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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: 5G: What it means for edge computing

Dell CTO touts 2021 as the year 5G stops being just about the consumer

Fast YouTube streaming is great, but it's the smart cities, buildings, hospitals, transportation, and logistics networks that John Roese said will benefit from 5G this year.

2020 saw deployments of 5G networks go live around the globe, mostly targeting consumers' desire for fast video streaming. But Dell Technologies CTO John Roese believes that 5G will show its enterprise value in 2021, and bring about a change in the way edge is discussed.

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"[5G] hasn't really transformed much because the first wave of 5G was really an extension of 4G, it wasn't the real 5G," Roese said, speaking with media. "But in 2021 with what's called release 16 and release 17 of the 5G standards, we will now have true standalone 5G materialise and it will include advanced features...[that will]...make 5G interesting."

5G in 2021, Roese declared, will deliver massive machine-type communication, a million sensors in a kilometre, ultra-reliable low-latency communication, and one-millisecond response times for digital streaming of telemetry from a drone, as some examples.

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"Building a smart city, or smart factory, or smart hospital, or a logistics system, or a transportation network needs these advanced features and as they materialise, the 5G ecosystem will shift from being very consumer focused to really being dominated by enterprise use cases," Roese said. "Revolutionising transportation, or healthcare, or logistics will become more and more of the dominant thread of why we're doing 5G."

The second thread will be faster broadband for people to watch YouTube, he added.

Roese also believes the fundamental architecture of 5G is moving away from a telco architecture to more of a cloud and IT architecture that uses open, disaggregated software-defined architectures.

"To build modern 5G you have to virtualise it, software-define it, open it," Roese said.

A significant number of new players would enter the 5G ecosystem this year that come from the cloud and IT world, he predicted.

"Technology companies will enter the 5G ecosystem and make it much more interesting, much more dominated by enterprise use cases, and much more the vision of what 5G should be versus what we had last year," he said.

The area described as edge, however, is going to run into a problem.

See also: What is edge computing? Here's why the edge matters and where it's headed

"Last year we started to build edges, and everybody built an edge...each of those edges was an entirely self-contained ecosystem," Roese said. "If you wanted to deploy Anthos, Arc, and Outposts, you would need three different systems, three different infrastructures, and three different edges."

If such a practice continues, Roese said, there would be a proliferation of independent, siloed edges.

"Which will be ridiculous if we're talking about a store footprint or a factory footprint -- you cannot have hundreds of infrastructures in there to accommodate your edge requirements," he said.

The edge discussion instead will be a discussion of edge platforms and edge workloads. Roese believes that companies operating in the space will be defined as either delivering an edge workload or in the business of building the platforms that run those workloads.

"Customers will have a very limited number of edge platforms, maybe only one, but they might have dozens of edge workloads and edge experiences that run as software on those platforms," he predicts. "That might seem obvious, but the reality is that's not how 2020 worked. In 2020, every edge experience the customer wanted was independent infrastructure, and our prediction is that 2021-22, we will see this shift to building edge platforms that can run multiple edge experiences as software defined services.

"We expect then more of the edge to be delivered as a service, because the reality is, the edge doesn't need to be in your factory, if it can be delivered near your factory and still deliver low latency."

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