Technology commentators are predicting that 2020 is going to see an acceleration of new tech entering the market including 5G wireless connectivity, blockchain technology (beyond cryptocurrency) and AI/ML. While each of these technologies has its own applications, what’s more, interesting is how they can work together, especially with IoT already moving out of the hype cycle and entering a phase of rapid growth. Here is IoT in 2020 and how it’s all coming together.
How are the new technologies going to impact on the IoT? We may not have a crystal clear picture yet but we are in a position where we can start making some confident sketches.
From acquisition to analytics: the role of the IoT platform.
One of the issues that have undoubtedly held back the evolution of the IoT has been the siloed development of its component parts. With different vendors working on sensor devices, operating systems, and analytics processing, it has been like trying to make a recognizable picture by fitting together several different jigsaw puzzles.
The puzzle is now changing due to the foresight of companies that are developing full-stack IoT platforms. These platforms can integrate with multiple different vendors, perform data analysis and then output to the cloud or wherever backend processes are to be applied. The technology is bringing into reality the edge computing concept that will be vital for self-driving cars and smart surveillance systems which need to perform real-time data processing near to the source.
With WiFi 6 and 5G technology set to land in 2020, massively improving connectivity, another piece of the puzzle fits into place. IoT platforms will also drastically reduce time to market as IoT developers won’t be reinventing the wheel every time they have an innovative concept. They can just plug into a platform and start testing and iterating.
Does this mean that IoTaaS is an imminent possibility whereby businesses could run an entire IoT deployment through an IT services provider? After all, as Daniel Newman, writing in Forbes says, there is a clear trend towards an ‘everything-as-a-service’ model. He may be right but with 2020 almost upon us, there are still complex challenges in offering end-to-end ITaaS deployments as managed IT services.
As Karen Ravindranath, Director of Zoho’s WebNMS division said in a recent interview, “IoTaaS adoption is still slow due to the inherent challenges in connecting the hitherto unconnected and the diverse set of devices and varied requirements.”
Having said that, Ravindranath also revealed that ITaaS would be possible in some verticals where the entire supply chain was managed by an OEM, for example in the automotive industry.
AI, RPA and the Internet of evolving things.
The IoT is exciting enough given its ability to collect and analyze vast amounts of data from a network of integrated sensors but it is what the systems are going to start doing with that data that makes things even more fascinating. After all, an IoT that can only tell you where something is and what state it’s in is not very useful unless it can do something about it.
I am talking, of course, about AI and ML, technologies which are also now maturing as we hit the almost prophetic 2020. We have recently seen how AI can learn how to use sophisticated strategies to win a game of hiding and seek. Just think what it could do when given access to the various sources of disparate data collected from, say, a smart city. The potential is not just that AI will implement the solutions we would choose had we the ability to process big data. It is that AI could come up with solutions humans would never have thought of in the first place.
And the evolving, AI-powered IoS is not just limited to cyber-cerebral processing. In certain areas, robotic process automation could be used to automatically run digital and even physical processes without human intervention. After decades of following pre-coded instructions in the assembly rooms of car manufacturers, RPA is set to get a reboot as the executive arm of a rapidly evolving AI.
To take the analogy of a human body, if the IoT is the eyes and ears and AI is the mind, then RPA is the arms and legs. Only this human wouldn’t need to sleep, could make calculations and decisions at lightning speed and act with tireless efficiency. The sum is a lot bigger than the parts.
Adding value with AR and VR.
So we’ve looked at the power of combining the IoT with AI and RPA but where might AR and VR fit into the picture.
Augmented reality and virtual reality are all about creating experiences and adding rich sensory information to computer processes. One example of its application is EDGE, Kroger’s smart shelf product. EDGE uses IoT sensors on the shelves which interact with an app on a shopper’s cell phone. When the shopper scans items on the shelf, they receive an AR overlay of information on their device screen.
The application might include nutritional information, cross-sell suggestions and availability information. The benefit to both customers and marketers is clear to see and with AI entering the picture, consumer apps could hyper-personalized offerings based on past patterns of shopping behavior.
With its ability to link and exchange information between sensors.
You could have a situation where your printer runs out of ink and sends an alert to your app. The app in turn interfaces with in-store IoT sensors and informs you that there is ink in stock and directs you, via an AR overlay, to the relevant shelf. Another IoT and AR use case is with HUDs in cars. Cameras and sensors mounted to the vehicle pick up and analyze data from the surroundings; these are then processed to generate driver info which can be projected on to a transparent HUD overlaying the windshield.
As the concept of the smart city becomes a reality, this information is likely to be supplemented by data from the external environment. In a hypothetical scenario, gas station billboards could alert drivers to make a pit stop when their gas is running low.
The blockchain returns.
Blockchain technology is most strongly connected with cryptocurrencies, in particular, BitCoin, but the technology has long been recognized as having far wider applications. In fact, blockchains could revolutionize how we do business and some commentators claim it will be bigger than the internet itself.
Blockchain’s strength is its ability to store a record of transactions – of any kind – on a decentralized ledger that can be queried at any time. Once an entry has been made, whether that is a payment, an exchange of contracts in a real estate transaction, an insurance contract or something else, it become impossible to alter that information without altering the entire blockchain.
The integration of blockchain technology with the IoT in supply chains could dramatically decrease fraud while at the same time protecting consumer rights. As a distributed technology itself, IoT sensors could be mapped on to the blockchain. Now take a damaged goods claim. By checking the ledger, an investigator could pinpoint precisely what was damaged and at what stage in the process it happened. With everything from payment details and SLAs also recorded on the blockchain, it would take seconds for the relevant checks to be made and the claim either upheld or denied.
In addition, the root cause analysis of any issue would be much simpler leading to an immediate change in process (or supplier) if needed.
IBM has been working on integrating the IoT with AI and blockchain for several years already so these kinds of solutions are probably not too far off being enterprise-ready.
Are you ready for the challenge?
From a purely technological angle, these developments are fascinating but they can also be a source of concern for business owners. How will they be able to adapt to the changes ahead? Will they be able to afford the technologies they need? Can they keep their customers’ private data secure? Will they have to lay off staff because robots are more efficient?
The best advice for businesses, whatever their size, is to remain alert to what is happening in their industry and to be ready to adapt to the inevitable changes. Companies with entrenched legacy hardware should seriously consider migrating to the cloud or at least setting up a hybrid network because whatever changes are afoot are likely to be partly or wholly resident in the cloud.
As preparation for that, a full data audit will be necessary so that all data into, through and out of the company is tracked.
Rather than thinking about laying off staff, a better strategy might be to train IT engineers in these emergent technologies and in cutting edge processes such as agile development and DevOps.
The worst thing a business owner can do is to assume that the changes won’t have anything to do with them and go back to business as usual because, as CEO of Los Angeles IT consulting firm DCG Inc. Brent Whitfield put it in a recent blog article, ‘The buzz around what has been dubbed the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is not merely hype.’”
