Originally published on CNBC.
- 5G is rolling out in select markets in 2019 and will gather pace over the next three years.
- Real-time communication will change the way we interact with our world and impact activities as diverse as gaming and complex surgery.
- To ensure 5G fulfils its potential, speed must be matched by low latency.
- New and upgraded data centres are the foundation for 5G, with edge computing creating coverage and capacity.
Is the future finally here? The arrival of 5G (fifth generation mobile networks) has been keenly anticipated and long discussed. And if you attended the latest Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona in February, you would have seen plenty to suggest that 5G will take off in 2019. Smartphone manufacturers are busy preparing their 5G models, the wireless networks on which they will run are being planned, and there is no shortage of visionary use cases highlighting how virtual reality and other technologies will harness 5G’s amazing power and connectivity. In short, our lives are about to change.
The benefits of 5G
5G represents a huge leap forward in network capability and versatility. First-generation networks were analogue and restricted to voice, 2G brought digital communication, and 3G added video and mobile data. And now we have 4G and 4G+, supporting mobile internet and high-speed access. What 5G will bring is a massive increase in speed. With standard 4G the maximum download speed is 100 Mbps, while 5G starts at 1 Gbps and will scale to 10 Gbps. To put that in context, it takes more than seven minutes to download a full HD film with 4G, whereas it will take just 40 seconds with 5G and possibly as little as four seconds.
Along with speed, 5G delivers low or no latency. That means there will be no time lag between a device pinging the network and receiving a response. The true value of 5G is how this increased speed and responsiveness can connect and combine technologies that require huge amounts of data. This is a fast-evolving field that draws on the internet of things and has countless applications such as connecting autonomous vehicles, making hologram calls and facilitating remote surgical operations.
Remote surgery is a good example of the so-called ‘tactile internet’, a procedure that was demonstrated at the World Mobile Congress. Thanks to 5G, a team of doctors was able to operate on a patient while being directed over a video link by a surgeon several miles away. 5G opens up limitless possibilities for remote activities that demand instant connectivity, while virtual and augmented reality will greatly benefit from 5G’s advanced processing capability. Powered by 5G, digital technologies can change the way we shop, play, and work.
Data centres: balancing the edge
With so many connected technologies taking advantage of 5G, the challenge will be to process the high volumes of data at high speed. This is where edge computing comes in. Often referred to as the next major technology trend after the cloud, edge computing describes an environment where data processing takes place as close as possible to the data source. This will ensure speed and low latency, helping to meet 5G’s performance goals. However, there will still be a need for central data centres to handle applications’ less latency-critical needs.
What we will see is the development of Next Generation Central Offices (NGCOs). These are edge cloud data centres that can support both fixed and mobile traffic. Serving on average 35,000 subscribers per central office, compared with approximately 5,000 today, they will be located between the radio access network (RAN) and the central core.
Wherever data is stored or processed – be it on the edge, in regional centres known as metros, or centrally – there will be a growing demand for capacity. This is set to increase significantly from late 2019, and service providers will need to refine or transform their architecture to support 5G. Much of the data that will move through 5G networks will exist in the cloud, underlining the vital role that data centres must play.
Focusing on the future of data centres
Creating the right infrastructure for data centres requires a blend of skills. For example, Schneider Electric is a data centre expert with knowledge of cloud computing solutions from hyperscale down to edge micro data centres. The company’s cloud-based EcoStruxure IT solution platform provides an IoT-enabled, open, and interoperable environment that is particularly suited to the hybrid approach required for 5G.
EcoStruxure has three layers: connected products, edge control, and apps/analytics/services. These layers connect with each other through the flow of data over IT networks and offer the highest levels of control and analysis. EcoStruxure IT is fundamentally about optimizing performance and maximizing the value of data in order to make data centres more reliable, efficient, cost effective and easier to manage. It provides global visibility and intelligence across a multitude of deployment sites, from on-premises and cloud, to colocation and edge applications. It is also easy to deploy and configurable to individual needs.
A success story
Telefónica’s Alcalá, one of the world’s biggest data processing centres, illustrates how Schneider Electric is delivering secure cloud services through EcoStruxure. To meet increased demand, Telefónica constructed a new data centre near Madrid. The goal was to increase capacity, create a flexible and scalable system, and improve cost-effectiveness by consolidating several smaller data centres under one roof.
EcoStruxure provided the required efficiency and reliability. Three distinct layers enabled remote monitoring, reliable building lighting, and uninterrupted power. Telefónica can now monitor the status of every component in real time, and the data centre has achieved a 60 percent reduction in energy costs. In addition, new servers can be connected in running mode, so there is no need to stop and reconfigure or redesign systems.
IoT EcoStruxure at Telefonica video:
Facilitating the fifth generation
There is no doubt that we are on the threshold of 5G, and that it will have a huge impact on everything with a wireless connection. It will power the internet of things and create real-time interactions where people control robot technologies and machines talk to machines. From gaming and self-driving cars, to surgical procedures and factory assembly lines, few aspects of both our personal lives and the business world will remain the same – and it is data centres that will make 5G a reality.
Learn more about the drivers and benefits of edge computing with this free whitepaper.