The Critical Risk at the Edge

By: Ian Hood

The stunning growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) is resulting in a digital revolution across all industries. Expansion is accelerating. According to Gartner, there will be more than 5.8 billion endpoints deployed by the end of this year. Unsecured IoT devices continue to flood the market, increasing the attack surface of service provider networks. With the growing number of devices that are autonomously roaming across networks along with the rising volume of data breaches, the need for security by design is even more crucial.

We are at a critical decision point, but we do have choices. There’s no magic answer to adapt to the massively changing conditions that we’re all facing around the world. We can cling to old approaches and a fast path to extinction, or we can disrupt the norm and evolve as a global community to transform to next-generation strategies.  

At the forefront of these strategies is 5G mobile network technology combined with highly distributed edge computing on cloud-native platforms. Everywhere around the globe, operators are aggressively testing and deploying innovative 5G and multi-access edge computing (MEC) technologies and solutions. As these solutions are rapidly being rolled out around the world, there is a compelling opportunity for them to have a sweeping impact on the entire economy.

Edge in the spotlight

All industries are under constant pressure today to improve product quality, boost factory efficiency, stay competitive, and enhance safety, security and sustainability while remaining profitable. Industry 4.0 is about the significant transformation taking place in the way goods are produced and delivered as we move toward greater industrial automation and the flexible factory. Latency and capacity restrictions and proprietary technologies have limited the ability to securely deliver near real-time industrial services. The implications of 5G will be felt across all industries at the network edge, with factories and warehouses using the industrial Internet of things (IIoT) and digitalization to become much more agile and efficient. 

With remote work on the rise and businesses leveraging digital platforms and services more than ever before, edge computing combined with 5G has the potential to lead us toward faster and more reliable data processing where we need it. While industries have automated many factory processes, secure wireless connectivity makes industrial automation possible on a much larger scale. Huge gains await industries that embrace operational transformation with Industry 4.0 enabled by edge computing and 5G wireless connectivity. 

In manufacturing, edge computing enables flexible production by allowing smart factories to rapidly change over production lines, increasing efficiency and shortening lead times while continuing to meet end customer commitments. Innovative approaches for oil and gas production are already using cameras and sensors to validate yield quality, safety conditions, and security—and they are optimizing the efficient use of limited resources. 

We are also seeing the digital twin concept in complex product development across many industries that apply advanced visualization, IoT, and analytics to create virtual assets even before their physical counterparts are built, enabling increased production efficiency, employee safety, and higher-quality products.

Sometimes faster data processing is a luxury. Other times, it is a crucial aspect of decision-making, especially in times of crisis. Across healthcare, wearables (including portable EKG devices and sensors for monitoring vital signs) are increasingly important for collecting patient data. With the uptick in patient data in hospitals, experiencing even the smallest delay in processing can be a matter of life or death. Bringing analytics and secure data computing closer to the patient is already improving care and outcomes.

Consider that edge computing is already enabling virtual patient care to assist in the completion of medical training.There is also the use of secure multi-compute to share brain scans across multiple hospitals. 5G and edge computing can even help enable smart ambulances and the use of drones for first responders and fighting wildfires.These innovations coupled with human enhanced machine learning (AI/ML) are helping healthcare and public safety professionals to make potentially life-saving decisions faster. 

Right now, our favorite sports are a remote-watching experience. Edge computing has recently been used at many world-class sporting events not only for an amazing digital experience but also to process mass quantities of data to track athlete conditions and provide real-time information to their coaches. Many of the sports stadiums and arenas have also been updated to share instant video replays, in-game metrics like ball velocity and trajectory, and player statistics for coaches and virtual fans.


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