Brent is the CEO of DCG Technical Solutions Inc. DCG provides the specialist advice and IT Consulting Los Angeles area businesses need to remain competitive and productive, while being sensitive to limited IT budgets.
Brent has been featured in Fast Company, CNBC, Network Computing, Reuters, and Yahoo Business. He also leads SMBTN – Los Angeles, a MSP peer group that focuses on continuing education for MSP’s and IT professionals. DCG was recognized among the Top 10 Fastest Growing MSPs in North America by MSP mentor.
As technological innovation gains momentum, digital skills gaps may widen. Eventually, if not addressed, digital skills gaps could stunt growth and slow innovation. Intel recently released a study that delves into manufacturing, Industry 4.0, and hurdles to future-proofing a business, including skills gaps or skills shortages.
Skills that are critical today may be different than those that are critical in the future. For instance, basic programming and software engineering, communication skills, traditional IT skills, and the ability to innovate (brainstorm, etc.) are valuable today, but, according to Intel, future critical skills will be more along the lines of deep programming and software engineering, digital dexterity, data science, connectivity, and cybersecurity.
Intel’s “Accelerate Industrial” study included interviews with more than 400 manufacturers and ecosystem technologists that support them. The research uncovered a skills gap that Intel says too many training programs and government investment initiatives are currently failing to address. In 2018, Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute released a report on the skills gap and the future of work. The research report predicted the skills gap in manufacturing would lead to 2.4 million unfilled positions between 2018 and 2028. It’s not just open jobs either; it’s a lack of skilled workers to step into those roles that make the situation even more difficult for industrial companies.
The Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute report projected the problem will get worse in the next several years, as many participating companies said they expect it to be three times as difficult to fill highly skilled positions at their companies in the next three years. Such roles include digital talent, skilled production, and operational managers. Economically, the study suggests by 2028, the talent shortage/skills gap in manufacturing could put more than $450 billion at risk if qualified workers don’ step up to fill these jobs.
While the IIoT (industrial Internet of Things) is becoming more accessible than ever before, the Accelerate Industrial study says two of three companies piloting digital manufacturing solutions fail to move into large-scale rollout. One in every three respondents (36%) cites “technical skill gaps” that prevent them from benefiting from their investment as a top challenge. A quarter of respondents (27%) cite “data sensitivity” from increasing concerns over data and IP privacy, ownership, and management as a challenge, while 23% say a lack of interoperability between protocols, components, products, and systems is an issue. Another 22% cite security threats as a top challenge, and 18% say scalability in terms of handling data growth and making sense of this data is a hurdle.
To bridge the technical skills gap that represents the top-rated perceived hurdle in the next several years, Intel suggests companies create programs that support life-long learning among the existing workforce, offer instruction in digital tools and skills that combine lecture and hands-on opportunities to practice, emphasize problem assessment and solving before solution implementation to prompt discussion and learning, and balance hiring external experts and internal staffing to grow the company’s digital dexterity. These suggestions are solid and could go a long way in helping manufacturers and other industrial companies address the pressing skills gap—a challenge most predict will get worse before it gets better.
As digital transformation has taken over the world, we interact with more and more intelligent gadgets. Today, our smartphones are always with us; at the end of the day, we get in our smart vehicle and drive to our smart home. And all this to simplify our daily activities and make life more convenient. But have you ever wondered how far could this go?
Automation of routine tasks is currently a concept that interests many industries. Among the most revolutionary parts of it are autonomous vehicles. There are visions of the future of city infrastructure. The main ideas they all share are self-driving cars and shared mobility. Those are set to revolutionize the ways we navigate through cities.
Such concepts will make our whole cities smart, by fundamentally changing their infrastructure so that it’s adapted to autonomous vehicles. This will provide us with much safer roads. According to the USA National Highway Traffic Administration, 94 percent of serious car crashes are due to human error.
Autonomous driving wouldn’t need people’s decisions, which could often be dangerous and irrational to take you from point A to point B. This means a significant decrease in accidents and thousands of saved lives.
The tremendous technological progress now gives us the possibility to have a closer look at all the advantages we could have in our cities of the future, together with autonomous driving and the new smart infrastructure.
It’s expected that thanks to the advanced 5G network, combined with the Internet of Things, the global market revenue of autonomous vehicles will hit $556.67 billion by 2026. All those emerging technologies working together will change the traditional look of our cities, and they’ll become smart as well.
However, we’re still years away from fully autonomous cars hitting the mass market. So what’s the key to adopting this revolutionary technology, and how do we need to change our cities to make that possible?
The Autonomous Vehicle Infrastructure
We wouldn’t be able to go fully autonomous without the right infrastructure. We can’t just switch to self-driving cars. The shift will also require enhanced manufacturing processes and new kinds of supply chains. Most importantly, the infrastructure must be prepared for it. Once all that’s ready, we’ll start seeing autonomous cars on urban streets.
We’re getting closer to the time when mobility freedom will finally be available to everyone. To measure that, KPMG has made an Automotive Vehicle Readiness Index, which shows how prepared different countries are for autonomous driving. According to their research, the country that’s most prepared for the new infrastructure is the Netherlands. It could serve as a model for other countries to follow to accelerate the global adoption of the technology.
Right behind, in 2nd and 3rd places, are Singapore and the United States. However, none of those countries has a total score of over 30, which means that even the most prepared countries at the moment still have a long way to go.
A Challenging Project
The automotive industry is rapidly evolving, which makes the need for the new smart autonomous vehicle infrastructure more necessary than ever. Authorities have to consider updates to it and work with developers to make the new wave of urban transformation successful.
What the Netherlands has, more than the others, are harmonized regulations, standards and excellent roads that will easily undergo renovation. To be ready for self-driving cars, this country would still need some improvements, such as advanced on-road telematics, smart curbs, and lanes.
Here are changes to be made so that the new smart city infrastructure will be suitable for autonomous vehicles:
Poor road markings are challenging even for the already existing connected vehicles. It’s something that has to be worked on for the effective adoption of AVs. The road markings should not only be reflective but machine-readable.
To be prepared for the driverless future, roadside sensors should be included on sidewalks, curbs and lanes. They will allow vehicles to keep track of their surroundings and foresee potentially dangerous situations.
Current autonomous vehicles use image recognition for reading road signs. However, a much more reliable approach would be machine-readable signs. They will include an embedded code that could be transmitted. They’ll send messages detectable by computers.
Changing the Way Cities Look
Cities of the future will be transformed into actual digital hubs. We know technology today is mostly human-centered, which means that cities will become better places to live. The adoption of connected autonomous vehicles will increase road capacity and reduce congestion, even in the most densely populated areas.
It’s expected that the driverless future will fundamentally change the look of cities’ infrastructure. For instance, traffic lights might no longer be needed, as they were originally designed for humans. Instead, machines could determine driving priority themselves and actually be more efficient. Autonomous cars are also connected and they could form fleets that travel in the same direction and share all the information on their surroundings.
Smart roads that include the right signage, sensors and lining will be extremely useful for vehicles, making passengers experience safer than ever.
