From quality control to revenue growth and workplace safety, digital transformation strengthens almost every aspect of the business. Those who fail to keep up with the pace of digital technology run serious risks of falling behind.
To fully leverage digital transformation, businesses today are turning to edge computing. Edge computing allows you to process data at the edge of the network, closer to the source of the data, instead of sending it to a centralized location like a datacenter or the cloud. By keeping sensitive data on-site, edge computing enables faster data processing, reduces bandwidth usage, and enhances data security. Yet, edge deployment remains a complex endeavor, with numerous choices and decisions to be made, the benefits of which are often unclear.
Reliable, secure, and customizable network solutions are at the heart of edge computing success. With constant improvements taking shape across wired, 4G, and 5G standards, and with public and private options also available, what are the real benefits of each and how do they compare against one another? We are also hearing more about private 5G networks at the edge. What advantages does it provide for edge applications and is it the best short- and long-term choice for every enterprise? These are just a few questions that arise when determining how best to simplify and maximize edge investments.
Bill Pfeifer, who leads Messaging and Thought Leadership for the Dell Technologies Edge team, and Stephen Foster, a product manager within the Edge business unit at Dell Technologies, recently discussed these key issues.
Foster has significant knowledge of connectivity technologies and how they can enhance business outcomes, from both an IT and telecom network perspective.
Meanwhile Pfeifer’s focus is on distilling the complexity of the edge into simple messages that are immediately useful so that customers can succeed as they build, grow and simplify their edges.
Bill: We have all been seeing non-stop hype throughout the industry about the magic of 5G and how it’s going to change the world, but often, the conversation seems to follow the track that “it will be faster than 4G.” While faster is a good step in connectivity evolution, it is hardly a revolution. Can you explain what 5G is all about, beyond just being faster?
Stephen: 5G offers many advantages over its predecessor, 4G. Beyond just speed, 5G networks are driving innovation and new applications across a wide range of industries.
Bill: So those benefits apply to 5G across the board, but I am also hearing lots about how private 5G is on the rise. Also, private 4G, so – how is private wireless notably different or better for enterprise edge deployments?
Stephen: Private wireless has been growing over the years, beginning with 4G, and now moving to 5G. In the early days, it may have just been limited to a shared or dedicated radio serving a single enterprise but, with private 5G, we have a couple of options for keeping the data entirely within the enterprise to take full advantage of the very low latency and data security.
One option enabled by 5G networking is the deployment of MEC. MEC stands for Multiaccess Edge Computing, which is a 5G-defined technology that enables computing resources to be located at the edge of a network, closer to the end users and devices at the enterprise location. MEC is often deployed as part of the communication service provider’s public 5G network, but it allows for private processing of data either on-premises at an enterprise or nearby on dedicated hardware.
The second option is Standalone Private wireless. Here, the complete cellular network is deployed within the enterprise location. There is no connection to the public network. The management of the network is completely under control of the enterprise including SIM management. Standalone Private solutions started with 4G, but most new ones are using 5G technology.
In either case, Private 5G Wireless networks enable support for challenging use cases and business processes that are restricted in public networks.
Bill: We are also seeing tech refreshes across other connectivity types – wired connections are faster than ever, Bluetooth is great for short-range connectivity, and NFC (near field communication) means we rarely have to swipe our credit cards anymore. But related more closely to this topic is WiFi6. Enterprises the world over have Wi-Fi installed, and it sounds like WiFi6 is a notable enhancement, too. Can you tell us what to expect there?
Stephen: If you have things or people that are moving around the enterprise or if they are difficult or expensive to reach, then the choices come down to Wi-Fi or Private 5G wireless. WiFi6 shares many technology attributes with 5G. Typically, private 5G wireless complements Wi-Fi – they both have a role within the enterprise.
The main differences between private 5G and Wi-Fi include:
Range: Private 5G has a much wider range than Wi-Fi, which means that it can provide connectivity over a much larger area. Private 5G can cover an area of several kilometers, while Wi-Fi is typically limited to a range of a few hundred feet. Serving a large area with Wi-Fi will require many access points to operate and maintain.
