The current edge computing environment is  “wide open” for new innovation that will grow even further with the onset of 5G, says Rob High, vice president and CTO for the IBM Edge Computing portfolio.

In an interview late last month with organizers of the virtual Edge Global Week Conference, he said the combination of the two technologies create interesting developments and enhances edge computing initiatives in a number of vertical industries.

An example of that, he said, is on the factory floor.

“If you have got work that you are trying to do at the edge on the factory floor, and you have got to connect to the devices that supply you with the sensor data that you need to be able to make those inferences, the cost of wiring all that equipment can be quite prohibitive.

“Other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi sometimes interferes with the operations of that equipment. 5G actually helps us in a big way because of the spectrum that it uses and its ability to connect these devices to fulfill the use cases that we are interested in.

“Also, 5G in a very meaningful way depends on edge computing because we think about the promises of 5G for lower latency or increasing bandwidth, well, those are laws of physics problems.

“You really can't lower latency without moving the distance between where the data is being created and where it's being processed to a shorter distance or by leapfrogging over the bottlenecks that may exist within the core packet network that prevents us from getting great bandwidth all the way back out to the cloud or to the IP data centre.”

In 2019, High described edge computing as a technology that places “work close to where data is being created and where actions are being taken. In other words, AI and analytics with lower latency, more efficient use of network bandwidth, better user experiences, higher protection of personal information, and enabling the continuity of business even in the presence of network outages.

“All this enables businesses to innovate, lower operating costs and improve employee and customer engagement.”

He went on to say that there are a few problems that need to be solved to gain the benefits of edge computing.

“We estimate there are 15 billion edge devices currently in market – that will grow to 55 billion by 2022. Experts estimate that number will further grow to 150 billion devices by 2025.

“5G will help fuel this growth, and Moore’s law of low-end chips is enabling it. Most importantly, we don’t know where the saturation point is for edge computing.”

In a recent interview that appears on the IBM web site he reiterated about the importance of 5G to the entire edge environment.

“It is creating a platform on which people can go and explore new ideas,” said High.

Further to that, in his most recent interview late last month, he likened the combination of 5G and edge computing to the launch of the Apple iPhone.

“The opportunity to innovate the opportunity to go explore, the opportunity to introduce new ideas that bring new value. I mean, it is pretty much like what we saw 13 years ago when Apple came out with the smart phone. I don't think we knew then all the innovation that would occur as a result of that platform being introduced.”

According to IBM, “we live in an era defined by speed and change. All the new technology created to make life easier, safer, and healthier requires permanent availability and incredible data transfer speeds to deliver real-time results.

“5G at its peak potential could be instrumental for developing revolutionary applications unlike anything that exists today outside a wired environment.

“These applications are varied, but there is predicted growth in fields like autonomous driving, virtual reality, and augmented reality. Beyond speed and latency, 5G standards will have a much higher connection density, allowing networks to handle immense numbers of connected devices.”

Regardless of the edge application being unlocked, and accelerated by 5G, at the end of the day, High said is that “customers want to be able to get a return on their investment, to accelerate their business, to increase their revenue, or to decrease their costs and therefore improve their margins.”

Further coverage of the conference will appear soon.

Paul Barker