Verizon engineers have “successfully” tested edge computing – putting compute power closer to the user at a network’s edge – on a live 5G network, “cutting latency in half.” Low latency – the time it takes for information to make a round-trip – is important for applications like online gaming and video streaming.
In a newly formed 5G test bed in Houston, Verizon engineers installed Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) equipment and MEC platform software into a network facility closer to the network edge, thus decreasing the distance that information needs to travel between a wireless device and the compute infrastructure with which that device’s apps are interacting.
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Edge Computing Test Setup
In this test, the Verizon engineers used an Automated Intelligence (AI) enabled facial recognition application to identify people. Using MEC equipment located in the network facility, the application was able to analyze information right at the edge of the network where the application was being used (instead of traversing multiple hops to the nearest centralized data center). As a result, the engineers were able to “successfully identify the individual twice as fast as when they duplicated the experiment using the centralized data center.”
“For applications requiring low latency, sending huge quantities of data to and from the centralized cloud is no longer practical,” said Adam Koeppe, Verizon’s Senior Vice President for Network Planning. “Data processing and management will need to take place much closer to the user. MEC moves application processing, storage, and management to the Radio Access Network’s edge to deliver the desired low latency experiences, thereby enabling new disruptive technologies. This shift in where the application processing occurs, the inherent capabilities of 5G to move data more efficiently, and our use of millimeter wave spectrum is a game-changer when it comes to the edge computing capabilities we can provide.”
Why latency is important for next generation networks
As 5G rolls out, we will see a rise in wireless applications that are heavily dependent on low latency, stated Verizon. Consider, for example, vivid, immersive Virtual Reality (VR). This would require accurate syncing of video playback with the physical movements of the user. Any lag, even small, can lead to imperceptible differences between what a user sees and experiences, which is why some people get dizziness or nausea when using VR. If information for the headset is travelling over a network, you need super low latency to ensure there is no lag.
In a future where innovations like self-driving cars and remote-controlled robotics are envisioned, having near-zero latency would be even more critical. Hosting events at venues, industrial automation, retail, gaming, and video analytics with AI might all benefit from MEC technology.
Cloud Computing, Centralized Data Centers
As cloud computing has taken hold, there has been a trend to use large, centralized data centers where massive amounts of computing and storage take place. In the era of 4G, this approach enabled app development and innovations that significantly altered the way we use mobile devices.
However, this approach has some drawbacks in how data flows. When someone wants to stream video, for example, their commands may have to travel several states or provinces away to access the needed storage or computing requested, and then data travels that same distance back. The distance is not really noticeable most of the time, adding up to mere milliseconds, but in a future where near zero latency is needed every millisecond would matter.
“To achieve near-zero latency, where data moves many times faster than the blink of an eye, having computing functions closer to the user is a vital step,” said Mr. Koeppe. “With this test, we have shown how much of an impact the move towards a MEC-based network architecture can make.”
Lower latency would be one of the numerous benefits to come from introducing MEC at the edge of the network, but it is not the only benefit, stated Verizon. An increase in reliability, energy efficiency, peak data rates, and the ability to process more data through more connected devices are also benefits of introducing MEC technology.