Recent initiatives by large service providers, including Verizon, AT&T and Deutsche Telekom, illustrate the importance that is being attributed to edge computing as an essential component for unlocking the benefits of 5G mobile networks.

In January, the US-based company Verizon announced that it had successfully tested edge computing technology on a live 5G network at its testbed in Houston, US.

Verizon reported that it had slashed latency, or the lag-time, by 50% associated with sending that data for processing by computer servers.

Benefits of edge computing

Edge computing involves deploying computer power, data storage and management closer to the end users of digital content and applications. This allows the associated data to be processed, analysed and acted on locally, instead of being transmitted over long-distance networks to be processed at central data centres.

The benefits of handling data and running applications closer to end users at “edge locations” include cost-savings based on a massive reduction in the amount of bandwidth that is required to transport data across long distance networks for processing.

Other benefits include the higher performance that is achieved by running applications closer to consumers. This is especially important in the case of applications that have real-time performance requirements, including immersive virtual reality (VR) and video gaming.

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Immersive VR, self-driving cars and remote-controlled robots are just some of the things telecommunications service providers expect future 5G mobile networks to make possible.

Challenges ahead for 5G and edge computing

However, plenty of challenges lie ahead for 5G and edge computing, including a host of security concerns and the need for service providers and end users to develop viable business models and use cases based on the new technologies.

Use cases will invariably be industry- and organisation-specific, with retail organisations deploying quite different 5G applications compared with those of healthcare or transportation firms. Not all of them will necessarily be viable or profitable.

Additional challenges include a host of security concerns created by emerging 5G and edge computing use cases, whose distributed architectures include many more locations at which security breaches can occur. These and other concerns mean that, for many, new 5G applications may be slow to materialise.

However, most large service providers are in agreement that higher bandwidth 5G networks will, by themselves, be insufficient to support these emerging applications.