Following our previous example of the Netherlands as the most AV-ready country in the world, we can see that the changes that they’ve made to their infrastructure already result in safety, as the number of road deaths decreases every year.
No More Parking Facilities
Looking for a parking spot can be quite stressful. Fortunately, with the revolution of autonomous vehicles, cities won’t need any type of parking anymore. Garages will move outside of downtown areas, thanks to the predicted trend of shared mobility.
Furthermore, self-driving cars are able to use narrower driving lanes and maneuver better than existing cars, so parking spaces will be optimized to accommodate more cars. All the space that is currently used for parking could find new uses in smart cities.
Connectivity Is Key
From a single traffic cone to the overall autonomous driving infrastructure – it’s all about connectivity. Have you noticed that no one mentions fuel when talking about autonomous vehicles? Well, that’s because gasoline wouldn’t matter as much as connectivity would.
Autonomous vehicles will bring tons of sensors and IoT devices to modern cities. The advanced 5G network will allow them to constantly receive and transmit huge amounts of data. Moreover, the steering wheel will be replaced by whatever the driver desires, which will produce more load on the network.
5G wireless technology would require extensive infrastructure. New fiber-optic cables will have to be placed throughout this new autonomous vehicle infrastructure. This will be helpful for future infrastructure changes for self-driving cars. The promise of this next-generation network to bring safer driverless cars could lead to a revolutionary development of smart cities.
A New Life for Cities
Automotive vehicles won’t just change the way we travel, they will generally change the look of current infrastructure, not only in cities but on highways as well. The AV revolution might bring us to a future of smooth and predictable traffic and more efficient public transportation.
City residents will have more free space to make use of. Moreover, there will be fewer risks for pedestrians and bicyclists as they have many concerns about urban areas. All of the benefits that autonomous vehicles together with smart cities could bring will improve millions of people’s quality of life while taking next-level care for the environment.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the way the construction industry does business, allowing companies to become faster, smarter, safer, and more efficient.
New Construction Technology
The industry has entered a new phase of digitalization through IoT and other enabling technologies. IoT devices are no longer just primary sensors, but they are evolving into advanced computers, which are capable of new and demanding applications in construction projects such as remote operation, supply replenishment, construction tools, equipment tracking, equipment servicing, repair, remote usage monitoring, augmented reality (AR), building information modelling (BIM), predictive maintenance, progress monitoring, construction safety, and quality monitoring. Clearly, there’s a growing need for bandwidth. Given that the adoption of IoT in the industry is projected to keep on rising, the future success of deployments will rely on innovations in connectivity, like 5G.
Early adopters in the industry are already using IoT solutions, albeit in a fragmented approach. There’s no developed ecosystem for all-round integrated business decision support, mainly due to a lack of fast, reliable and robust connectivity options that can handle communication from distributed locations. Usually, construction sites are in remote areas, and their headquarters are located in cities. Constant communication is required between the various stakeholders within the site, and from the site office to home-office and as well as offices of other partners involved in the projects. Currently, it’s challenging to find a network that’s cost-efficient, feature-rich, and capable of multiservice.
One of the biggest innovations within 5G is support for IoT use in construction in all its forms: providing high-speed data access, addressing mission criticality, and making it possible to connect constrained devices. In construction, project delivery depends on efficient data collection, capture and analysis/evaluation – all of which require reliable connectivity. 5G offers the possibility of real-time data processing, so decisions can be made almost instantly and issues rectified quickly.
The most popular key differentiator of 5G is bandwidth, i.e., data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps. However, according to Ericsson, there are about three different ways to think about IoT in a 5G-enabled world.
Broadband IoT: Enables high volume and high-speed data transfer.
Critical IoT: For mission-critical applications that rely on large bandwidths.
Massive IoT: To connect a large number of devices.
Massive connectivity targets low complexity narrow-bandwidth devices that infrequently send or receive small volumes of data, like concrete maturity monitoring sensors, GPS and RFID tags. The devices can be in challenging radio conditions, like enclosures, and therefore require coverage extension capabilities and usually battery power. Additionally, the number of “things” involved in an IoT network is large, so it’s much different from a computer network, as the number of nodes increases the complexity of the network.
Broadband connectivity enables large volumes of data transfer, extreme data rates and low latencies for devices with significantly larger bandwidths than massive IoT devices. Broadband IoT connectivity is also capable of enhancing signal coverage per base station and extending device battery life if requirements on data rate and latency are not stringent. Broadband IoT is vital for the majority of the mobile equipment use cases that require high data rates and low latency, such as construction equipment telematics, fleet management, sensor sharing, and basic safety.
Mission-critical connectivity enables super-low latency communication. It aims to deliver messages with strictly bounded low latencies, even in heavily loaded cellular networks. In IoT ecosystems, the sensors, actuators and other gadgets are dependent on the responsiveness of the system or network to work effectively. This validates that high latency means delayed responsiveness, and with that comes the inability of things to function to their full capacity. Some IoT systems are designed to respond in case of emergencies, and delayed responsiveness can result in loss of life or property, for example, in the case of autonomous vehicles.
Possible 5G Use Cases in Construction
Real-time automation: Real-time automation is one of the most popular segments of construction applications. It consists of autonomous applications like robotic masons, welders, and cranes that leverage data from sensors in real time to trigger specific actions. It’s often used in mission-critical applications, where latency, availability, reliability, and security are of key importance.
Given that construction sites are complex and constantly evolving environments, teams can rely on 5G to understand activities on worksites in real time and to perform remote or autonomous construction operations. Combined with high communication speeds, this will give those working in construction almost instantaneous access to data-intensive edge and cloud applications, enabling multiple users to interact with each other in real time, and remotely.
While reliability and trust are key considerations in all IoT applications, they’re of utmost importance in mission-critical applications such as the predictability of data delivery to robots.
Monitoring, tracking, and surveillance: Self-driving vehicles are gaining prominence at construction sites, combined with data collected and fused from a vast array of sensors, including concrete maturity, structural health, waste management, location, weather, GPS and IP cameras. With the advent of 5G, this information will become indispensable as companies and cities overlay other technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, onto real-time data outputs and revolutionize how to work safely and efficiently.
5G will be crucial in monitoring the health, location, status, and specifications of assets of all kinds, including the following:
Site machinery to ensure operational ability, availability, remote or autonomous construction operations.
Site components to ensure coordination with the project, enabling real-time reaction to changes and updates.
Improved safety. With 5G, sensors can more effectively be deployed to improve safety by tracking individuals’ safety compliance through smart vests, helmets, and shoes.
Supply chain optimization: The construction job site has a lot of repetitive activities, and hunting for materials is a constant challenge. Autonomous vehicles, RFIDs, computer vision, BLE (Bluetooth low energy), or other digital tools can be used to help address such issues. If materials can arrive on demand, it will greatly improve productivity.
Real-time information on the order status of materials or various components manufactured offsite is important to ensure a project is running on time. This will benefit project managers, principal construction contractors, and tradespeople.
