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How edge data centres are essential to the future of 5G and the IoT

8 June 2020

Have you thought about how the rollout of 5G will affect your business? 5G will change the way everyone is handling data transfer, as well as where they store their data, which is why it’s contributing to the rise in edge data centres.

[Read: Edge data centre vs inner-city (London) data centre – which is best?]

Edge data centres, 5G, and the Internet of Things

All the talk is of the incredible bandwidth and speed of 5G and how it will enable as-yet-unheard-of smart devices to improve our lives (or take over the world). One thing that doesn’t get a lot of airtime is the massive data burden of 5G, since you can’t increase the amount of data being transferred without increasing the amount of data being stored. This is one of the key reasons for the growth of edge data centres.

What is an edge data centre?

Before we get stuck into this fairly meaty topic, let’s have a quick recap on some technical terms:

Edge data centres – decentralised, smaller data centres, which offer different benefits from urban tech hubs, but with the potential for better proximity, lower costs and a more personalised service. Learn more.

5G – The latest generation of cellular service. 5G provides increased bandwidth and faster connection speeds and is expected to eventually take over from fixed line internet. But we will need tens of thousands of antennae and many miles of fibre to make 5G accessible to all.

IoT – the Internet of Things is the term given to the ability of smart devices to transfer data over a network without human interaction.

Why is a 5G future important?

5G promises high-bandwidth mobile broadband of 100 Mbps or more, with super low latency. For instance, while a 4G phone may take around 50 milliseconds to exchange information with the cloud, a 5G device could do it in under 1 millisecond. That’s fast enough that it would feel instantaneous.

You might well be able to think of several ways your business could take advantage of super-fast internet, and this kind of speed will enable a number of innovations that were previously held back by the slower speed and higher latency of 4G. Smart devices, which use machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, will now be able to act in real time – paving the way for things like autonomous cars. But it also makes less world-changing but nonetheless innovative devices a simpler – and perhaps more widely expected – undertaking.

A few years ago, for example, Amazon launched ‘Dash’ buttons, small physical devices enabling customers to reorder certain items without having to actually go to the website and place an order. This was an early foray into the connected home, since replaced by the likes of the Amazon Echo. But in the age of 5G and the IoT, these simple tools will be commonplace and won’t even require customers to press a button. We’ll all have smart fridges* and no one will forget what’s on their shopping list ever again (as long as it’s shopping that’s kept in the fridge).

*Interestingly, Amazon abandoned their buttons last year because no one really used them. Also, the first smart fridge was made in 2000 and sold for about $20 000 – again, no one wanted one. Perhaps two ideas that came ahead of their time? Or just didn’t quite fit the bill.

But from a data centre standpoint, it begs the question: who looks after the shopping list?

The role of edge data centres in enabling 5G success

That shopping list is data, which means it will be stored in a data centre – along with all the other data coming from similar interactions from the millions of internet-connected devices in our homes, workplaces and towns.

Everything 5G makes possible it does so thanks to super-fast internet speeds, so other provision needs to be in place to make sure nothing else is slowing down the data transfer of smart devices. This is what makes edge data centres so important. Sometimes called micro data centres because they tend to be smaller than the big city tech hubs, they benefit from being closer to the user, guaranteeing low latency and near real-time responses.

The number of edge data centres is expected to grow to facilitate 5G’s data transfer speeds, but also because more data will be generated by these smart devices and it needs to be stored somewhere. Since inner-city space is expensive to acquire, it makes sense for new data centres to be built in less urban areas.

Edge data centres might also be used in a ‘little and often’ capacity, rather than gathering all the data in one further away server farm. In some instances, they will be filtering data before organisations determine what needs to be stored (and moved to a centralised hub) and what can be discarded.

Providing these two functions – ultra-low latency transmissions and data filtering – will be essential for many industry and service-based applications to work as expected. Without a plan in place for the data, none of the rest of it will work.

The 5G-enabled edge

Autonomous cars still sound incredibly futuristic to me, but the foundations are being laid now to bring the future to fruition. While some people are still struggling with their current business internet, 5G is already here for some people. Time will tell what other developments come our way – and how well people have prepared to scale their infrastructure in line with their ambition. But one thing is for certain, the edge data centre is going to be a key part of enabling all these developments to take place. We’re excited to be a part of it!

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