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Retail and the Benefits of MEC

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.

Source: Connected World

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Multi-access Edge Computing Essential to 5G

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.

Source: Connected World

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What the MEC?

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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Source: Connected World