Multi-trade prefabrication, including utilization of cyber-physical assistance systems, advanced building information modeling (BIM) and design-to-fabrication technologies has a direct impact on improving quality and reducing time spent at the worksite. This requires real-time collaboration, and 5G’s broadband IoT is a possible solution.
Enhanced video services: In terms of video capture, 5G will also help organizations inexpensively deploy technology to quickly capture, organize and analyze massive volumes of video information. This reduces the need for some teams to even visit the construction site. Further, this kind of real-time, rich, visual information can provide reassurance to the owner as well as an on-demand transparent view of the project at any particular moment in time.
Drones are already being employed to take 4K video footage, and 5G will enable real-time video sharing and analytics. Construction status and reporting can now rely on the use of computer visualization to understand the work and automatically update progress on the project. Computers can take care of 80 percent of field engineers’ repetitive work. This would free the knowledge workers to resolve problems as opposed to physically verifying work status.
Another example is the ability to deploy subject matter experts directly to the workplace through augmented and mixed reality, regardless of physical location. With a BIM model and 5G capability, it’s possible to have it instantly available and enable rich video content to provide an even greater level of visualization on the job site or about the site.
Hazard and maintenance sensing: Visual data can help us identify hazards instantly and proactively intervene to reduce accidents and injuries. Videos rather than static images can help streamline inspections, punch lists, audits, safety audits, as-builts, and even compliance. 5G enables visual data. Images make us reactive. In a proactive scenario, data capture is automated, continues through various sources, and is analyzed in real time. AI and machine learning become your predictive analytical engine that reports potential areas of risk before issues arise.
Fostering collaboration: We’re seeing an increasing number of joint ventures as construction projects become complex. Sharing knowledge is now important, not just internally but with peers. Often, we are trying to solve the same problems with the same set of resources (design, vendors, and trade partners). 5G makes this process much easier.
Caveats Regarding 5G in Construction
Just like any other new construction technology, 5G has to be adopted strategically. There are several caveats that companies need to consider, such as the following:
Standardization: While 5G will help to increase collection, capture, and analysis of data, there are many organizations and projects today that don’t have a strategy around the standardization of project delivery. This can reduce the potential benefits of 5G but also impact the safety, quality, completion time and budget of a project.
Security: Given the massive number of connected devices enabled by 5G, there’s an increased need for rigor around updating and following security standards.
To realize the full potential of 5G, construction businesses need a tailored implementation strategy. As a general approach, the following steps may prove useful:
Clearly define the problems you want to solve and identify value creation drivers.
Make sure you are solving a problem that matters, i.e., one that is supported by a compelling ROI.
Choose a credible partner to help you decide on the ecosystem, channel model, and business model to pursue.
Build internal capabilities to deploy the solution and to secure technical enablers.
Implement the solution and allow its capabilities to evolve. Continuously improve as you experiment and learn until the solution can be deployed to scale.
Although 5G is still in its early days of deployment, fast progress is being made in the development and testing of the technologies, and the standardization process is expected to be completed in 2020 with 3GPP release 16.
When it comes to IoT, 5G’s capabilities open up a seemingly infinite number of new use cases. Data collected at the edge can be understood and acted on in near real time. High bandwidth and low-latency times ensure more data than ever can be quickly and easily collected and analyzed, overlaying increased intelligence into every device at the edge. The integration of 5G and IoT can help AEC organizations to improve productivity, safety, and compliance.
The benefits of MEC (multi-access edge computing) sound promising indeed. But what exactly is MEC, and how can it benefit industries like retail? According to Juniper Networks, the benefits include new services and revenue streams, real-time analytics with lower latency, reduced cloud data storage and transport costs, improved availability of applications and IT assets, the ability to conserve network bandwidth and reduce network congestion, and increased security and compliance.
AT&T Business calls MEC the “short road to ultra-low latency operations.” It moves the computing of traffic and services to the network edge. Because MEC isn’t sending traffic and services up the cloud to process it before sending it back, there’s less latency, which can open doors for more near real-time performance, even for high-bandwidth applications. In manufacturing, such applications include using video to detect errors and defects, even on the smallest scale, immediately. This technology then allows manufacturers to address issues before they turn into large-scale problems. For more on MEC in manufacturing and the connection between 5G and MEC, read Multi-access Edge Computing Essential to 5G.
Multi-access edge computing use cases also frequently include applications that require location tracking and AR (augmented reality) in industries like retail. One common painpoint for retailers is their reliance on Wi-Fi infrastructure, which can become overloaded when supporting POS (point-of-sale) devices, smart printers, digital signage, employee handheld devices for in-store use, and more. As Intel points out in its The Business Case for MEC in Retail: A TCO Analysis and its Implications in the 5G Era, the result is sluggish customer service during heavy traffic times, which tend to correlate with times of peak foot traffic. In other words, the times retailers need good service the most they often don’t have it.
What’s more, if retailers can barely handle the demand on their networks now, they’re probably not as keen to look forward at what applications they can bring in to improve the customer experience through connectivity. For instance, AR solutions that show customers how a product can be used, what reviews there are on a particular item, or even what other products would complement an item they’re considering can all engage customers in the brick-and-mortar sales experience. A MEC environment in retail could preserve existing wiring for a store, while offering the benefits of LTE (long-term evolution) coverage and edge computing.
Intel suggests an MEC solution could potentially generate up to a 55.9% cost savings for retailers over the course of three years, while significantly reducing WAN traffic during peak times. By leveraging MEC and edge computing in general, retailers are also putting themselves in a better position to compete with the likes of Amazon and other online retailers. Physical shopping will never live up to the convenience of online shopping, especially for Generation Z, but it offers other benefits. The key is to preserve a unique and fulfilling buying experience in physical stores by leveraging cutting-edge IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. Behind the scenes, retailers will need to be gathering data and, in some cases, processing and analyzing it in near real-time. Operations need to be fluid and efficient, and edge computing can make a huge difference there. From improving store security and surveillance to understanding consumer trends and providing engaging in-store experiences that drive sales and encourage brand loyalty, the low latency associated with edge computing is worth a close look by retailers.
The IoT (Internet of Things) is driving new compute-intensive applications, and networks must be able to keep up. In sectors like manufacturing, 5G is a gateway to new possibilities—faster speeds and lower latencies, the ability to collect more data and leverage it better, and, as it is also a platform for companies’ own innovation, the list can be as long as an innovator’s imagination.
According to Allied Market Research, the market for 5G technology will reach $5.54 billion in 2020, and, from there, it will explode. The research firm predicts a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 122.3% between 2020 and 2026, with the market value projection at almost $668 billion by 2026. Industries like manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and transportation will benefit from the coming of 5G.
AT&T Business says the forthcoming 5G revolution will bring ultra-low latency, enhanced capacity and ultra-high speeds, massive device connectivity, and data-driven insights. In manufacturing in particular, 5G will support intelligent infrastructure, AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), metrology (the technology behind quality-assurance processes) and non-contact metrology, digital twin technology, cost savings, and global integration.