Capacity: Private 5G has much greater capacity than Wi-Fi, which means that it can support a much larger number of devices and data-intensive applications. Private 5G can support up to one million devices per square kilometer, while Wi-Fi is typically limited to a few hundred devices per access point.
Security: Private 5G provides stronger security than Wi-Fi, with better encryption and authentication mechanisms. This is particularly important for enterprises that are dealing with sensitive data or operating in high-security environments.
Reliability: Private 5G is more reliable than Wi-Fi, with better coverage and fewer dropped connections. This is achieved through technologies such as beamforming and network slicing, which enable the network to allocate resources more efficiently.
Bill: So, bringing those points together, do you have thoughts on when a typical enterprise might want private wireless vs. Wi-Fi? Can you describe a few scenarios where someone might prefer one over the other and explain why, so that we can start to understand how they really compare?
Stephen: In general, the drivers for going with private 4G/5G wireless vs. Wi-Fi are the need for a more secure solution, more predictable performance including lower latency, throughput and coverage, and the need for large and bounded geographical coverage areas, like factories, shipping ports, airports, and mining areas. Many of these areas, especially outdoor ones, are incompatible with Wi-Fi. Even indoor areas like large factories or warehouses cannot always be predictably reached by Wi-Fi. Think of reliable connections to automate guided vehicles within a factory or locate shipping containers at a port.
Another difference to consider is the interference in the spectrum. Wi-Fi operates in an unlicensed spectrum and is often prone to interference. Private 5G wireless operates in licensed spectrum and is very well suited for mission-critical applications. Coverage, reliability, and predictability are a few of the major factors influencing the choice of private 5G wireless.
Bill: To wrap up this conversation, could you give a quick summary of key considerations that folks should be making? Let’s say we’re talking to a typical enterprise organization that has a legacy wired network and is looking to move to Wi-Fi, or public 5G, or private 4G/5G – I’m sure none of them are a one-size-fits-all solution, so what are the key points to consider when trying to decide which technology to use?
Stephen: When enterprises are considering an upgrade from a legacy wired network, they should consider several factors, including coverage, bandwidth and speed, latency, security, cost, and customization. To choose the right wireless technology, enterprises must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of Wi-Fi and private 5G. Wi-Fi is the most cost-effective option, but it may not be the most secure and may not offer adequate range.
On the other hand, private 5G provides wider coverage, higher speeds, flexibility in coverage, and strong security features. Private 5G networks offer the lowest latency, which is essential for applications that require real-time response. Ultimately, the choice between Wi-Fi and private 5G depends on the specific needs and requirements of the enterprise.
It is important to note that the networking options of Private 5G and Wi-Fi are just one piece of the puzzle in achieving a total solution for the enterprise. Edge computing serves as a platform to support multiple enterprise applications, like computer vision, digital twins, AR/VR, and more. These applications play a crucial role in supporting various business outcomes, such as workforce productivity, operational efficiency, quality improvements, cost savings, workplace safety, and sustainability.
Edge computing can help enterprises process data closer to the source, reducing latency and improving response times. By combining the capabilities of edge computing with the benefits of private 5G or Wi-Fi, we can build a comprehensive solution that meets specific needs for today while putting in place a robust foundation that supports the digital transformation journey.
And of course, Dell Technologies and Intel are always collaborating to help our customers succeed across a broad range of workloads at the edge, working with industry leaders and the open-source community to produce powerful, comprehensive solutions that are optimized to meet our customers’ needs today with the flexibility to address what comes next. Public and private wireless networks powered by Dell and Intel technologies help enterprises capitalize on 5G, MEC and edge computing, to further improve how businesses operate today, and tomorrow.
Bill: Great information, Stephen! Thanks for your time today, and for sharing your perspective and expertise.
Learn more how Dell helps enterprises build a simpler edge with Private 5G and more www.dell.com/edge
Bill currently leads Messaging and Thought Leadership for the Dell Technologies Edge team. His focus is on distilling the complexity of the edge into simple messages that are immediately useful so that customers can succeed as they build, grow and simplify their edges.