The next generation of networking and mobile technology, 5G, will deliver vastly greater data capacity and speed than previous generations. By comparison, 5G connections will deliver 1,000 times the data rates of 4G. This dramatic leap will involve a number of new mobile technologies working together, including transmission at much higher frequencies (30–300GHz), deployment of many small-cell low-power base stations, MIMO (supporting many more ports per base station), beam forming (which enables more-efficient use of spectrum and reduces interference) and full-duplex transmission.
These new capabilities will resolve many of the issues mobile users are experiencing on 4G networks, such as slowdowns and dropped connections in high-traffic areas (e.g., during major events) as well as spotty quality when running high-throughput, low-latency applications such as interactive video and gaming. Additionally, many applications which are infeasible over 4G (such as autonomous vehicles) will become a reality.
For service providers, 5G will enable much greater operational efficiencies, reducing facilities costs and the massive amounts of power required to operate 4G infrastructure. Perhaps even more significantly, 5G will enable service providers to offer more high-level application-specific services. These providers previously functioned as the utility (some would say “dumb pipe”) that other companies used to deliver higher-value services, such as over-the-top (OTT) content. The new 5G will give them a second chance to move up the value chain by offering differentiated application-specific network services.
So 5G’s biggest impact will be the new era of applications and services it enables. With orders-of-magnitude increases in bandwidth combined with orders-of-magnitude decreases in latency, computing will move much closer to the user to take advantage of the new capabilities. These enhancements create more opportunities for application development as well as dynamic ways to use infrastructure.
The Move to the Edge
One change the data center industry can expect with the availability of 5G networks as well as the increase in connected devices and systems is the expansion of edge computing. Until recently, data centers in Tier One cities would handle traffic from nearby smaller cities. The demands of modern applications running on 5G—which requires instant computing power—is driving enterprises to move computing resources even closer to where that data is created (the user and device). Data centers in Tier One markets will continue to handle more-static content that has laxer latency requirements, such as big data analytics. But dynamic content, such as that from IoT devices, will move to the edge. For example, a retailer offering a virtual-reality app that enables customers to visualize what new furniture and décor looks like in a home or office must provide a seamless experience. Any lag or application problems could cost it the sale. A more extreme situation is implanted medical devices, which need instant connectivity to a data center to ensure a person’s well-being. The ability to move computing power closer to the user and the edge is critical for these applications to be successful.
What Will It Look Like?
In a post-5G world, we expect to see dozens of shared edge-computing facilities emerge in the form of colocation agreements and micro data centers. Indeed, according to a recent Vertiv survey of more than 200 enterprise data center managers in the U.S., 65 percent of respondents said their organizations are using colocation data centers or will use them within the next 12 months. Others, such as colocation provider vXchnge, have been expanding their footprints in recent years, both through new investment, partnerships and acquisitions, to meet the need for distributed computing capabilities. The use of these data centers by connected devices and systems will generate data on capacity and traffic, which will in turn allow enterprises to optimize their usage.
One side effect of edge computing is the changing role of content-delivery networks (CDNs). Today’s CDN architectures focus on efficient content caching at the edge, close to the end users. It’s largely a unidirectional model where relatively light traffic is inbound (end-user content requests) and relatively heavy traffic is outbound (responses to those requests—video streams, images and large files). The new era of 5G and the edge will be much more bidirectional, with large amounts of inbound data coming from IoT devices and other forms of telemetry that support real-time processing at a nearby edge facility. This shift will be accompanied by more big data and AI-centric processing in fewer, larger cloud data centers. The CDN model of today will likely evolve to a real-time edge-computing model supported by central big data cloud computing. With CDN providers already positioned at the edge, opportunities will open up for providers to move up the value chain.
What Are the Opportunities for Service Providers?
The 5G rollout and its new speed and computing capabilities create opportunities from a service-provider perspective as well. A tiering approach will emerge as content is prioritized and managed according to its latency requirements. Application developers will see carriers offer differentiated services, which carry a premium for computing data from IoT applications. Data center service providers will see customers expect transparent SLAs that specify costs for power and capacity usage as well as examples of the provider’s ability to scale to meet a wide variety of deployments. Customers will also expect training for the personnel they dedicate to monitoring the new infrastructure and assurances about security protocols.
Every day we hear about new 5G deployments around the globe. We know the adoption of 5G will enable large data transfers at extremely high speeds. With these new capabilities come new requirements and expectations of data centers, with the need for edge computing becoming a major component of the application ecosystem. New approaches from data center professionals and application architects alike will be necessary to deliver the digital experiences customers expect and businesses require to succeed.
About the Author
Jonathan Lewis is vice president of product marketing for NS1. Jonathan brings to the company over 25 years of experience in the IT industry, comprising product management, product marketing, customer service and systems engineering. Before NS1, Lewis led teams at Nortel that brought numerous network and security products to market, including IPSec gateways, SSL VPNs and end-point security. He has played central product-marketing roles, contributing to the success of midsize and startup companies, including Arbor Networks and SSH Communications Security. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from McGill University, an M.B.A. from Bentley College, and a CISSP certification.