This all sounds great, but organizations may not be ready for 5G. Is there an option to address latency in the meantime even without 5G? Businesses may want to consider MEC (Multi-access Edge Computing). Juniper Networks describes MEC as moving the computing of traffic and services from a centralized cloud to the edge of the network and, therefore, closer to the customer. This can reduce latency and deliver on the promise of near “realtime” performance, especially for high-bandwidth applications. In fact, Research and Markets says in cellular networks, edge computing via MEC is “virtually essential” for 5G, because MEC facilitates optimization of 5G network resources.
Consider a real-life example in manufacturing. Today’s manufacturers want to leverage video technology to detect errors and defects automatically and in near real-time. Latency must be at very low to achieve maximum value from this technology, but standard network architecture often struggles to handle this type of high-resolution video. A MEC solution can help. Video is one of the key drivers of edge computing via MEC, along with location tracking services and AR, which are increasingly being used in a range of verticals. In another use-case scenario, connected vehicles that rely on near real-time situational-awareness types of information and the ability to provide feedback to the driver to help guide decisions and reactions benefits from edge computing and the low latency it delivers.
ETSI, a standards organization, supports a MEC initiative—an ISG (Industry Specification Group) that aims to create a standardized, open environment to enable integration across multiple vendors and MEC platforms. To help fuel this emerging ecosystem, ETSI is calling for players in the value chain to participate in the ISG, to share their best practices, and to demonstrate MEC use cases and proofs of concepts.
Peggy and Stacy Schwartz, vice president, public safety and FirstNet sales, AT&T, discuss the importance of FirstNet, and how it is designed to improve communications across the U.S. public safety community and the milestones it has already achieved. They examine the importance of having a dedicated, highly secure communications platform for first responder traffic, and what’s to come in 2020.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, log onto www.peggysmedleyshow.com, and select 12/19/19 from the archives.
Peggy Smedley: So Stacy, I have to start the show off by congratulating you and the FirstNet team for reaching more than a million connections. Pretty impressive.
Stacy Schwartz: Thank you.
Smedley: There are some people who might not know what FirstNet is, tell us all about that.
Schwartz: Sure. Let’s start with the basics. FirstNet came out of a communications need that was discovered after 9/11. First it is the nation’s only wireless communications platform that’s dedicated to America’s first responders and all of those that support our first responders.
It’s a dedicated network and it is purposely built exclusively for public safety. The genesis of the network and how it came to fruition was really by eliciting what the requirements and the needs were of first responders around the country.
So the network is specifically designed with public safety in mind, what public safety asked for, and it continues to provide new capabilities pretty much every day, which is how we have evolved to get to the milestone you mentioned earlier.
Smedley: When we think about public safety, for most of us, that’s the most important thing. We just want to know that the first responders are always there, right? That there’s something that sends a message and they’re there when we need them, right?
Schwartz: Yes, absolutely. So when you think about our police, fire, emergency medical services, so the ambulances that come to get folks when they’re in distress, as well as our 911 services are our public safety access points, all of the individuals that support those mission critical services that support us and the community, just like you mentioned, would avail themselves of this network. Those are the first responders that FirstNet was really dedicated to.
Smedley: Speed is one of the clear advantages here. Can you talk more about that, why that’s so important?
Schwartz: Yes, so we look at FirstNet at AT&T as a completely different network, right? And it’s not just a very fast or the fastest network. It is a distinct, unique network. It is a separate network. We have a dedicated, I’ll call it a brain, if you will, or a core to that network, which distinguishes it from our other commercial network.
It uses all of the LTE bands that we have access to on AT&T as well as a unique bit of spectrum that the federal government is enabling us to use for FirstNet, called Band 14 and it’s almost like it’s a dedicated highway for first responders.
It’s high quality spectrum that’s specifically for FirstNet. So it would provide public safety for the folks we just mentioned, a dedicated lane, if you will, of connectivity when they need it.
And that Band 14 that I just referenced is being deployed. In fact, it’s in over 675 markets or communities across the country today. Everywhere from rural and tribal communities to some of our nation’s biggest cities.
Smedley: There’s got to be lots of other benefits behind having that Band 14, that highway that you just described.
Schwartz: Right. So I think, just to start at the basics, so it’s the fact that we have this unique highway that’s dedicated for public safety and all of the community that supports it. But the other aspect of it is the fact that it’s always on, right?
So you don’t have to do anything when you’re on FirstNet to activate that capability, which prioritizes your traffic. It’s always on. There’s an identifier in the service that says “It’s Stacy, is a first responder.” I have that capability, unlike other services where you might be asked to actually do something and initiate a code, etc.
I mentioned to you earlier that it is a separate network and it’s dedicated entirely to the first responders. That in and of itself is unique, but there are other aspects, as you mentioned, that are benefits to the first responders.
So by virtue of the fact that we’ve created a unique brain, as I call it, or a core, we’ve created a highly secure environment for that traffic. So all the traffic going and traversing that core is encrypted, which, for our first responders, is something that we feel is absolutely critical. As did that community, they asked for highly secure, more prioritized secure traffic.
First, FirstNet always has a security operation center to support all the users, 24/7, so a dedicated security operation center that is there to support our customers.
Same thing with our customer service. There’s a dedicated group of individuals that understand the mission of first responders, 24/7 as well. And then in addition again, still staying on the theme of always on and always present, we know that there are certain unique instances, whether it’s after a disaster or if critical infrastructure based on a disaster or some unique incident occurs. We know we have to keep that connectivity up.
So part of what we’re doing is, as a part of our FirstNet program, is we have added additional what we’ll call “deployable assets” that allow for connectivity even in remote locations where, whether it’s devastated by fire or hurricane, we have portable cell sites, if you will, that are FirstNet dedicated that we will bring to an area that has been struck by disaster.
These assets are available 24/7. There is a unique system by which we deploy them across the country, making sure that they get to their intended destinations as quickly as possible. And these assets would provide the same capabilities or connectivity as a cell tower. So again, something that’s above and beyond our normal network capabilities, these are dedicated to the FirstNet network.
And then if you go beyond just the basic foundation of network, we have the entire device manufacturing industry that has created devices that are FirstNet ready. Based on the spectrum and the capability of the devices, there are over a hundred devices today that are what we call “FirstNet ready.” Whether It’s a ruggedized device or a wearable device, these are all capable of taking advantage of the unique networking capabilities of FirstNet.
And then if you leap one step above that, the whole point beyond connectivity is creating situational awareness for the community of interest we’ve been discussing. We’ve created unique applications with the oversight of the federal government or the FirstNet authority that reside on the FirstNet platform that will enhance the ability of first responders to do their job both for their own safety and for the community safety.
So, you asked just to sum up what other benefits are there beyond the networking infrastructure and the uniqueness of the network and speed? We believe all of the attributes I just mentioned make this a very unique, discreet platform for our nation’s first responders.
