Living At The Edge: Unlocking The Full Potential of 5G MEC With Location Intelligence

In no generation of mobile technology has location intelligence been more critical or precise than in 5G, and in no business is it more critical than one that is inherently mobile. Consumers, enterprises and governments will benefit greatly as 5G networks and Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) capabilities get deployed over the next decade.

Together, 5G and MEC promise unprecedented levels of compute and network performance required to serve even the most demanding applications with high bandwidth and ultra-low latency.

Reaching the transformative potential of these technologies will require the help of location intelligence, from building out the infrastructure to enabling a new generation of use cases across industries in both enterprise and consumer.

5G MEC: Powering the Autonomous Services of the Future

The importance of fast and reliable connectivity has never been more evident than during the global COVID-19 pandemic. With people confined to their homes, communications networks helped them stay connected and employed while giving businesses continued access to the digital infrastructure they needed to weather the crisis.

At the same time, modern network technologies also hold the key to global recovery. In the post-pandemic era, nearly all industries will seek to accelerate their efforts to automate, digitize and enhance their capability to operate remotely. For this, the continued advance of 5G, presently still in the early stages of a multiyear buildout, is critical.

5G networks enable faster access to mobile devices, with average speeds up to 40 times faster than 4G/LTE. They are expected to reduce network latency from the 20-30 millisecond range (typical of 4G/LTE networks) to below 10 milliseconds.

Building, operating and leveraging this new infrastructure has enormous potential. Arthur D. Little anticipates some $1.5 trillion of 5G-enabled revenue is up for grabs between now and 2030. An IHS Markit study forecasts $13.2 trillion in global economic value from 5G use cases will be made possible by 2035, generating 22.3 million jobs in the 5G global value chain alone.

There are, however, unique deployment challenges involved when planning and building 5G mobile networks. While 5G millimeter-wave signals support very high connection speeds, they can only propagate for approximately 200-250 meters before signal regeneration is required. Also, signals are unable to penetrate solid objects such as walls, buildings, billboards, and even tree foliage in the way 4G signals could.

Further, 5G networks are more expensive than their 4G predecessors. Expenditures include high spectrum costs – more than 2.5X the cost of RF equipment - plus an additional four to 10 times the number of small cell sites than 4G networks.

Still, traditional Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) will be aggressively vying for a slice of that multitrillion-dollar 5G market share, along with smaller-scale “micro operators,” tower companies, network equipment vendors, system integrators, cloud providers and application developers from various industries.

MEC technology, which brings cloud computing to the edge of the mobile network, is gaining recognition as a key component for the networks of the future. When combined with 5G, MEC promises unprecedented levels of compute and network performance, with high bandwidth data transfers and ultra-low-latency connections – the kind of connectivity that can power the autonomous services of the future.

Moving compute, storage and processing resources from a centralized cloud to the network edge is a tantalizing prospect for 5G use cases. Networks will better handle surges in data traffic and applications that require low-latency traffic can be located physically closer to customers. This reduces transfer costs and the load on central data centers while improving and guaranteeing performance.

Once deployed, these network technologies open up new horizons for consumers, businesses and governments. Among the major benefits are improved positioning accuracy and latency, which in turn enables a host of new edge services. Autonomous vehicles, first responders and drones will be able to attain real-time positioning and situational awareness. Immersive Augmented Reality user interfaces will use high-resolution location data to overlay computer-generated imagery on the world and enhance mobile experiences as well as enable deeper user engagement, richer services and novel advertising models. Gaming studios and brands will have the ability to add rich location context to business data to deliver hyper-personalized experiences for users and consumers.

Commercial success, however, is far from assured. 5G MEC requires high upfront investment and comes with significant risks. Cloud processing and storage capabilities will need to be deployed closer to where the consumers, workers, cars, robots and industries of tomorrow will be.

The question is, where will they be?

Location Intelligence: A Leap in Positioning Accuracy & Latency

Until recently, location intelligence had mostly a peripheral role in enterprise decision-making and application development. In recent years, it has exploded with context richness, fueled by affordable, low-powered sensors, big data analytics and artificial intelligence.

While 5G devices can perform calculations to work out their location, including drawing on terrestrial and satellite signals, doing so can quickly drain the battery. 5G MEC networks allow for the computing effort to be offloaded from the device to a nearby edge server. By having the network do the processing work, more computationally intensive positioning techniques and algorithms can also be utilized to support novel use cases such as visual positioning.

