What is edge computing?

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Get to know a critical network architecture concept behind 5G Ultra Wideband.


As more and more devices connect, it’s not enough for a network to meet ever-increasing demands for bandwidth. It must outpace them.

By rolling out the nation’s first 5G Ultra Wideband network, Verizon is preparing for a future where 20.4 billion connected devices are expected to come online by 2020. But these devices and massive IoT systems will require more than just wide-open stretches of spectrum. The data-intensive applications of tomorrow will require near-real time processing and minimal latency. For a network to deliver on those demands, how that network is designed must be reimagined.

The first and most logical thing to do is ramp up the speed at which data travels between two points. But what if you could shorten the distance between points A and B? In a simplified sense, that’s edge computing, a technology that goes hand-in-hand with Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network.

Why Verizon sees value in edge computing

By moving certain processing tasks to the “edge” of the network, the time required for a piece of data to be crunched, or a heavyweight video file to be uploaded, can be reduced. In effect, edge computing shortens the distance that data has to travel. This can profoundly reduce the network latency associated with giant, centralized servers—i.e., the cloud.

That doesn’t mean edge computing will replace the cloud; it simply pulls the cloud closer to the end user. Whereas cloud computing is all about funneling data back and forth between devices and massive server locations—which helps reduce the processing and storage requirements for a laptop, smartphone or gaming console—edge computing is ideal for use cases where low latencies are essential.

“If I were to send information from an [augmented reality experience] to a cloud thousands of miles away, by the time the information came back, my [AR] glasses would be 10 feet behind me,” explains Ed Chan, SVP and chief technology architect at Verizon. “This … is no longer going to happen at large data center bases. It needs to happen at the edge of the network, essentially placing the cloud in your back pocket. That’s one way 5G Ultra Wideband is going to change the world.”

Imagining the possibilities of edge computing

Autonomous cars provide a good test case for the value of edge computing. For super-connected self-driving cars to become viable, crucial processing must occur closer to the vehicle. This will create a shorter feedback loop, which in turn will help the car get down the road with the latest information about itself and its surroundings. If that information had to first travel to a central cloud server, the resulting latency could have disastrous consequences. By putting processing power closer to the vehicle, a self-driving future is suddenly viable.

“The ability to cache smartly and reduce round trip times is helpful for users on desktop and mobile devices, but will become vital for augmented reality (AR) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions,” explains Frank Orozco, chief CDN technology and products officer for Verizon. “Today our rapidfire response rate is a great advantage; in the era of self-driving cars, which must perform complex artificial intelligence processing with low latency, it will be absolutely necessary.”

This … is no longer going to happen at large data center bases. It needs to happen at the edge of the network.

— Ed Chan, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Architect, Verizon

A pyramid of progress

Edge computing is an essential aspect of Verizon’s comprehensive network architecture—a strategic backbone strong enough to meet the use cases of today yet robust enough to power the scarcely imaginable innovations of tomorrow.

Think of this network architecture as a pyramid: The broad base layer consists of a combination of network hardware, spectrum and deep fiber resources. Topping this is a next-generation 5G software platform that ensures this swift and reliable movement of data with minimal latencies. The capstone includes a rich set of applications, most of which are just in their infancy—among them augmented and virtual reality, remote healthcare and massive IoT.

Edge computing will have a significant impact on agriculture and manufacturing, robotics and machinery, and the innovations necessary to create truly smart cities that will improve quality of life for all citizens. For gamers, there’s also a future in which any device can become a powerful streaming system—as the founders of LiquidSky are demonstrating at Verizon’s 5G Lab.

The success of these applications, and the countless others emerging every day, depend on a continuously advancing edge computing technology. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg says these developments will help create a “clear line of sight” from data center to customer.

“In the world of new technologies where everything benefits from being connected, you need to have this architecture,” he says. That’s why, in a 5G-powered tomorrow, edge computing needs to be front and center.

Learn more about Verizon’s plans for bringing 5G technology to our customers

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