Smedley: And I think when you talk about that and some of these benefits, you’re working with many people. So you have to have routers and lots of things that are working simultaneously, right? All these mobile solutions that you’re describing that being able to get to first responders to be able to do that and it’s not an easy task.
And one of the reasons I say that is because when you have a natural disaster, there’s lots of things happening, so you have to know this thing is up all the time. In an earthquake, things are happening that you have to know that this is up all the time to be able to respond. Correct?
Schwartz: Yes. Yes. So a couple of things I would say to you is, in addition to, and this is something that we are very proud of, the fact that the network prides itself on always being there, always on for first responders and we know things will happen.
You mentioned an earthquake. Whether it’s a fire, an earthquake, a hurricane, floods, it could be a law enforcement incident. We need to make sure that the network is working as it is positioned to be.
The thing that I would tell you about that as well as I mentioned those deployables, those are available for our first responders. But one other thing I did not mention to you is the people that support this network.
These are folks that have come from a career, potentially in this business, supporting public safety, maybe an industry. Quite a few of them have come actually from public safety, so they understand the challenges in responding to an emergency and part of what we do when we deploy these assets is, with the collaboration and participation of the local response teams, we embed some of our staff into the emergency operation centers and these are folks that really understand what the dynamics to your point, lots of stuff is going on.
We want to make sure we have the right people who understand all that and are used to and adaptive to an environment where there is lots of stuff going on and things need to be triaged and safety is first. So beyond just the basic communication capabilities that FirstNet has distinguished itself with, we have people that understand the uniqueness of that situation you just referenced.
Smedley: One of the things I found really interesting that you all recently did and I was looking at the pictures, was the blimp FirstNet, FirstNet One, and I found that so intriguing because we have so many. I don’t know if now we are aware of them because of social media, or it just seems like we just know so much is happening in the world around us when natural disasters occur and where all can see it first up close and personal.
But it just seemed that you made that announcement and you’re able to look at what’s happening in cases of a natural disaster. Talk about that., because I think it, in some ways it’s really interesting what you’re doing there.
Schwartz: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, we’re really proud of the FirstNet One capability, one of its kind, public safety solution. We’re always looking to innovate. We continue to work with the public safety community and you know, our own innovators within AT&T to see what could we do better. How can we continue to improve upon the capabilities we bring in an emergency?
You know, both from our own operational efficiency, but also creating greater capabilities given. We’ve just had some really extensive disaster, so FirstNet One, as you call it, more commonly the blimp, is a 55 foot aerostat.
So obviously, it goes up in the air like a blimp and we believe it’s the next addition to our deployable network, just like those trucks, those cell on wheels. But this is obviously in the air.
It can fly up to a thousand feet and provide a much broader coverage area, at two times the coverage area of some of the other solutions I referenced as part of the deployables, like cell on wheels and the flying cell on wheels.
In addition, we know we may be entering inclement weather areas. It can remain operational with wind speeds up to 50 miles an hour and withstand winds even up to 70 miles per hour. So while that’s not ideal conditions, we know we’re deploying in areas that may have just had bad weather or maybe in a rough area where there are spires and there’s high winds.
The other really cool thing or unique thing about FirstNet One is it can stay up in the air for about two weeks before needing any additional helium. So that provides connectivity over an extended period.
So it’s not just right after the disaster or during, it could be over an extended period of time. As we know, we’ve had recovery situations that go at least that long and it’s tethered to a trailer to provide satellite or wire line connectivity.
And it also keeps the aerostat in place over the area we’re looking to connect. And it gives all the benefits of FirstNet that I previously mentioned. So we’re really excited about it and we just launched it and we always make sure that before we bring something forward, it’s tested and we believe it merits and is capable of being deployed to support our first responders. So certainly, I’m happy to talk about it. We think it’s one of the coolest innovations to add our FirstNet fleet.
Smedley: Talk a little bit about other examples of what you guys have done so far. Because I know that you do this and you’re out there every day. You’re in the trenches with this and you’ve given us some great examples of the benefits, but talk about what you’ve seen so far that you’ve said, “Look, this is really done an amazing thing and this is why we’re so proud of it.”
Schwartz: Sure. I think I’ve been a little stuck on natural disasters, right? So we’ve seen devastating fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, all just broad devastation.
But FirstNet has been used in search and rescue missions, whether it’s a training exercise to prepare for search and rescue or we did have a couple of incidents over the past year, both in Colorado and several other places where based on the fact that those individuals looking for the lost person, were using FirstNet in remote areas.
They were able to remain connected where they otherwise would not have been able to. And in both situations we were able to locate the individual that was lost. So that’s, certainly an instance that I would mention to you as well. And, we have supported during earthquakes. You mentioned earthquakes earlier. We had an earthquake in Anchorage that was a seven on the Richter scale.
The police chief in Anchorage actually noted that others around him had trouble connecting on their devices, when they were trying to connect to first responders. FirstNet gave an uninterrupted connectivity during that earthquake time period that the other networks couldn’t.
So there’s examples like those that I think are just truly, from my standpoint, so rewarding to hear about that the platform you’re creating is certainly for communications, but the real life benefit to individuals, human beings out in the community, and what that communication capability was able to do for our community is just unequaled.
Smedley: Talk a little bit about some of the other industries beyond public safety and first responders. I’m sure there’s a whole lot more.
Schwartz: Sure. I’ve referenced it as the communities that support first responders, we call them extended primary users or they could be the second line of responders. But in some instances, that community of interest may even be on the front line.
So if you think about storms we referenced, think about a tree removal service., that you certainly can’t pass an impassable road to get to a community that might have been devastated if the road is impassable.
So a tree removal service is not something that I would have thought of initially, but all of these emergency platforms. Certainly utility companies, when utility lines are down and we’re trying to make sure people can remain safe and healthy after a disaster, we need the utility companies to be able to communicate with that same priority that our first responders do as well.
And then transportation would be another community. Certainly that needs to remain viable and able to communicate at all times, especially when there is a disaster of any kind.
So those are just some examples that work and coordinate. But one of the bigger ones that I think is maybe a little bit more intuitive and obvious is healthcare. So when the emergency medical service is in operation and an ambulance is taking a patient to a hospital, we need the hospital personnel to be able to communicate as well.
So we’ve seen a great deal of interest within the healthcare community in FirstNet as well. I can give you an interesting example. We are working with a company that provides renal support for those folks that are on dialysis that need support for their kidneys.
If that company cannot operate in a disaster, if you think about the life connection to kidney patients and how they need to make sure that they are on dialysis, we need to make sure they’re connected as well. So there’s lots of unique aspects within the healthcare universe as well that absolutely need communication as their lifeblood and FirstNet is there to provide that.
Smedley: It’s interesting hearing you talk about this. I know the government’s going to announce some more open spectrum and I wonder if all of this will be able to allow more of this.
I imagine that you could do all kinds of things going in the future if you’re allowed to do that. It just sounds like there’s such great opportunities to really cater to such vertical industries with all this great opportunity that we never thought of before.
