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At Ericsson and Google Cloud, imagining the future of edge and 5G

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Editor’s note: 5G is much more than a network—it’s a platform for innovation with the ability to provide immediate global scale and enable use cases that we haven’t even dreamed of yet. But to achieve this, industry players must come together to drive this growing ecosystem. Today, Erik Ekudden, CTO of Ericsson, and Bikash Koley, VP of Global Networking at Google Cloud, share their insights into the potential of edge and 5G.

Experts consider 2021 to be the year that serves as the inflection point between network readiness and 5G availability. However, communications service providers (CSPs) are still faced with the task of modernizing their networks, systems, and infrastructure to maximize the potential of 5G for themselves and for the enterprise customers they serve. As you weigh whether to tackle this challenge, let’s first examine what’s different about 5G and how CSPs can best leverage 5G and the edge together as an even stronger platform for innovation than just 5G alone.

With 5G, applications and mobile networks are no longer isolated

Let’s first address what 5G brings to the table. Faster speeds and lower latency are expected of course, and throughout the evolution from 2G to 3G to 4G, there’s been a step function in performance improvements with each of these. However, with every generation, applications and networks have been like ships passing in the night. Networks have been unaware of what the applications have been doing and applications have been guessing what the network was capable of. 

What’s different this time around is that there is some real innovation happening with the development and rollout of 5G itself. The network is on a path to become more accessible via APIs so that applications can call on and consume what they need from the networks in a more programmable way. This sets us up for more open architectures and ecosystems.

5G leverages a more open architecture 

One key difference with 5G as compared to prior generations is that it’s the most open and flexible network architecture the CSP industry has seen. This is thanks to its service-based approach and the decoupling of hardware and software components. CSPs are now running core network elements in the public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, and even multi-cloud, which was unthinkable even five years ago.

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The flexibility of this more open architecture allows us to push the cloud to the edge while still being able to manage it from a single pane of glass. This is a huge leap forward from traditional networks, which have been domain-specific, managed in silos, and with slow service creation and delivery. Now, hyperscale cloud vendors and network equipment providers are offering solutions that help CSPs break down these silos to enable more flexible, automated networks with improved orchestration, visibility, and control across multi-vendor, multi-cloud and hyperscale cloud-provider environments. In addition, the separation of hardware and software provides a much more flexible and cost-effective way to upgrade from one network generation to the next.

To provide solutions that are relevant to enterprises, CSPs must offer capabilities beyond connectivity. Enterprise service orchestration, including exposure of network assets and network slicing, are foundational capabilities to provide value to the application ecosystem and be in control of the network and the delivered services.

Combining 5G and edge to help industries reimagine user experiences

This convergence of compute, storage and networking at the edge coming together for the first time will enable CSPs and enterprises to offer their customers completely reimagined user experiences. Consider, for example, how the automotive industry might enhance how customers shop for a car. As part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Virtual Showroom at the recent CES 2021 event, consumers were able to experience the innovative new 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe by scanning a QR code with their phones, and then see an Augmented Reality (AR) model of the Wrangler right in front of them—virtually placed on their own driveway or in any open space.

By rendering the model in Google Cloud, then streaming it to mobile devices, visitors could also see what the car looked like from any angle, in different colors, and even step inside to see the interior in incredible detail. That is the true digitization of an industry segment and highlights the device-to-network-to-edge-to-cloud application relationship and how it can impact the user experience.

A programmable network unlocks more application use cases

The programmability of the 5G network will truly enable application developers to utilize all the benefits of the underlying network. Programmability supports ease of use and enables CSPs, integrated software vendors (ISVs) and the ecosystem to have the right network-level APIs exposed so that applications can be optimized based on the network behavior and vice versa. Imagine, for instance, automatically pushing applications from a cloud region to the edge based on network latency and performance metrics.

Finally, 5G’s programmability is also about having the right tools available for developers to build and integrate applications on the network with zero-touch onboarding and validation. With this, we’ve come to the point where the network is now a “platform” for application innovation. 

5G and edge will be all about the ecosystem

One thing is for certain: the shift to 5G will place tremendous focus on the ecosystem, and it needs to be an ecosystem that includes CSPs, public cloud providers, application developers and technology providers, all coming together to optimize the user experiences across industry applications. For instance, Google Cloud and Ericsson recently announced our partnership to deliver 5G and edge cloud solutions for CSPs and enterprise.  In addition, Google Cloud is also teaming up with popular ISVs to deliver more than 200 edge applications from 30-plus partners, all running on our cloud.  

With collaboration across ISVs, cloud providers and network equipment providers, we are enabling the rapid delivery and deployment of new vertical services and applications, leveraging capabilities like Anthos, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), as well as multi-vendor, multi-cloud and hyperscale cloud provider service orchestration and global edge networks such as those provided by Google and telecom service providers.

As members of the technology ecosystem, we talk about compute, storage and networking, but when it comes down to it, it’s about optimally placing these resources—whether in the cloud, at the provider core, at the edge or anywhere in between—to maximize the end-user experience. The openness and programmability of 5G lends itself to collaboration like never before. We predict that in 2022 and beyond, it will be all about the ecosystem coming together to leverage 5G and the edge to build innovations that we can’t yet imagine.

To learn more, watch the full Ericsson 5G Things CTO Focus fireside chat, where we discuss these topics and more.