Two new separate partnership initiatives – one from AT&T/Microsoft and one from Verizon/Amazon – illustrate the extent to which 5G mobile communications and its technological cousin, edge computing, is finally edging towards becoming a reality.
Both initiatives are similar, in that they aim to combine cloud resources (infrastructure and services) with newly deployed 5G network infrastructure and position those resources close to places where low latency and high-performance apps will be developed and consumed.
However, it is still early days for both initiatives, whose long-term success will depend on a range of issues – including the sort of digital services new 5G and edge computing platforms enable and the development of business models to support them.
Just last year, 5G mobile communications and its closely associated cousin, edge computing, were still unrealised technologies of the future, along with many of the digital services and applications they promise to enable – among them are things like autonomous cars, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)-enabled immersive experiences, and cloud-based gaming. However, two important announcements from the past couple of weeks illustrate how quickly 5G and edge computing might become a reality.
Firstly AT&T and Microsoft have announced an initiative that will see Microsoft make its Azure-branded cloud services available within so-called “edge locations” on AT&T’s newly deployed 5G network. This will ensure that Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure can be used to support the development and delivery of new digital services at locations that are geographically closer to consumer and business devices, including IoT end-points.
Traditionally that infrastructure had to be accessed from one of Microsoft’s regionally distributed cloud data centres. However, making Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure available at the edge of 5G networks means that data generated by the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and new services such as VR and AR, can be processed at higher speeds and delivered with higher levels of performance.
Just days after the AT&T/Microsoft announcement, Verizon and Amazon Web Services (AWS) unveiled plans to introduce a new 5G edge computing architecture that will allow AWS developers to build digital applications by accessing AWS compute and storage services at the edge of Verizon’s 5G network. Verizon will host AWS’s new service, AWS Wavelength, which will provide the tools and resources to help developers create applications requiring ultra-low latency, close to the places where those applications will be consumed.
Both the AT&T/Microsoft initiative and the one announced by Verizon and AWS are similar, in that they aim to combine cloud resources (infrastructure and services) with newly deployed 5G network infrastructure and position those resources close to places where low latency and high-performance apps will be developed and consumed.
However, both initiatives are also still at the pilot stage and are available to a limited number of select customers, and within limited geographies – Dallas in the case of AT&T/Microsoft and Chicago in the case of Verizon/AWS. AWS has a similar partnership initiative in Europe with Vodafone, which is also hosting AWS Wavelength at the edge of its 5G network to support new service innovation. It too, however, is currently limited in scope and will focus on the UK and Germany.
It is therefore still early days to assess the wider market and competitive impact of these initiatives. 5G rollouts just began in 2019 and it will take several years for coverage to reach par with 4G LTE networks. The long-term success of these initiatives will depend partly on the sort of new digital services and applications they go on to enable.
Success will also depend on the business and pricing models that accompany new content and service innovations. Meanwhile unforeseen technical, commercial and even regulatory hurdles could result in slower than envisaged deployment and development timeframes. 2020 is likely to bring further progress with 5G and edge computing but expect that progress to be gradual and not without its challenges.