The cloud without the wait: mobile edge computing and 5G
The new network architecture moves the computing closer to you for seamless experiences.
The future of 5G technology promises seamless experiences. Uninterrupted VR gaming where rapid-fire action never lags, gameday camera angles that let you watch in real-time from a player’s helmet, or a driverless vehicle moving inventory around a manufacturing facility.
All of these experiences have one crucial requirement: low latency.
Latency is the time required for data to make the round trip between two points. More simply, it’s the time between a user action and the response to that action. The lower the latency, the shorter the wait time between action and response.
Usually that round trip is between a device and a cloud, where servers can do the calculations and computing needed to process and transfer data. The cloud can live anywhere, but the closer you are to it, the lower your latency.
This is where mobile edge compute, or MEC, comes in. MEC will help 5G deliver these seamless experiences by bringing servers closer to your devices. But what the heck is MEC?
It all starts with the cloud
The cloud stores your data, all your pictures and your phone contacts, and it processes information that helps make your favorite apps work. Cloud computing can do several things at once, really well: It can compute, store data and work with the network, all in one location. Many cloud providers, for example, have storage facilities that do cloud computing in locations all over the world. When you take a photo with your phone and send it to Instagram, it goes to a cloud facility—possibly several hops and four or five states away—where all the necessary computing takes place, and then it publishes to Instagram. It’s a similar process for reading your morning email or listening to a podcast. For things like that, the centralized cloud works really well, and the latency is low enough that your experience is just fine.
But certain experiences require a lot of data to move very quickly to and from a device and the cloud. That’s where MEC comes in. It brings the cloud closer to you.
The “edge” refers to the part of Verizon’s network that is closest to you: Your device connects to the network at the edge. And edge computing means bringing the cloud to the edge of the network closest to your device.
So how do you make edge computing more mobile, and closer to the devices that need it?
Bringing the cloud closer to you
MEC is an entire network architecture that brings computing power close to any device that’s using it. Instead of data going back and forth to cloud servers four or five states away, it’s processed just miles or meters from the device. For this purpose, Verizon has installed cloud servers in its own access points across its networks.
The reason to have the cloud closer to a device is to reduce latency. And while it doesn’t make much of a difference for small tasks, like email, shaving off even 5 milliseconds in data transfer time makes a critical difference in medical uses like remote surgery or telematics like connected cars.
Take, for instance, Vuzix, which is part of the Verizon 5G First Responders Lab. Vuzix is hoping to develop 5G-enabled AR glasses with a 5G embedded module in the hopes they can be used by first responders in medical situations.
Imagine a scenario where an EMT answers an emergency call and finds a patient that needs immediate help — there’s no time to get to a hospital. The EMT would be able to slip on these glasses and a doctor at the hospital would be able to see what they see. Then the doctor could instruct the EMT in real time on exactly what to do to help the critical patient.
While these AR glasses can currently work on the 4G network, 5G could allow first responders to respond essentially in real time. In addition, mobile edge computing technologies could allow the glasses to rely on computing power from the cloud, making them lighter and easier to wear. So, when milliseconds matter, that combination of 5G speed and MEC connection could enable first responders to save more lives.
The 5G difference: more reach and more users
While lifesaving tools like this were possible with the cloud, the reach and number of users that could access the cloud at once was limited. Plus, the distance of the traditional cloud naturally increases latency. This is where 5G comes into play.
One of the biggest benefits of Verizon’s 5G is bandwidth. Its 5G Ultra Wideband uses mmWave spectrum to carry massive amounts of data at very high speeds, while also being able to comfortably support close to a million devices per square km (4G networks support around 4,000 devices per square km). When you bring together 5G and MEC, you get a huge dose of additional speed, lower latency and increased network capacity.
Combining MEC and 5G enables the seamless experiences that the next-gen wants and expects, and it’s here today.