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MWC 2019 Connected Computing Devices: Edge Computing A Conundrum for 5G PCs and Tablets

by Eric Smith | Feb 27, 2019

Edge computing is a lofty goal meant to offload data processing on end user devices onto the network, leveraging high throughput and low latency, so it’s no wonder that it keeps coming up in discussions here. 5G is an enabler of edge computing and how that happens is really going to come down to use cases by device.

First, let’s set the stage for what the “edge” is in this case. It’s not the “cloud” sitting far away in a data center. This is computing that takes place on the network as close to the end user as possible, ideally before the data leaves the operator’s private network and goes out to the internet. Industry players from Deutsche Telekom to Ericsson are talking about their solutions from their own perspectives and in a way that monetizes the service rather than letting YouTube or Netflix place servers on the network for free and reap all of the benefits.

Data processing could become commoditized in a way that data transfer and wireless connectivity becomes the new measure of how productive a computing device is. This would make it possible for device vendors to use smaller motherboards, more efficient/low-cost CPUs, and thinner/lighter designs for all sorts of devices.

Here's where the conundrum arises. On one hand, chipset vendors are promoting the high performance of their mobile PC processors every consecutive year, such as the Intel Core and Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx lines. At the same time, they are promoting their 4G and 5G embedded modem solutions to make connected laptops a commonplace product over the long term. Always Connected PCs are the precursor to PC OEMs addressing opportunities in the 5G world.

Intel Modems

When 5G is established as the dominant standard (mid next decade) and all of its capabilities are being utilized, some areas will make sense for PC vendors to offload BOM cost and shift performance to the network, such as entry-level PCs (similar to how we saw with Chromebooks initially relying heavily on Wi-Fi). Of course, we can’t know what new use cases will arise from 5G, but another reasonable assumption is that gaming (including e-sports) will be an area where capabilities are tested first both in leveraging edge computing to enable cloud gaming and in utilizing the low latency for gaming in congested areas. Time will tell what other use cases arise where edge computing solves a problem for consumers and makes money for the hardware and services value chain.

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