The buzzwords of 5G and edge computing have forced their way into the spotlight of digital transformation, bringing with them huge potential to spark the next major wave of change. While 5G has the power to boost connectivity speeds – transmitting data 10 times faster than conventional connections – edge computing strives to get closer to the end user or end device to reduce latency, forming a powerhouse pairing that could ultimately replace traditional network structures completely.
This shift paves the way for a revolution in production processes – a revolution that received extra push during the pandemic. Constrained by social distancing rules, production companies began to look for automation and remote-control solutions to keep lines flowing. Operational technologies (OTs) also benefit from these trends, which enable employees to monitor and control their machines remotely. However, OTs are still weighed down by their reputation for being slow and unwieldy in the face of change. In the manufacturing industry, fundamental transformation is usually planned well in advance, because security plays a business-critical role in the safe and uninterrupted operation of the machinery fleet. But the technology for change is already in the starting blocks, and it can be ready to go as soon as 5G masts are rolled out and widespread coverage is available.
How does 5G work with (mobile) edge computing?
The cornerstones of modern connectivity are speed, real-time data transmission, and mobile network density. The 5G data transmission standard will not only significantly speed up our cellular networks, it will also allow us to transmit data at a much faster rate. In ideal conditions, 5G will be capable of transmitting data 20 times faster than standard connections – delivering the speeds that are so essential to augmented reality and virtual reality applications, to name just a few examples. In these applications, the response time between the device and image processing should be no more than 12 to 15 milliseconds; slower processing could cause the user to experience VR motion sickness.
5G technology is not just about speed, either. Availability and reliability are also critical components of the Industry 4.0 applications of the future. Looking to the present day, ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) and edge clouds are already essential to real-time applications and seamless communication with machines beyond traditional networks.
Aside from the many other factors that come into play in 5G network design, physical proximity to the device is critical to achieving low latency. This means that the core network infrastructure, security infrastructure, and application server need to be relocated from centralised data centres to the edge of the network and closer to the user. Computing on the edge is now a key prerequisite for many applications.
Another major difference between 5G and 4G is the density of user transactions. While today’s 4G technology allows 4,000 users within a one-kilometre radius to be simultaneously connected, 5G can handle up to a million simultaneous connections. It is precisely this transaction density that opens the door to a whole new way of thinking – turning the traditional network infrastructure on its head in ways that would never previously have been possible. 5G provides connectivity infrastructure for all devices without a network connection. By extension, this also means that security can no longer be delivered via the network infrastructure.
Security at the edge comes from the cloud
The Zscaler security cloud is already equipped with the functions required to keep up with the pace of change. Zscaler’s Zero Trust Exchange provides security at the edge and filters all user and machine traffic in the cloud. It does so using a cloud-native infrastructure – which also enables it to be deployed in a range of different locations, as close as possible to the end user or the machine. However, cloud technology has already reached a point at which far-reaching expansion to the edge is required. And this is precisely where 5G technology comes into play; it will enable companies to harness the full power of edge computing.
The crux of this power lies in mobile edge computing (MEC). At the ultimate edge, data traffic generated when browsing a website, for example, is no longer routed via the telecommunications network to the internet and then back again, but directly via the cellular antennae in the immediate vicinity of the mobile device. This facet – the exact location of data processing in mobile edge computing – is not yet a widely recognised advantage of 5G.
However, at some point or another, things are bound to start moving in this direction. When 5G and MEC eventually render traditional networks obsolete, cloud-based security will become an enabler of security for Industry 4.0 and end customers alike.
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