5G and micro data centres: the foundation of enterprise IoT

04 May 2021

The global pandemic has quickly brought the need for fast and reliable communications to the forefront of networks worldwide. 5G is a technology that enterprises are betting on to increase communication and enable new business models. Within the next few years, everyone will be affected by the new 5G networks' emergence, and rollout has already begun. Almost 110 operators have or are currently launching new 5G networks, reported GSMA Intelligence.

The power of O-RAN

Mobile operators realise that by using O-RAN (Open Radio Access Networks), they can more quickly deploy new networks and bring the latest technology to the edge of corporate networks. Innovative services are beginning to appear, owing to their rapid development to the availability of open standards-based on well-understood and widely available underlying systems. In the United Kingdom, the major mobile providers have all announced plans for 5G deployments. EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone are in various stages of deployment. All will require new infrastructures to handle the anticipated wave of new data that will be generated. Some of these organisations will be using O-RAN to develop new solutions faster, based on open standards. New enterprise applications will drive 5G deployments and create new opportunities for suppliers around the world. Businesses will need to look at high-speed and reliable wireless applications to remain competitive and use the fastest route to market available.

How enterprises could leverage 5G to adjust to the pandemic

Many businesses had to quickly transform their communication and data sharing infrastructure to handle the massive move to remote workers as the pandemic took hold. New bandwidth-heavy collaboration and communication tools became the norm, with some product names becoming verbs. And many jobs that once required the individual to be stationed at a corporate facility will no longer require that individuals and teams be located in the same facility. 5G will increase distributed workforces, where even a home office will not be the primary place of employment.

While many office workers settle into a remote work process, the amount of available data to make business decisions is growing at unprecedented rates. IDC estimates that worldwide, 175 zettabytes of data will be generated each year by 2025, a 61% CAGR. A zettabyte is 10^^21 bytes or a trillion gigabytes. If your laptop hard drive is a modern 1 Terabyte model, then one billion laptops would be needed to store the estimated new amounts of information generated in 2025. This increase is due to data being now created at three different sources: during traditional business processes, at the edge (cell phone towers), and at endpoints, such as PCs and IoT devices.

The work from home phenomena is pushing the performance of established 4G networks. In the UK, about one-quarter of workers are currently working from home, according to the Office of National Statistics. Other surveys have this number as high as 50%. With a rebound in COVID-19 cases (November 2020), this number is expected to increase. It may remain at this level for some time, putting additional strain on video calls, entertainment, and IoT usage. Major telecommunication providers' ability to upgrade their complete systems to handle the increased use of edge technologies will have long-term effects for remote workforces and productivity measures of enterprises.

Applications at the edge and the role of micro data centres

Countries worldwide are supporting 5G efforts by working with operators to make sure that the proper spectrums are available. Initial deployments and testing are concentrated in urban areas with a high density of people living and working. As 5G expands, even higher density areas such as stadiums, dense office complexes, and transportation hubs will become available.

New applications that reside at the edge will allow enhanced experiences for viewers at stadiums, for example. Imagine that even while watching a sporting event from your seat, you will be able to access 10's of other viewing angles in real-time. And what if, through VR and AR, a spectator could see that the quarterback sees or what a goalie focuses on as the attacking team gets near.

To enable a future like that, data centres will have to be placed closer to the edge than before. The latencies of sending data over a network to a large data centre hundreds of miles away will not be low enough for mobile-based realistic games or autonomous vehicles, where split seconds can make the difference between an accident or safely passing another vehicle. A data centre may reside on a utility pole, at the side of a busy freeway, or in a public transportation hub. This requirement means that servers must withstand harsher environmental conditions than servers in a climate-controlled data centre. Imagine a small server built to withstand cold, rain, snow, and heat on every street or apartment building.

Within the next few years, we'll continue to see operators collaborating with cloud providers to offer consumers and businesses access to new services, entertainment enhancements, and the capabilities to increase productivity and autonomous processes.

Jeff Sharpe, director, IoT, 5G edge embedded solutions at Supermicro