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December 10, 2021 | Dominic Romeo

5G and Edge Computing – How Do They Work Together?

How do 5G and edge computing work together?

There’s been a lot of hype about 5G and how it’s going to change “everything,” but what exactly does everything entail? Is the move from 4G to 5G comparable to when we moved from 3G to 4G? And how does edge computing, another trend on the rise, play a role in the new digital transformation landscape? Let’s talk about how these technologies work together and how they can revolutionize the way we share, send, and process data.  

What are some of the differences between the jump from 3G to 4G and 4G to 5G?

As of January 2021, 75% of the United States has been covered with 5G. Carriers continue to expand coverage for the rest of the country on both a mobile and fixed basis. While it was limited to early adopters a few years ago, 5G connectivity has been widely adopted and accepted by consumers.  

The jump from 3G to 4G was revolutionary in its time, but it was mostly an increase in speed. There was some technical evolution involved, but for the end user, they were likely to notice the most when their new phone, now built for 4G, was able to stream videos with little to no lag time. The leap from 4G to 5G is mainly concerned with two things – it reduces latency and improves application delivery.  

Latency is measured by taking the time between an action and getting the end desired result. This could include the time between clicking on an app and its full loading time, or the time between pressing play on a video and the video starting without buffering. Latency is especially important for large events such as multiplayer games or live-streaming a football game. 

The advent of 4G solved so many speed issues, and it’s not going anywhere. It will continue to speed up and live alongside 5G for a long time. Just because 5G comes out, it doesn’t mean that everyone’s old iPhone is going to be obsolete, either.  

Certain things may require 5G to work, however, such as immersive virtual reality, live-streaming large events like concerts, or sporting events. Users with 5G will have an enhanced experience, but those using 4G won’t be prevented from it.  

How will end users benefit from 5G?

Much like 4G was beneficial to users due to speed, the rollout of 5G has been prioritized with customer experience in mind, with a focus on latency and application delivery. With 5G, users will be able to experience events that put a heavy load on data without noticing the strain. Real-time virtual experiences will be possible in ways that haven’t been yet realized. And, with 5G being distributed so widely already, it eventually won’t matter where someone lives – they’ll be able to access fast data.  

You may remember the days of dial-up internet, where 56K felt lightning fast after dealing with a slower alternative. Today, waiting 15 minutes to download one song would be beyond unreasonable. If there isn’t instant gratification, if we experience a slower load time or buffering of any kind, we get quickly frustrated.  

It’s easy to forget how slowly data moved in the not-too-distant past. If page load time is over 3 seconds, it’s slow as molasses. 

After July 2019, Google started mobile-first indexing – logging the mobile version of sites first in search engines. This algorithmic favoring is indicative of other mobile-first trends. One in five millennials are smartphone-only users, and 93% own mobile devices. With 5G, there is an increased focus and priority on customers accessing large amounts of data from mobile sources to make sure things load as quickly and reliably on mobile devices as they do on laptops.  

How will 5G impact businesses?

Businesses are already able to benefit and will continue to benefit, from having 5G in their ecosystem. Latency on average goes from 30-70 milliseconds in 4G to 5-20 milliseconds in 5G, and it’s estimated that latency may hit 1 millisecond in the future.  

With this latency decrease, the speed at which you do work, access web browsers, and download emails all increases. For businesses with workers in the field, a focus on mobile data means they will be able to be quicker and more effective at their work away from the office. While VPN can slow things down considerably, 5G deployments will even the playing field.  

What is edge computing?

Edge computing is all about delivering quick data to the edge of the network. If you think about your data landscape as a map, edge data centers are facilities that are physically closer to the end user or devices and would make up the border or perimeter on the map.  

The more reliably you deliver data to the edges, the more latency and application performance improves, much like the benefits you experience from 5G compared to 4G. You can also employ multi-access edge computing (MEC), previously known as mobile edge computing, which extends cloud computing to the edge of a network.  

How will 5G and edge computing work together?

Because the benefits are similar, it may seem as if edge computing and 5G are overlapping or redundant in a way that may mean 5G drives down the demand or need for an edge computing practice. However, the reality is the opposite. 5G will drive additional demand at a faster rate.  

If you think of 4G as a four-lane highway, compare it to a 5G network, which would be a 16-lane highway. It’s not just about the speed limit going up on a highway, but 5G technology makes room for more vehicles. The upgrade is a matter of speed and capacity – with 5G, different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are being used to run cell phones (24 GHz and 60 GHz, for example).  

These are frequencies that work over short distances, but they will allow users in denser areas to connect simultaneously in greater numbers. In order to support these short-distance connections, there needs to be an infrastructure to support it, and edge computing provides that support.  

Think of the business impact of these two pieces together like this. Say you ran a streaming service, but you don’t have the infrastructure needed to grow it in the beginning. You could buy virtual resources, on-demand resources, cloud backend, and so on, and just pay monthly instead of making a big investment off the bat.  

With infrastructure being something you can use without building, that’s going to help move your business forward faster. The same usefulness could apply to many types of businesses.  

Remember, your applications will continue to demand more as technology advances, making something that felt blazing fast before feeling slower over time. There will be changes in expectations, changes in what we’re accustomed to, and changes in technological demands. As 5G development continues, a focus on latency has to be pretty much constant.  

Edge compute capabilities will continue to develop, alongside other technological advancements, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. If you keep up with innovation, your organization will continue to provide a positive experience for your team and your end user.  

Read our Strategic Guide to Edge Computing to learn more.  

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