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Where 5G and MEC work together

Author: Sue Poremba

When 4G was introduced more than a decade ago, network speeds were often up to 10 times faster than what people experienced with 3G. The difference was huge. Entire industries changed.

5G networks deployed on the mmWave band are anticipated to be around 10 times faster than on 4G LTE networks. This is the future of computing. For data processing to take advantage of 5G’s speed and latency, it must move closer to the mobile edge network. This opens the door for mobile edge computing (MEC), which substantially shortens the distance between remote cloud based applications and the end-point devices where the service is being ultimately rendered.

We're getting closer to the edge—but where does edge computing work with 5G?

What is mobile edge computing?

MEC is an emerging highly distributed cloud computing model in which cloud computing resources are combined with those of the mobile network in close proximity to end users and corresponding end devices. Being close to the source of data results in enhanced overall system efficiency as well as faster responsiveness of application services rendered at client end devices.

"It uniquely allows software applications to tap into local content and real-time information about local-access network conditions," the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) explains. "MEC also enables applications and services to be hosted 'on top' of the mobile network elements."

Edge technology creates new models for digital transformation, expanding the use of the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality, virtual reality, data caching and location services. Most organizations will see the most benefit in consumer offerings and enterprise services.

MEC 4G to 5G

Currently, less than 10% of IT infrastructure is deployed at the edge. By 2023, more than half of all new enterprise IT infrastructure will be deployed there.

"There's a lot of work going on in edge," Iain Gillott, president of analyst firm iGR, told RCRWireless News. "It doesn't get the attention that 5G does, because 5G kind of sucks all the oxygen out of the room. But people have been working diligently on it."

MEC can also leverage 4G networks. It will still work fine with 4G once 5G is up and running. Some edge computing systems won't depend on network evolution at all, meaning you could continue to use your 4G edge computing systems as you pace your transition to 5G. So where does edge computing work with 5G?

An edge computing-5G combination works in ways that make the upgrade worthwhile. Because sensors can process data faster, AI and machine learning become more effective. And because 5G allows for more connections to run simultaneously, data generation and with this data near real time analytical insights can be leveraged to help increase operational efficiencies.

What IT specialists need to know about MEC and 5G

Business and industrial applications are moving to the edge, and 5G will make applications and devices work faster and smarter than ever. But the transition will come with challenges for IT decision-makers.

Integrating MEC and 5G

To get value out of the massive amounts of data generated by IoT devices and other resources on the edge, organizations must be able to process that data in real time. mmWave-based 5G will transport data at radical speeds and with ultra-low latency. Manufacturers, for example, could take advantage of MEC's ability to process data in real time to ensure an accurate and reliable supply chain. In healthcare, doctors and nurses could leverage data generated by patients' wearable devices to improve response times—potentially saving lives.

Data security

Because edge computing combines the cloud with a mobile network, it's important to understand the different security needs of each of those layers, as well as who is responsible for them. A cloud provider must secure the infrastructure supporting the cloud, including regional hardware, availability zones and edge locations.

Businesses are responsible for the security of any assets they put on or connect to the cloud—customer data, applications, user identities and access credentials. That will mean configuring an operating system, network and firewall, as well as client-side data encryption and data integrity authentication, server-side encryption and networking traffic protection.

Responsibilities of 5G and MEC

Because of its speed and low latency, 5G will be able to support many more applications than previous-generation networks were able to. There will be a need for greater bandwidth to support the increased functionality, and a need for cloud expertise to monitor MEC and application services. IT's ability to securely deploy this new architecture will determine the organization's ability to move forward with its digital transformation.

IT staff will have to improve their organization's infrastructure to meet the demands for faster speeds and higher volumes. With increased concerns about identity management and more deployment of IoT devices on the network, IT specialists will need to develop a framework that balances detecting and thwarting internal and external threats with maintaining employee productivity and efficiency. Data management and data analysis will take on new functions, too, causing a need for internal data analysts and privacy expertise.

MEC and 5G are expected to change the way the world uses technology, making it faster and smarter at volumes we've never experienced before. The dawn of a new era in business is upon us.

Learn more about where edge computing works with 5G.