With the recent launch of Apple’s 5G iPhones we will likely see a fresh wave of excitement and a surge in demand for 5G across the UK. Consumers are looking for the new speeds and bandwidth it is set to promise and CBS Insights recently predicted that 5G technology will take off faster than any previous mobile technology, with 1 billion users by 2023.

The GSMA also recently predicted 5G networks will account for as many as 1.2 billion connections by 2025, giving rise to a new era in which connectivity will support even more digital experiences. However, this is all heavily dependent on the underlying infrastructure and its ability to support 5G. One of which is the data center and the formation of Edge Cloud - where thousands of smaller data centers are being created as close as possible to where the content is generated, consumed, and processed. This will reduce latency, lower transport costs, increase security, and in some cases enable better data sovereignty compliance.

As we start to shift towards this Edge Cloud model, experts have estimated three times as many data centers at the network edge will exist, requiring the entire cloud ecosystem to adapt and provide new levels of connectivity. For data center providers this highlights the growing importance of data center interconnectivity and its critical role in supporting our digital world.

Edgy edge edge
– Getty Images

Grasping the edge

Edge computing has been around for years, but the ‘Edge Cloud’ concept has only recently gained popularity. What we mean by this is the addition of many new scaled-down, distributed, and connected data centers - a network of storage and compute resources that work together to process content, services, and applications using AI and machine learning.

In addition to processing benefits, there are other plus points to Edge Cloud – including reduced data transmission costs. Perhaps it comes as little surprise then that Mobile Experts estimate that edge computing will drive $7bn of revenue by 2025. They’re also predicting that more than half of edge data centers will be on-premises, hosted by an enterprise with another 20-25 percent hosted by telcos or ISPs.

As mentioned at the Data Center Dynamics ‘Building the Edge’ event back in May, the paradigm shift to homeworking (69 percent of British adults according to our recent survey are now working from home, and 68 percent believe they will continue to do so in the long term), is likely to increase the use of Edge Cloud resources so that every small business can benefit from better connectivity.

New Use Cases

An increasing number of applications require real-time latency, and this is driving the demand for Edge Cloud. The business drivers for these are not only consumer behavior, but enterprises improving their operations or monetizing improved customer experiences. One example of where this technology would work particularly well is in a cashier-less retail store. This new payment format is where retailers (e.g. Amazon Go stores) embed cameras into store ceilings to capture images of shoppers purchasing goods and these pictures are then analyzed using AI to determine what goods shoppers have purchased. The technology eliminates the need for shoppers to go through a cashier at the check-out counter while their credit cards are billed directly for the goods they have purchased. As you can imagine, significant computing and storage resources are needed either in the retail stores or in the Edge Cloud to perform this near real-time image processing to deliver a seamless customer experience.

Another good example is in the industrial IoT / smart manufacturing space, where processes are highly customized and automated. Here, manufacturing lines are occupied by industrial robots whose functions are carefully controlled by local computing resources that use machine learning and AI to detect defects identified in the manufacturing process and adjust accordingly in near real-time. To simplify connectivity on the plant floor, intelligent industrial robots will in the future connect via 5G (private or carrier managed), require low-latency, and often high-capacity, network performance to ensure low manufacturing defects and maximize the safety of local workers.

Cashier-less retail stores and manufacturing are just the tip of the iceberg but show how the demand for Edge Cloud is growing.

Moving forwards

The past twelve months has already demonstrated the value of Edge Cloud and soon, with 5G we expect to see significant uptake – setting the stage for new levels of application performance, the creation of new services and importantly, finally enabling individuals and organizations to achieve new levels of connectivity.