This new generation of location intelligence is at the core of the next wave of digital transformation and helping drive better real-world outcomes. Among the major benefits of 5G MEC is improved positioning accuracy and latency, which enables a host of new edge services:

  • Efficient network planning and deployment: 3D geometry and rich mobility data enable MNOs to get 5G MEC topology right the first time around, keeping costs down for all.
  • Hyper-precise, real-time positioning for subscribers and machines on the move: High-definition location data is hosted at the edge to support accurate, “always-on” positioning in real-world mobility and virtual control in remote environments.
  • Hyper-personalized services: Edge-computed location context places every consumer at the center of the data universe, fueling innovation and offering developers new paths to monetization.
  • Location-driven privacy management: As data transfers become instant, location becomes key in managing privacy preferences.

Reinventing Telecom Network Planning for 5G MEC

For network operators looking to harness the power and the potential of 5G MEC networks, choosing where to invest becomes a complex set of tradeoffs between latencies and deployment costs to be minimized, and device connections and coverage, to be maximized. The process involves resolving several questions with a geospatial dimension.

Considerations must be made for:

  • The physical distances between current and planned cell sites, street cabinets and edge servers that affect latencies
  • The optimal proximity and distribution of infrastructure in relation to the expected number of users, commercial centers, the road network and administrative boundaries
  • The predicted attenuation and propagation losses of signals at any given site based on surrounding geographical features, such as poles, trees, terrain and buildings
  • The expected workloads and computational capacities of edge servers that would affect the density of servers required in different areas.
  • This involves three key phases of network planning: Market Analysis, Network Design and Network Optimization.

During the Market Analysis phase, MNOs seek to identify the best areas for deployment of 5G. They also want to realize profits and maximize ROI; therefore, they need to accurately assess each area. HERE Technologies provides a set of high-accuracy 2D and 3D location datasets and mobile network information that can help in conducting this market analysis.

When considering the Network Design phase, operators have to evaluate and secure a large number of sites to locate their new 5G RF equipment. The number of sites needed for 5G is significant, so it is more critical than with 3G and 4G to find the right location.  Lease negotiations take time and money. Before signing a lease, the MNO needs to make sure the site is the proper one or they will waste money on the contract and time in the negotiation. HERE Technologies provides the ability to conduct the site evaluation and analysis digitally and remotely (Digital Site Survey) which saves time and money and increases accuracy.

During the Network Optimization/RF Propagation phase, operators assess the best placement, orientation and height for a new cell site, for maximum reach and efficiency. Line-of-sight modeling from HERE helps to identify any obstructions to the RF signal like buildings, walls, overhead cables or even tree foliage that can interfere with clear signal propagation and force a move to a different location.

The HERE Platform: Supporting Businesses on Their 5G MEC Journey

HERE has a long legacy of acquiring and processing location-based data across multiple industries, and we have applied our deep industry experience in the development of a cloud-agnostic location data and technology platform. Developers can also use the HERE Platform to create, build and run their own business applications on 5G MEC infrastructure.

The HERE Platform is formed of several blocks that are fully tailored to location intelligence applications. These include:

  • A development environment (HERE Workspace)
  • A data exchange and marketplace (HERE Marketplace)
  • Map creation and visualization capabilities (HERE Studio)
  • The industry’s largest set of location services (HERE Location Services)
  • The world’s leading global map, with hundreds of attributes (Content)
  • These capabilities leverage a Platform Foundation that powers any applications built on top with high availability, security and cloud-agnostic deployment. The HERE Platform introduces many essential technological and architectural concepts that are required for services to be run in different computing environments, such as multi-cloud, microservices, containers, security, and billing and accounting.

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Better smartphone connectivity is only the start. 5G MEC networks bring into view a wide array of exciting edge use cases where location data and technology will be an essential ingredient.

To find out how HERE Technologies can help your business plan to thrive in a 5G MEC world, get in touch.

About HERE Technologies

HERE, a location data and technology platform, moves people, businesses and cities forward by harnessing the power of location. By leveraging our open platform, we empower our customers to achieve better outcomes - from helping a city manage its infrastructure or a business optimize its assets to guiding drivers to their destination safely. To learn more about HERE, please visit www.here.com and http://360.here.com.

This article was created in collaboration with the sponsoring company and our sales and marketing team. The editorial team does not contribute.