5G on the brink of enabling edge smart devices in UK

IoT depends on the installation of new 5G infrastructure, but even the speed of light's limits means intelligent edge may be the future.
15 November 2018

EE is rolling out 5G next year. Source: Shutterstock

The news that a UK mobile network, EE, is to roll out 5G publicly in selected cities next year, has brought the concept of more viable ‘intelligent edge’ computing one step closer.

The moniker was coined initially by Microsoft as a substitute for the phrase ‘internet of things’, and of course, that company is keen to promote its Azure platform as the platform best suited to hosting IoT code (the term ‘IE code’ will cause terrible fright amongst web developers with a few years’ experience).

The company’s Azure IoT Edge service– released earlier this year– reflects the new-look company’s amalgamation of previously separate divisions (AI is now part of the company’s Cloud function, for example).

But however it’s termed, IoT’s more widespread uptake by businesses is very dependent on 5G. Companies that are keen to find reliable connectivity which can form the basis of commercially-attractive SLAs for customers will be pleased with the news that the tech will be hitting twenty cities, in two phases.

Mid 2019 End 2019
London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, Bristol

The technology, which is also being tested and rolled out across the US and major European countries, not only boasts data speeds that are substantially faster than standard ethernet connections in most businesses today but also lower latency (the delay between data interchanges) and higher bandwidth (meaning less crowded data conduits).

With data flows quick and immediate enough to allow remote control of autonomous vehicles in real-time, it won’t be long until almost every electronic device on the market will come equipped with sensors – cameras, microphones, thermometers, air quality and so on – and controls, all accessible remotely.

The 5G infrastructure is already being installed by the mobile networks in Europe and North America, although the latest decline in the quality of the relationship between China and the West (led by the US), means that progress is not smooth. Hardware by Huawei is effectively blacklisted in some countries, and several geographies (such as the UK) are waiting for government edicts on approved supply chain elements for 5G rollout.

It is thought that with increases in processing power, more ‘edge’ (IoT) data will be processed locally, or at least by data-center-ettes, rather than by massive, centralized facilities such as those running most of today’s cloud services.

Microsoft is among those suppliers investing in 5G and edge computing; it has just announced that it will supply Carnegie Mellon University with an Azure Data Box and Azure Stack hardware to push its research into intelligent edge computing’s capabilities.

While consumers may revel in the possibilities of high-speed data connections (streaming 4K video during the morning commute, for example), businesses can begin to exploit the new technologies whose data is carried by 5G, and processing power not even bottlenecked by round trip times for edge to data center traffic.