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Future 5G Performance Depends on Today’s Mobile Edge

It seems like we’ve all been hearing the hype about 5G for quite some time. Yet, we haven’t really achieved all that 5G has to offer. Even today, the major mobile carriers continue to promote their ability to deliver 5G access to wireless networks across the U.S. At the same time, consumers and businesses eagerly await the next killer apps and services that will deliver a quantum leap in performance, efficiency, and experience. 

However, it is important to note that true 5G speeds depend on mobile edge computing. This is required so wireless carriers can enable applications to be faster and more responsive on their networks. 

Consider the example of multi-player gaming. It’s impossible to deliver equal performance to all users if the carriers can’t keep traffic packets local. If one person is on a Verizon device and another is using AT&T, the two packet streams might peer hundreds of miles away, leading to latency, jitter—and a frustrating experience for gamers in all locations. 

Instead, gaming developers need 5G wireless networks to keep packets among multiple phones and devices within the same metropolitan area. This way, the network and application work in tandem and are aware of each other. Only then can video games deliver equal and enjoyable experiences to wireless users. 

The Four Critical Components of 5G

In reality, the promise of 5G to deliver such experiences is still several years away. While the carriers are making progress, they still have a long way to go before deploying true standalone 5G networks. Getting there requires the rollout of four critical components of mobile edge computing:

  • Incorporating the full-frequency, three-spectrum-band layer cake all the way from cell towers to devices, which will weave together low, mid, and high frequencies. Today, the carriers are approximately 25% of the way to completing this part of the process. 
  • Re-architecting network cores from 4G to 5G virtualized. This will transform the cores from a centralized design to an architecture where a relatively smaller number of control points are disaggregated into user-plane locations. 
  • Virtualizing radio access networks so cell towers in a specific region can pool their resources to handle peak user activity. This eliminates the need to size each individual tower for peak activity, which is currently the case with 4G. 
  • Creating open networks where software runs on commodity hardware as a service and allows applications to plug directly into networks. This approach enables a more proximate location for mobile users to access edge computing at cell tower locations and is like the internet in terms of aggregation points. 

Once carriers have all four components in place, their wireless networks will support millions of IP addresses in each cell zone while delivering 1-gigabit speeds to users, latency under 10 milliseconds, and very low jitter. That’s what mobile edge computing is all about and will lead to vastly new experiences in gaming, ecommerce, financial trading, and just about any other mobile interaction.

Cloud Provider Data Centers Also Play Key Role

Mobile edge computing comes at a steep cost—hundreds of billions of dollars in initial capital expenditures. Even if carriers make the investment required for true 5G, they still need the ecosystem of software developers, SaaS companies, and hardware manufacturers to create the next generation of applications and devices that can take advantage of the performance potential of a 5G network. Clearly it’s a significant effort. 

The carriers also are not the only key players in delivering 5G. There are public hyperscale and private cloud providers to consider. Their data centers need to embed compute and storage services within 5G networks to create mobile edge computing infrastructure for developing, deploying, and scaling low-latency, 5G-friendly applications.

By definition, 5G and mobile edge computing are disaggregated, but at the end of the day, applications and their data all end up in the data center. To bring wireless computing to end-users, cloud providers need to use data centers in all the top metros across the U.S. and make sure they deliver the required power, cooling, interconnectivity, security, and other services. 

Fear Not: 5G Will Happen

In thinking about the future rollout of 5G, it may help to remember the emergence of the commercial internet. When carriers first launched 4G, skeptics doubted whether applications would actually use all the new capacity. Yet, not long after the introduction of 4G, smartphones began to emerge and soon exploded in popularity. If history repeats itself, another application or trend like this will allow carriers to recover their investments, and 10 years from now, the impact of 5G will be no different from the way 4G has affected consumers and businesses today. 

Fear not—5G will happen. Unlike 4G and 3G before it, when 5G was designed, considerations included how the network, the data, and the applications all need to be connected. That’s what makes 5G different —and more powerful—than previous wireless architectures. 5G will catch on as the network bandwidth and latency come up to snuff, and networks are built to connect with the application layer at user locations. Today’s data centers will be ready—we just need to bring carrier networks closer to the edge of the applications so they can speak to each other directly. 

About the Author

Raul Martynek joined DataBank in 2017 as the Chief Executive Officer. In this role, he defines the strategic direction of the company and its operations. Raul is a 20+ year veteran in the telecom and Internet Infrastructure sector. He most recently served as a Senior Advisor for Digital Bridge Holdings LLC. Mr. Martynek earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Binghamton University and received a Master Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

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