Five Keys to Push 5G Forward
More functional than 4G, 5G – the next generation for mobile communication networks – has the capacity and speed to connect more people, devices, machines, and operational systems, often utilizing platforms such as Internet of Things (IoT).
5G combines low latency with greater availability, higher volume, and speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G. These added benefits enable more devices to connect to the Internet, all without slowing down communications and response time. This level of speed is a must for highly technical, complex products such as autonomous vehicles, virtual reality systems, and large-scale IoT deployments.
In China, South Korea, and the U.S., mobile operators began 5G deployment in 2019. Despite being a leading market, the U.S. ranks 15th because its 5G speeds are still slow. The average 5G speed in the U.S. is only twice as fast as 4G and speeds are nowhere near the potential speeds that have been claimed for 5G. Further, indicators show that, until there is more demand for 5G, wireless providers are wary about spending billions of dollars to upgrade their infrastructure.
To accommodate the changes, data centers must upgrade their existing infrastructure and network servers. However, these and other key elements for digital upgrades (for example, virtual radio access networks) have been slow in coming—in part because most countries and telecom companies are implementing 5G gradually.
Proceed with Caution
Despite slow rollouts of the new technology, data centers must make changes now to keep up with new 5G developments and make the necessary capital investments to handle 5G efficiently and seamlessly, or risk becoming obsolete as a provider. The enormous amount of data that 5G is expected to generate could overwhelm operators that have not upgraded their computing capacity and the associated infrastructure, such as storage, connectivity, and edge computing support. And, as they become more comfortable with 5G, consumers will demand even faster services and support for their mobile devices. Data centers need both short-term and long-term strategies in place for capacity, capabilities, and growth to support this and other new technologies. Some areas to address include:
1. Upgrading existing infrastructure.
New technologies/architectures are needed that incorporate automation to facilitate fast and seamless 5G integration and management. The first step for many providers is transferring edge computing networks, containers, and virtual servers to the cloud. According to TechTarget, “Data centers can increase their lifecycle upgrade processes by replacing simpler networking hardware—such as switches and routers—with 5G-capable ones.” “Some networking hardware and software have already been upgraded to be faster and more efficient, with containerization leading the way.”
2. Edge computing.
As the primary source of latency (delay) is distance, a good portion of 5G data will have to be processed closer to where it is generated, thus keeping latency low. These local and regional data centers are collectively called “edge computing” because they are close to the communities they serve. To meet future 5G demands, data operators are building new “edge” data centers with smaller footprints. “Edge facilities allow information to be processed in closer proximity to the source and where the workload is being utilized,” says Ben Burgett, business unit leader for mission critical at Gray.
Traditional data centers will be less able to handle 5G traffic smoothly, especially as more large-scale deployments occur. Rather than build new, large, and costly data centers, a growing trend is toward prefabricated, complete containerized data centers to meet current market demand. Such “containers” are fully functional data centers that include networking equipment, servers, cooling systems, UPS, storage devices, and other essential components. Containerized data centers are designed for energy efficiency, rapid deployment, and scalability—because they are modular, they can be used to increase (or decrease) capacity as needed.
4. Hybrid multi-cloud.
The hybrid multi-cloud is like a virtual supply chain—it utilizes multiple public cloud services, typically from a variety of different cloud providers, to support 5G. For example, an organization might host its web front-end application on AWS and host its Exchange servers on Microsoft Azure. By adopting a multi-cloud approach, businesses can select IT services from various providers for the best deal and not get locked into a single cloud provider.
The metaverse (currently being developed) will be a dazzling interactive platform where users immerse themselves in complex virtual environments. To achieve this, 5G technology is expected to provide seamless, fully integrated interactions between participants and virtual environments. Latency must be minimized to ensure that all graphical elements react immediately to ensure smooth, real-time responses. This is where edge data centers become especially important (short distances, low latency). As the metaverse expands, so will demands for fast, powerful, reliable, and cutting-edge data centers.
5G is changing how we interact with everyday life. And once 5G is fully realized, it will change the way we engage with and utilize data. Data centers must be able to deliver the scale of deployment that is needed to efficiently move massive amounts of data, especially from data-intensive virtual and augmented reality, self-driving cars, and IoT in manufacturing and logistics. These and other applications will require the support of advanced and specialized infrastructure, including hybrid cloud, automation, and increased cybersecurity. Co-location and convergence of 5G architecture and supporting technologies (at edge data centers) will likely be the ongoing goal to ensure smooth transfer of data with the lowest possible latency.