Schwartz: Yeah, I think it happens, I’m sure in your world you see this as well, but as soon as the opportunity and the platform is created, it’s been amazing to see through our reach of our team, how this help person that’s being applied to help serve the mission of safety and security in the community.
So everything from wearable devices that may provide that capability,we just mentioned the blimp, we’re innovating around that, and then industries that have just some very unique aspects of the protection that they provide, like I mentioned to you, have come forward to say “we’ve heard about FirstNet” and they really would like to be able to take advantage of FirstNet. They obviously would have to qualify to be on the network.
But that capability is endless when you think about all of the things that are being done in our community to protect citizens and protect first responders. So, I think you referenced, there’s endless capabilities that we’re excited to continue to grow.
Smedley: That’s where the safety and security of all of this comes in. People have to qualify. And that’s where the IoT and the things that you’ve done with FirstNet offerings and solutions. That’s a key point to this, right?
Schwartz: Yes. So another aspect of what is unique about FirstNet is there is no other network or capability like FirstNet in the United States. And that is the FirstNet authority is part of the federal government.
So while we are a commercial company that has been tasked with, and awarded the contract to build FirstNet and to operate FirstNet, we are closely accountable to the federal government.
So we can’t just put anyone on the network, we have guidelines and that’s what makes this network so unique and special. And then there are all the attributes of the network. We work very close in collaboration with FirstNet authority to make sure that the service and the applications that we’re putting forward, we’re all feeling the accountability to FirstNet authorities.
So we do have an objective third party that we are contractually accountable to and we must comply with the contract to make sure we’re supporting the right users all the time. So another unique attribute of FirstNet that makes it that much better, if you will.
Smedley: Your guys are developing push-to-talk and that’s coming up now here.
Schwartz: Yes. So you know, yet again we are looking at this, making public safety’s mission the first priority. So push-to-talk. So for those folks that don’t really understand what that is, that’s the capability to really use your device to push-to-talk much like you would with a radio.
And so public safety has long relied on land, mobile radio, but our LTE devices, FirstNet devices, can actually inter operate with those radios. And to take it to what we consider public safety’s mission critical service, we have been working on the requirements, the standards testing to launch mission critical push-to-talk, which we will do in the beginning of the year.
And we believe this, again, is an unequal differentiated service that will allow public safety to be able to use communication tools differently than they ever have before. And so we’re really proud for that to be entering into our service catalog early in the early part of 2020.
Smedley: What’s coming for FirstNet in 2020, beyond push-to-talk?
Schwartz: So in addition, we’ll continue to grow our coverage and then more interesting devices that will be able to do things like connect infrastructure with lighting, other critical infrastructure as well.
So from an IOT perspective, more certification there, and then new devices that you’ll see that are actually bridging the divide between more of an everyday device and ruggedized devices and then more applications as well. So, all of that in 2020.
Taking the Smart Approach to a Healthy Cyber Lifestyle
The potential smart-city benefits of greater efficiency, sustainability, and responsiveness come at a price: increased cybersecurity risks from millions of connected devices. Governments are already a favorite target of attackers, with Atlanta, Baltimore, Stockholm, Johannesburg, and Hyderabad experiencing ransomware attacks, along with hundreds of smaller cities in the U.S. While the goal of most of these attacks has been financial gain, there will be much more at stake than money as cities move to smart grids.
Just some of the possible threats include cybercriminals:
Gaining access to feeds from surveillance cameras, enabling them to coordinate other types of attacks, track law enforcement or spy on individuals to obtain compromising photos or information.
Taking control of the power grid or water supply, creating dangerous situations and spreading fear across communities.
Hijacking the smart-traffic system to cause accidents, create gridlock or prevent police from responding to physical attacks or other emergencies.
Causing automotive accidents by controlling the accelerator and brakes of connected vehicles.
To prevent such attacks, most cybersecurity efforts have focused on setting up a rock-solid perimeter defense that keeps cybercriminals out. However, smart cities face the same challenges as Industrial IoT and manufacturing: complex, highly distributed, industrial systems with all the challenges of maintenance and access management combined with a distributed organization. Further, in the era of hyperconnected devices, there is no longer a single perimeter to protect, so focusing on a single perimeter using a defense in depth approach is insufficient.
Dealing with this new security environment is already an extremely difficult challenge for enterprises that have, at least in theory, far better control over their networks than a city would. Unlike an enterprise, a city government must coordinate activities across multiple departments and possible power structures. In addition, the “human problem” that enterprises face is magnified across these public agencies because it is far more difficult to conduct constant, rigorous training to ensure employees can recognize the tricks cybercriminals use to fool them into clicking on a malicious link.
Given these realities, a smarter approach to smart city cybersecurity is to balance building a strong defense with creating a resilient infrastructure that minimizes the impact of a successful attack.
A Healthy Cyber Lifestyle
Think about the human body. Most of us practice good hygiene—washing hands, staying away from sick people, putting antibiotic ointment on wounds, etc.—to prevent infection and illness. Despite this, however, we can still get sick, which in most cases is okay because the human body is resilient. We have a defense system that fights the attacking bacteria or virus to limit the damage and allow the body to heal. We can also improve this defense system with a healthy lifestyle: eating nutritious foods, limiting junk food, exercising, getting regular checkups, taking medicine when necessary, etc.
This is a great model for thinking about smart city cybersecurity: practice good hygiene to create an environment that limits the opportunity for attack, while maintaining a healthy cyber lifestyle to contain the damage should an attack succeed.
For most city governments, the first step to basic cybersecurity hygiene is to replace multiple point security solutions—which tend to leave critical gaps as data flows across the network—with a single, centralized solution for managing and protecting the entire network. Because operations and security monitoring across the infrastructure is often the key issue, an important network management approach for smart city governments to consider is an SD WAN (software-defined networking for a wide area network). Enterprises have been successfully using SD WANs for several years to centralize and simplify network management, and city governments can benefit even more from the flexibility, ease of administration, resilience and QoS (quality-of-service) that an SD WAN can provide.
To move beyond just network management, Gartner recently defined a new solution category, SASE (Secure Access Service Edge). SASEs combine an SD WAN with network security services to eliminate the gaps between point solutions and consolidate traffic inspection across the entire network, including at the edge and across multiple clouds. SASEs utilize a Zero Trust principle (never automatically trust any traffic) that includes concepts like identity-centric security (which focuses on validating identities and endpoints) and SDP (Software Defined Perimeter). SASEs also centralize and simplify the application of consistent security policies based on a city’s requirements.
When delivered as a high performance, end-to-end fully managed service, SASEs can provide the basic security services—including firewall, intrusion detection and anti-malware scanningoot—to create good basic hygiene across the entire city infrastructure. A managed service is also more flexible and scalable than an on-premises deployment, while taking pressure off network staff to constantly upgrade, patch and administer a software application, which frees them to think more strategically about network security.
