One of the most exciting new technologies on the near horizon is the next generation cellular network standard known as 5G. Continuing the numerical evolution that ran through 2G, 3G and the current 4G LTE technologies, this advancement will not only increase the speed of the mobile wireless networks we all depend on, it will open the door to new kinds of applications and capabilities that previous cellular networks simply couldn’t do.
5G Enables New Applications and Capabilities, Faster Speeds and Capacities
Two key enabling technologies that will be part of the 5G standard are reductions in latency, or response times, and increases in potential capacity, enabling a much broader and wider range of devices to potentially connect to the network. The result of these benefits is that we will be seeing a more diverse and more capable set of devices and applications enabled by 5G: everything from autonomous cars, smart cities, connected factories, smarter consumer devices, and much more.
At first glance, it might appear that the increased speed and capacity of 5G networks would reduce the need for storage on local devices. The argument goes that because the speed of acquiring necessary data via a network connection would be so fast, that data could simply be retrieved in real-time as needed. In fact, the opposite will be true when it comes to 5G. The increased intelligence of the devices, and the more sophisticated nature of the services being delivered via the network will combine to actually increase the data storage demands of 5G-capable devices.
First, it’s important to remember the context around the upcoming arrival of 5G. Devices that connect to 5G networks are not going to be “dumb” terminals without computing and storage requirements of their own. In fact, as the result of developments such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), 5G-capable devices are going to be expected to have even more advanced computing capabilities than what’s found in today’s devices. In addition, many of these new devices will start to incorporate more sensors and that, in turn, is going to create growing demands to react to all the real-time data that these devices are expected to encounter.
Edge Computing, Big Data and Fast Data
From a big picture perspective, many of these developments are part of an overall trend in the tech market—both for consumer and business applications—that’s called “edge computing.” With edge computing, more intelligence and more computing power is going to migrate from the cloud down to the device. This certainly doesn’t mean the cloud is going away—far from it—but it does mean that the amount of compute capabilities on devices is increasing with the continued explosion of Big Data. Directly related to that increased intelligence is a growing need for local storage to support these local computing operations. The storage will be needed both for applications and other functions that will run on devices, as well as for caching and storing the growing amount of data that 5G networks will be able to deliver.
The nature of services and capabilities enabled by 5G networks is also going to stretch the storage demands for a much wider range of smart, connected devices. There will be a need to support Fast Data applications with real-time analytics. Fast data means getting more insights for faster action. Autonomous cars, for example, will be receiving data from other nearby cars, infrastructure elements, and the environment around it via 5G, and all that data will need to be processed locally. The HD maps that autonomous cars require also demand significant storage, and the real-time updates to those maps that 5G will enable are going to increase those demands.
In addition to connected cars, there will be other types of smart connected devices with increasing amounts of computing and storage requirements. From smart home gateways and appliances, to smart cities and smart factories, the range of devices that will start connecting to 5G networks is going to grow at an exponential rate, and all of them will demand local computing and storage. (I spoke about the advances in many of these smart connected devices in a recent blog, “What’s the Future of Tech Devices? A Look Back at 2017 and Ahead to 2018”.)
More Data, More Capacity
Even on mainstream devices like smartphones, the ability to be more aware of the context and surroundings in which they find themselves will increase with 5G, and those kinds of applications are going to require more data storage. In addition, the speed of 5G networks will encourage people to download much larger files, including 4K HDR movies, 360-degree videos, VR content and much more, all of which demand significantly more capacity than the types of files people are typically storing on their smartphones today.
Data Compute and Storage Will Rise with 5G Networks
The forthcoming arrival of 5G networks is going to have a far-reaching influence on many aspects of the tech industry. While many are focused on the exciting new devices and applications this new technology will enable, it’s important not to forget the influence these networks will also have on the components powering those devices. In the case of computing and storage, 5G raises requirements and expectations to new levels, so device makers and designers planning these new products should plan accordingly. It’s going to be a data-rich, content-rich, speedy new world.
Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.
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Bob O'Donnell, the president, founder and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, has a lengthy, multi-faceted career in the technology business. He is widely regarded as an expert in the technology market research field and his original research and advice is used by executives in large technology firms all over the world.