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5G and IoT
edge computing:
driving future business value

Author: Phil Muncaster

The Internet of Things (IoT) is finding its way into every sphere of human life, transforming business operations and customer experiences. But it's with the addition of edge computing and 5G that it will really come of age. Low latency, high bandwidth and localized computing capabilities will help IoT edge computing radically reshape industries as diverse as retail, healthcare and manufacturing.

To accelerate time-to-value and enhance ROI from projects, the best option lies with unified solutions from industry partners.

IoT and mobile edge computing

The combination of IoT and edge computing is a powerful one. Yet these two technology systems weren't always so closely integrated.

What is IoT?

IoT is a system of intelligent devices and sensors connected to each other and, traditionally, cloud-based data centers, often with a mobile application-based user interface. The data flowing through these tiny computers and into the cloud for storage, security and analysis can be deployed in a huge range of use cases.

There are two key business benefits: enhancing operational efficiency and transforming the customer experience. Consider, for example, IoT sensors, tire pressure monitors and temperature gauges on delivery trucks to help logistics providers ensure goods are transported as quickly and safely as possible, without impacting their quality. Or smart insulin pumps capable of mimicking the pancreas's behavior to keep glucose levels steady in people with diabetes.

Although there are multiple connectivity options in the IoT world—including Zigbee, a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), radio-frequency identification (RFID) and even Bluetooth—cellular is the preferred choice for many use cases. This is especially true of IoT solutions requiring mobility, low power and/or ultra-low latency, such as streaming video and connected vehicles. The coming 5G era is set to further enhance the cellular proposition by supporting massive loads of up to one million devices per square kilometer.

The edge computing difference

The IoT is one of the most exciting opportunities for edge computing to shine. Its development over the past few years has been focused on this particular domain. The idea is to deploy compute and cloud capabilities at the network edge, so that IoT data doesn't need to travel as far to be processed. It can then be transmitted using 5G to users' mobile devices and IoT endpoints. This is ideal for solutions requiring ultra-low latency connections like AI, AR and VR, making them lightning fast and responsive.

Here are the key differentiators of IoT edge computing, compared to regular (non-edge) IoT systems:

  • Reduced latency: Edge computing brings computing resources close to the IoT edge device.
  • Massive bandwidth: This can support large numbers of low-cost, low-energy IoT edge computing devices. These large IoT use cases include smart cities, smart metering and fleet management.
  • Availability and security: Edge computing brings the cloud to remote locations to improve availability and offers local processing and storage to enhance security.
  • Reduced traffic: IoT data is processed at the network edge to minimize network traffic and associated costs.
  • Lightweight devices: Computing requirements are removed from the device and placed at the edge, enabling a new era of low-cost devices with low-energy requirements like VR-AR headsets.

Thanks to the power of 5G edge computing, organizations across every vertical can drive innovative new business outcomes with IoT. Examples include:

  • A retailer could tap low-latency and high-performance benefits by using lightweight AR-VR headsets to demonstrate products to customers—driving sales without overloading its Wi-Fi networks.
  • A manufacturer could fit staff with wearable biometric sensors and install smart cameras. Local data processing and fast 5G mean the system flags safety issues in near-real time to help prevent workplace injuries and enhance productivity and operational efficiency.

How do I get there?

It's no surprise that these capabilities are driving rapid growth in edge computing: The global market is estimated to expand by a compound annual growth rate of nearly 20% to reach over $8.8 billion by the end of 2025. Yet building out IoT edge capabilities will require significant planning. Environments demand a complex blend of networks, servers, software and devices.

IoT edge computing devices such as edge routers, sensors, actuators and gateways are key pieces of hardware. They provide connectivity between different networks and may also collect, process and store data at the edge. Other important components include applications, secure gateways, servers and hosting infrastructure.

Experts agree that edge computing will enhance the ROI of IoT projects, although it's difficult to say how quickly, as no two initiatives are the same. However, given the complexity involved, CTOs may benefit most from choosing combined solutions from proven providers and partners that integrate 5G networks, edge computing, IoT and cloud capabilities as tightly as possible.

Although choosing individual components may look cheaper at first glance, integration and deployment costs may soon mount. With unified, business-ready offerings, IT leaders can accelerate time-to-value to drive innovation, productivity and growth.

Learn more about how Verizon's 5G Edge can unlock IoT value for your business.