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MWC 2019: Industry rallies around the intelligent edge

The ability to process sensor data on intelligent edge devices, then upload to the cloud, was among the themes at this year’s Mobile World Congress

The atmosphere at the kick-off to this year’s Mobile World Congress was saturated with next-generation 5G networking. Beyond the benefits of streaming higher and higher definition content to consumers’ 5G smartphone devices, the promise of 5G’s lower latency and faster bandwidth is driving IoT growth.

The big opportunity for the IT industry is that a combination of 5G and edge computing is needed to process vast amounts of sensor data from internet of things (IoT) devices in real time to make meaningful decisions.

A recent Gartner survey reported that 59% of organisations believe 5G’s ability to support high densities of IoT sensors will be the top use for the next-generation mobile networking technology.

During MWC 2019, there were plenty of examples of how IoT combined with edge computing and fast, reliable network connectivity could create entirely new types of data-powered “intelligent” applications.

For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) is being used at Spanish carmaker Seat, which is part of the Volkswagen Group, as part of a proof-of-concept project exploring the future of city transport. During MWC 2019, the company announced it was working with IBM on an AI-powered assistant to enable people to choose the best mode of transport.

Using Watson Machine Learning, the app, called Mobility Advisor, can learn a user’s preferences and make personalised recommendations for how best to complete a journey. It is connected to the IBM Cloud and, according to Seat, can dynamically adapt to changing conditions by taking into account weather forecasts and traffic reports. The app also incorporates the user’s appointments and historical data about previous transport choices.

Jordi Caus, Seat’s head of new urban mobility concepts, said: “With its advanced cloud and AI technologies, IBM is helping us innovate new approaches to mobility that will transform our business strategy while improving the lives of people living in urban areas.”

Prepare for a 5G IoT explosion

According to analyst firm Strategic Analytics, companies introducing mobile IoT services are entering the market at an ideal time now that network roll-outs have reached critical mass and the ecosystem is more pragmatic.

In his keynote speech at MWC 2019, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, spoke about the merits of putting intelligence at the edge of an IoT network.

“Computing is no longer confined to a device or even a single datacentre,” he said. “Instead, it’s ubiquitous fabric, it’s distributed from the cloud to the edge, closer to where data is generated, and with the ability to adapt to the wide range of inputs, whether it’s touch, speech, vision or gestures.”

Intel hopes to expand its addressable market by shifting from a company known for its PC chips to one that provides technology to process data.

Last month, the company’s new CEO, Bob Swan, wrote a letter to customers and investors, stating: “We are evolving from a PC-centric to a data-centric company that builds the technology foundation powering the world’s innovations.

“Our ambitions have never been greater and we have a relatively small share of the largest addressable market in Intel’s history. We must remain focused on playing offence and innovating for an increasingly data-centric world. A world where all data needs to be processed, moved, stored and analysed.”

Read more about intelligent edge computing

During MWC 2019, Intel unveiled the Open Network Edge Services Software (OpenNESS) toolkit, an open-source reference it hopes will encourage growth of an ecosystem to create and deploy new edge applications and services. Intel claimed OpenNESS helps simplify network complexity for developers and enables secure on-boarding of edge services.

Sandra Rivera, senior vice-president and general manager of Intel's network platforms group, said: “The network edge provides new opportunities closer to the point of data creation and consumption.”

She said data represented a $10tn 5G market opportunity by 2035, and that the vast volume of data generated and acted on every day would drive the transformation of communication networks. This would disrupt industries and inspire a global ecosystem of technology companies to seize a seemingly limitless market opportunity.

“OpenNESS will make it easier for cloud and internet of things developers to engage with a worldwide ecosystem of hardware, software and solutions integrators to develop new 5G and edge use cases and services,” said Rivera.

Moving IoT data around between different applications and services is behind new integrations between SAP Leonardo IoT and Azure IoT, which Microsoft and SAP claim would simplify the collection and ingestion of data and stream it into business applications, such as SAP S/4Hana.

“The SAP Leonardo IoT will leverage Azure IoT services, including Azure IoT Hub and Azure IoT Edge, to provide access to market leading secure connectivity, powerful Device Management functionality and a global scale data ingestion engine,” said Sam George director, Azure, internet of things, at Microsoft.

“This will enable customers to seamlessly extend their SAP enterprise business processes to the edge, reducing their dependency on latency, bandwidth or connectivity, while creating immersive business experiences that are highly responsive and contextually aware.”

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