With good cyber hygiene in place, next comes boosting the resilience of the defense system by establishing a healthy cybersecurity lifestyle, which includes two key strategies. The first is ensuring adequate preparation of employees. While it is impossible to eliminate all human error, agencies still need to promote the responsible handling of data. If formal training is not an option, an agency can, for example, try issuing regular reminders to employees on how to secure their social media and email accounts, keep the security settings of their devices and applications up to date, and recognize phishing and spear-phishing scams.
The second strategy is a robust IR (incident response) plan. Should an attacker successfully infiltrate a network, having an IR plan can minimize the damage and make it faster and easier to restore services. A solid IR plan requires:
A quality IR team that starts with security engineers who can communicate effectively with the rest of the team, which may include compliance managers, HR managers, attorneys and community relations specialists.
Effective breach detection using comprehensive 24/7 network monitoring.
A triage strategy to rapidly assess the status of a detected breach using both available network information and the latest threat intelligence.
A remediation strategy for eradicating the threat, investigating what went wrong, restoring services and communicating with stakeholders.
The real beneficiaries of smart cities will be the residents, who will enjoy better services and increased safety. However, to ensure these benefits become a reality, government agencies must be able to minimize cyber risks and respond effectively when attacks occur. Developing good cyber hygiene and establishing a healthy cybersecurity lifecycle is the smart approach to accomplishing this.
One of the topics that I’ve spent a considerable amount a time investigating lately is MEC (Multi-access Edge Computing). I’m learning as much as I can about it, and we’re writing about it here on connectedworld.com. I think it’s a really important topic for my readers and podcast listeners, too, because I talk to a lot of people who are looking to reduce the latency of their IoT (Internet of Things)-enabled solutions. I’ve talked and written about all the promise of 5G, and I believe that 5G will eventually solve a lot of issues that enterprises are facing today in terms of increasing network speeds and reducing latency; but MEC can help now even without 5G when it comes to latency.
At a recent AT&T Business Summit, I stopped by the AT&T booth and got to talk with the staff there and was able to see, in some cases, firsthand, how MEC solutions can help drive business and digital transformations for manufacturers. So let’s discuss what your options are right now.
We all know that manufacturing—and most industries, really—are facing a deluge of data, and businesses need to find ways to manage it. Say they’ve found ways to generate data, well, now they need to harness it. A lot of a manufacturers’ success in harnessing data is going to rely on network connectivity. When you have robots, mobile devices, and cameras—lots of cameras for various applications like security and detecting defects—you’re going to start running into bandwidth issues. Video applications in particular are just data hogs no matter which way you slice it.
A decade ago, everybody’s answer for IoT was the cloud. The cloud is great, but with the processing applications manufacturers need today, latency is an issue. Manufacturers need to be asking themselves: How latency sensitive are these applications? How business-critical are they? With MEC, you don’t need to hairpin traffic up to the cloud and back down.
With MEC, servers are acting like traffic cops. It does a sort of data slicing for you; it takes the wireless traffic that you’ve deemed business critical or latency sensitive, and it keeps that data within the four walls of the factory. That way, the data you’re producing and consuming within that factory stays right there, reducing the latency. And then beyond latency, there’s also the privacy and security benefits of MEC. When your data stays within your four walls, it’s not on the public internet. There’s value in that too.
A MEC solution I’ve seen in practice can produce near real-time alerts to help manufacturers improve safety and enforce rules. If you have a hard-hat zone, you can have a camera that’s going to identify anyone in that zone without a hard hat and send an alert to a technician and also set off a warning light. An AT&T Business customer is using this type of application in another context for clean rooms where employees must wear special “clean gear” to keep the manufacturing process uncontaminated. I guess some employees were trying to just run in and run out if a problem was a quick-fix, but with a system like this, the alert is sent so fast that you can’t cheat the system. If you’re in a clean room without the proper gear, you’re going to set off an alert.
Another video-related application in manufacturing is using cameras to monitor older equipment. So maybe you’re mid-upgrade across your plants and all of your machines aren’t upgraded yet. Traditionally, manufacturers have employees walking the factory floor to monitor and look for issues, but with the lower latency of MEC, you can mount a camera and have near real-time video intelligence that MEC enabled apps process for near real-time actionable feedback.
MEC with today’s 4G is a stepping-stone on the road to 5G. 5G will add more speed, reduce latency even more, and it’ll support the number of devices, sensors, and applications that are getting connected on an exponential scale. And then, MEC together with 5G will provide even greater value. So tell me, are you deploying MEC? Why or why not?
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Edge computing has been huge hot topic in 2019, and it will continue to be one in 2020. Edge computing brings computation and data storage to the network’s edge. When computation and data are kept closer to where the data is being generated, it results in less latency. For applications that depend on low latency, edge computing can be transformational. A new report, the State of the Edge 2020, explores what’s to come in this space in the coming years.
State of Edge is an educational organization that produces free research on edge computing based on industry collaboration. It recently released its latest vendor-neutral research report, suggesting the edge computing infrastructure market will be worth $700 billion by 2028. While the report authors acknowledge that they could have measured the “edge footprint” by measuring the number of racks deployed and predicting how many will be deployed a decade from now, instead, the forecast was based on cumulative CAPEX (capital expenditure) that is predicted to be spent on edge IT infrastructure and data center facilities.
The report refers to the edge as the “Third Act of the Internet.” Act one, the origination phase, refers to the period in which the internet was mostly a network, when the main point of it was to get data from one place to another. Act two, according to State of the Edge, encompassed CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) and regionalization. During this phase, regional data centers brought internet infrastructure closer to users. Edge computing, the report suggests, is part of act three. Because current infrastructure can’t support all the applications users want and need, this phase of internet evolution will optimize networks by bringing resources to the edge.
Various factors are setting edge computing up for massive growth in the coming years. For instance, the industry is increasingly speaking the same language when it comes to the edge. State of the Edge says a lack of a common definition has held the space back, but a common definition of the edge is gaining momentum. To keep the industry moving toward an agreed-upon definition, the 2018 version of the report outlined the following four-part definition: “The edge is a location, not a thing. There are lots of edges, but the edge we care about is the edge of the last-mile network. This edge has two sides: an infrastructure edge and a device edge. Compute will exist on both sides, working in coordination with the centralized cloud.” Other factors include the growing desire for realtime decisionmaking and new storage and security needs.
McKinsey similarly predicts these factors will lead to growth in the edge computing market. The research firm suggests edge computing will represent a value of up to $215 billion in hardware by 2025. Industries with growing edge use cases include retail, logistics, healthcare, smart cities, manufacturing, and AVs (autonomous vehicles), among many others. Edge computing is certainly driving the next generation of smart manufacturing by reducing latency to the point that manufacturers can truly benefit from realtime information about their machines and the products coming off assembly lines.
Hurdles remain for edge computing, but many of those hurdles remain unknown. However, business opportunities are plentiful for those that invest in the edge. State of the Edge suggests “there is no finish line”; rather, edge computing is a marathon of sorts—a long-term transformation of the internet that will take time to come into its final form.