Deloitte: 5G to drive edge, Open RAN to the forefront in 2021

5G cellular wireless, edge computing technology face a year of growth

edge cloud
Dell Technologies

Edge computing is flagged as a key networking technology for 2021 as well as open radio-access framework, both of which are fundamentally driven forward by mobile data carriers and their rush to deploy 5G, according to Deloitte.

The Edge

Edge computing, including compute workloads being handled on or close to endpoints deployed outside the data center, will be among the biggest technological growth areas in 2021. Deloitte predicts that the global market for edge products will rise to $12 billion in 2021, and will continue to grow at a rate of 35% per year thereafter. Close to three-quarters of all businesses, by 2023, will deploy some form of edge computing, the researchers said.

Several factors will drive that rapid growth, according to Deloitte. Edge compute keeps data close to relevant devices, which provides savings on bandwidth because fewer round trips to the data center or cloud are required. That also means lower latency for applications that are delay sensitive and more robust uptimes, as more systems can operate independently of the corporate WAN, according to Deloitte.

“The intelligent edge can benefit any business that manages infrastructure, networks, clouds, data centers, and connected endpoints such as sensors, actuators, and devices,” said Deloitte.

Despite that broad potential user base, the company says that networking companies will be the key drivers of demand for edge compute solutions in the near-term. Telecoms, service providers, and CDNs all want edge technology to help manage their networks without creating more traffic load on them. An example is smart diagnostic devices that can analyze problems and correct them at remote points of presence without the need to continually phone home.

That’s not to say there aren’t potential icebergs ahead for the edge market. Supply issues caused by the trade war between the U.S. and China have the potential to delay shipments and push supply costs for higher. Moreover, it’s still early in edge-compute’s lifecycle, according to the researchers. Many potential users view edge as an investment for the far-off future rather than a real way to drive business in the present day, and implementation can still be a challenge.

Open RAN

The rapid push toward general 5G deployment in the U.S. poses a problem for the carriers. Traditional reliance on proprietary and closely integrated hardware and software stacks from individual vendors is beginning to look too costly for a technology that demands a huge increase in the number of base stations over previous generation wireless.

A big part of how the carriers plan to keep their costs down and keep deployments moving centers on a shift away from proprietary technology and towards open standards. Open RAN is a general term for a heavily virtualized, standards-based architecture for radio access networks used by carriers, allowing them to deploy and modify access points much more easily and cheaply than before.

It’s similar in concept to software-defined networking as practiced in the enterprise. More and more of the control functions for the network are handled in software and virtualized away from the hardware. As a consequence, carriers can mix and match different hardware, as long as it’s standards-compliant, leading to more competition on price, easier maintenance and configuration, and a host of other advantages, according to Deloitte.

But while 2021 should see major progress made on open RAN systems, the Deloitte said that the technology still faces some headwinds. The system has yet to be tested in large-scale deployments, and its much-vaunted interoperability is still being sorted out as several different groups create their own standards.

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