An increasing number of mobile network operators (MNOs) have turned their attention to the Internet of Things (IoT) edge. They are being driven by the need to improve efficiency, lower costs and make operations more predictable, while enhancing the security and privacy of their networks.
IoT edge computing enables autonomous applications to manage and enhance the value of critical infrastructure, while reducing transport and backhaul costs. It also enables device manufacturers to push sophisticated processing to the network edge – as opposed to on-devices – which lowers costs, extends battery life and improves energy efficiency. Furthermore, it gives enterprises the ability to store, manage, analyze and discard data close to the source.
For mobile operators to reap the rewards of moving to the IoT edge, a number of factors should be considered:
- Understanding what edge computing is – an importantly, what it isn’t
- Determining the best use cases for IoT edge computing
- Planning for the impact of the IoT edge on data centers
- Preparing for the security implications of IoT edge
1. What is the most effective type of edge computing for our network?
There essentially are four types of edge computing: mobile network edge, IoT edge, device edge and enterprise edge. For mobile operators, the edge resides on fixed and/or mobile network facilities, which can include decentralized core data centers, central offices, network aggregation points, eNodeB and base stations. The IoT edge enables analytics and IoT control functions to be carried out in an on-premise gateway, which reduces the amount of data sent that’s sent to the centralized cloud.
The device edge encompasses all IoT devices, including surveillance cameras, autonomous cars and consumer devices, such as smartphones and wearables. Finally, the enterprise edge refers to compute workloads that reside on premise, which localizes data and processing.
2. What are the best use cases for IoT edge computing?
The edge enables multiple use cases for both enterprise and telecom. From the standpoint of IoT, the edge can empower automation for enterprises. For operators, it creates new service opportunities that demand low latency.
Moreover, while the application developer ecosystem currently resides with public cloud players, edge computing opens it to operators. This is driving a number of operators to utilize edge computing for the development of new revenue streams.
Four use cases hold tremendous promise for IoT edge computing:
- Industrial manufacturing incorporates data storage and computing into industrial equipment, which enables predictive maintenance and promotes energy efficiency, while reducing costs and improving reliability.
- The automotive industry has invested billions of dollars into the development of autonomous vehicles, which gather and analyze vast amounts of data. Edge computing enables autonomous vehicles to collect, process and share data between vehicles and broader networks in real time with almost no latency.
- The healthcare industry wants to use IoT devices improve patient care and extend the reach of medical services into remote areas. Edge computing enables devices to gather, store and deliver information in real time.
- The financial sector is adopting edge computing in conjunction with smartphone apps to better target customers, while also enabling ATMs and kiosks to gather and process data that translates to new features and services.
3. What impact will IoT edge computing have on our data centers?
While edge computing won’t render the traditional data center model obsolete, it will certainly change the data center landscape. IoT edge computing depends upon the creation of a large number of small data centers that are built closer to cities and business parks.
Designing for edge computing requires operators to incorporate many new factors, including a small compute/low-power footprint; Artificial Intelligence (AI) workloads; reliable and predictable networking; and distributed compute and storage.
As data center infrastructure becomes more distributed, there likely will be more storage hubs in regional markets and smaller cities, as well as micro data centers that are deployed on telecom towers.
4. What are the security implications of IoT edge computing?
Last and by no means the least, for the promise of IoT edge computing to be realized, attention must be given to the security implications. An IoT edge security strategy must cover applications, hardware and the platform.
IoT connectivity to unreliable public networks creates vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Moreover, a software stack that runs on the edge could be exploited by application developers, while third-party applications running autonomously on the edge present additional security concerns.
Here are some key steps to secure the IoT edge:
- Securing backhaul connectivity toward internet, incorporating virtual private networks (VPNs), SCADA-aware firewalls, encryption, intrusion detection and anomaly detection
- Performing vulnerability assessment and analysis of software and applications
- Ensuring IoT platforms comply with industry standards, incorporating strong authentication and authorization frameworks in which devices are pre-certified before connecting them to the IoT edge.
- Executing trusted software, supported by blockchain and signed images
- Investing in visualization and security analysis tools that provide real-time detection of security breaches, while also assessing compliance in real time
The Internet of Things opens a world of possibilities for mobile operators to develop new services and generate much-needed revenue. As they continue the path toward digital transformation, operators should invest considerable time and resources to fully address the needs and challenges of supporting IoT at the edge.