There is no denying that the world economy is currently in flux, with some industries such as travel, retail and hospitality facing significant pressure from social distancing measures. At the same time, other industries such as telecommunications and cloud/IT services are experiencing accelerated demand to support the growing volume of virtual interactions, remote work, telemedicine and more.
The mobile industry, while not 100 per cent immune to shifts in the global economy, is key enabler for interactions like these. As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic is not expected to have a material impact on the 5G rollout, and, in fact, GSMA projects that 5G will be worth $2.2 trillion to the global economy by 2034.
According to Michael Winterson, Managing Director – Equinix there are five reasons why 5G is moving full-speed ahead.
1 – Not built for humans
Firstly it is not primarily for humans. “While consumers will certainly benefit from 5G, it is actually the first generation of mobile/wireless communications built to handle advanced enterprise use cases and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication,” he says. “Consumer applications can tolerate well above 20 millisecond (ms) latency but most M2M applications, such as the internet of things (IoT) and machine learning (ML), require sub 20ms latency.
“5G is expected to far surpass 4G networks in handling latency sensitive M2M and business use cases like these with higher downlink speeds (up to 20 gigabits per second), lower latency (as low as 1 millisecond) and higher capacity (as many as 1 million concurrent connections per square kilometre). 5G will further accelerate advances in artificial intelligence (AI), self-driving cars, the industrial IoT, smart cities, as well as revolutionise multiple industries including aerospace, manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and more.
2 – At an edge far, far away
Next up us the edge, or more accurately the far edge. Applications and content at the far edge are growing. “Content and digital media companies such as Netflix, Hulu, Comcast, YouTube and more must ensure optimal performance at both ends of the far edge – where content is produced, distributed and consumed,” Winterson continues. “On the production side, a film studio may shoot straight to digital or need to do some CGI work, both of which are latency sensitive tasks with large files. Latency also matters on the other side where end users are streaming their TV shows and movies, many of which are being watched on mobile phones.
“Other applications are becoming increasingly dynamic, complex and distributed, with more data sources and technology providers across multiple clouds powering them. High expectations from mobile users for real-time responsiveness from latency sensitive apps, such as augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), require more bandwidth, storage, and faster data processing capabilities at the edge, closer to sources of data creation and consumption.”
3 – Deployment is underway
The fact that mobile operators and network service providers (NSPs) are already deploying 5G is the third reason that 5G is gaining momentum. “Even if the business case for 5G was less compelling, NSPs are investing in new 5G infrastructure to replace aging mobile/wireless infrastructure (Ookla provides an interactive map of current 5G rollouts across the world),” Winterson adds. “Many of their current cell towers are at end of life (ten plus years old) and replacing and upgrading them is business as usual.”
4 – Living in a virtual world
Virtualisation is another trend that is speeding the adoption of 5G and making it even easier. “Today’s businesses are continuing to shift more workloads from traditional physical resources to virtual environments,” Winterson explains. “Virtualisation technology improves infrastructure agility and lowers costs and it is not just for applications or storage. Networks are also increasingly being virtualised through software-defined networks (SDN), network functions virtualisation (NFV) and virtual network functions (VNF).
“The 5G rollout is expected to follow suit as virtualised 5G infrastructures get deployed adjacent to interconnection points in major metros to support emerging use cases at the edge, such as the IoT, AR/VR, AI and ML. As an example, AT&T aims to have 75 per cent of its network virtualised by the end of the year and plans to use virtualisation to move toward the network edge and work with cloud providers according to a recent AvidThink report.
5 – Moving to the cloud
The final driver is provided by cloud service providers (CSPs) who are investing nearer to the far edge. “Historically CSPs have operated at the Regional Hybrid Core level, interconnecting with partners there, but this is not adequate coverage for latency sensitive business cases,” Winterson says. “For example, if a CSP had a cloud availability zone in London, a business based in other areas in Europe may be able to access that cloud with 10-20 ms of latency, but that is not fast enough for many applications.
“To address these needs, CSPs are partnering with telcos to deploy more localised Edge compute capacity around the world. For instance, Amazon has partnered with Verizon and other telcos to deploy AWS WaveLength and Google has partnered with AT&T to deploy Google Mobile Edge Cloud.
“In addition to partnering with AT&T to deploy Azure Edge Zones, Microsoft has also recently acquired two telecommunications companies. These types of partnerships are proliferating around the globe as CSPs work with NSPs to cover the Edge.”
Interconnection at the Edge is essential
Interconnection at the Edge has always been essential for businesses and partners to collaborate and exchange data with each other, and 5G is no different. If one car manufacturer uses AWS WaveLength with Verizon and another one uses Google Mobile Edge Cloud with AT&T to connect their car, they will not be able to talk to each other for a vehicle to vehicle network without interconnection. “Vendor-neutral interconnection solutions such as those on Platform Equinix are critical to the success of initiatives like these,” Winterson concludes. “Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric (ECX Fabric) on Platform Equinix connects dense ecosystems of clouds, networks and businesses over high-speed, low-latency, virtualized connections around the globe.”