As more operators embrace and deploy Standalone (SA) 5G networks that no longer rely on an LTE core, more dedicated and deterministic services will come to market as end-to-end network slicing becomes a reality. Many of the deterministic features of 5G can be realized locally in a variety of private network architectures for time-sensitive applications.
These aspects differentiate cellular networks from the Internet and other access network technologies, such as Wi-Fi and LoRa. Devices on an operator’s network, be it a telco or private network, are verified on the network with SIMs. The much-talked-about private 5G networks leverage the same technology and can bring carrier-grade capabilities to your campuses and shop floors.
Private LTE networks have offered this differentiation as well, which is why there has been a market for it for years. Many of the benefits that cellular networks bring are thanks to the core network, which makes an LTE or 5G network a managed network rather than an open network that is the Internet.
How Does 5G Matter at the Edge?
What do these technical benefits and differentiations of 5G era cellular network technologies mean for your business at the edge?
New Mobile Computing Possibilities
Wi-Fi is cool but is not geared toward mobile computing applications. Neither is LoRaWAN. These networks will enable new varieties of mobile computing models and use cases that transcend the smartphone. This means more types of connected and intelligent devices thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). This is important in that it opens an entirely new way of looking at edge computing in the 5G era and beyond.
It Will Make the Internet of Things Happen
The network aspect of IoT, especially massive IoT, has been a challenge to date. Coverage has historically been one of the key limiting factors. 5G is poised to change that as new features and 4G features that continue to evolve through 5G such as NB-IoT provide operators with new possibilities for economical 5G IoT services that leverage their current networks and spectrum assets.
More Devices Means Higher Sensory Density for IoT
5G’s support for massive IoT will allow enterprises to expand and deepen visibility to the very edge of their businesses. It will also provide an elevated level of fidelity of operational insight thanks to higher capacity access networks that can harvest more data from more devices across the edge of your business. This all boils down to sensory density. What could you do with better visibility to more of your business at the edge?
More True Real-Time Edge Applications
Let’s be honest, the most real-time environment in your business is not your headquarters. It is not the frontline of your business. The field, the shop floor, and the retail location are where true real-time applications will matter. 5G will enable a broader range of edge applications that can capitalize on its real-time, reliable features that are coming to a private or operator network near you. Stay tuned.
What is that nugget that the C-Suite should walk away with from this session? No, it’s not the idea that 5G will eat the world and there will be nothing left for Wi-Fi or anything else. 5G means possibilities for mobile innovation across the edge, especially for critical applications and massive IoT scenarios. These really play into the sweet spots for 5G today and in the coming future as the 3GPP evolves this generation of mobile wireless technology.
One of the best things about 5G is that it is a global thing. This is important for IoT, especially massive IoT. There is value to be realized from lofty promises if you understand 5G and the practical implications it will have for reinventing your business and customer experiences for the next couple of decades at the least.
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