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Edge Computing with 5G can mean faster data-driven outcomes.

As businesses deploy more data-intensive devices and applications, they need the fastest and most comprehensive network capabilities, with very low latency, to enable the best performance and great user experiences.

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  • Edge computing, also known as multi-access edge computing (MEC), is expected to become widely adopted within enterprises by 2025.1
  • When real-time responsiveness matters—like using AR or heavy data processing—5G and Edge together add an extra boost.
  • 5G + Edge addresses network gaps such as the need for lower latency, resilience when networks go down, and more data security.

In cases where local data processing is essential to business responsiveness and reliability, 5G and edge computing together can offer a critical boost.

This is especially true with use cases that demand low latency—near-real-time data transmission—like when augmented reality is used for worker assistance or when magic mirrors provide customer interactivity in a retail store. For these and a growing number of other scenarios, combining 5G and edge computing can offer the best of both worlds—5G’s speed, capacity, and low latency with edge computing’s architectural efficiency.

Could your business benefit from edge computing?

Nearly every enterprise today uses Wi-Fi and cloud computing to support business-critical operations and ongoing innovation. Now, a growing number of organizations are also adopting edge computing, especially when facing these types of challenges:

Short window of opportunity to act on new data.

Illustration of a clock with arrows pointing from the left and right sides

Need for greater resilience where data availability is a high priority.

Illustration of a circle with a Wi-Fi signal and lightning rod in the center

Costs of transporting data to and from distant servers

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Confidential data and interactions

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What is edge computing?

Edge computing—also known as multi-access edge computing (MEC), or simply “Edge”—is an emerging technology that’s expected to become widely adopted within enterprises by 2025, according to the research firm Gartner.2

The trend is being driven by a growing need for responsive, reliable processing power where data is being generated—whether that’s on a factory floor, at a transportation hub, or on the playing field. In these settings and others, 5G and MEC are a powerful combination. 

How does multi-access edge computing work?

With MEC, data processing happens on systems and devices that are on the perimeter of enterprise infrastructure. That could be in a warehouse, retail outlet, or even a truck on the road. MEC is an evolution in cloud computing that moves computing power to the edge of the network, putting applications closer to end users and computing services closer to the data created by applications.

Diagram of content in three clouds with latency from lowest to highest levels

“MEC provides a new ecosystem and value chain,” according to ETSI, the international telecommunications standards organization. 

MEC is an alternative to sending endpoint-generated data to centralized servers in a distant data center or in the cloud for processing. A MEC configuration may comprise: 

  • On-premise systems: MEC, combined with a 5G private network, can support an organization’s on-premise data requirements by reducing the amount of data that must be processed in a centralized location, reducing latency and costs. 

  • Off-premise devices: Smartphones, video cameras, autonomous vehicles, and other connected devices—whether fixed or mobile—can enjoy low latency when operating off premises.

  • Peered local zones: With 5G and MEC, businesses can run latency-sensitive applications in close proximity to endpoint devices—called peer zoning—to create a consistent experience.

A growing ecosystem pushing to the Edge.

Most businesses are still in the early going with MEC. Only about 10 percent of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside of a central data center or the cloud. But industry experts expect that to change: Gartner predicts the figure will jump to 75 percent by 2025.3

A growing range of infrastructure systems are being developed for MEC environments. They include servers, gateways, routers, firewalls, and other wide area network (WAN) equipment. 

“We're seeing the ecosystem pushing even farther to the Edge,” says David Chan, Director, Product Management, T-Mobile for Business. For example, he adds, “some of our technology partners are now coming up with smart routers that have significant compute assets built into the router.”

Already in use are various digital devices including sensors, actuators, and Internet of Things (IoT) gateways—with built-in processing, artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics capabilities.


Female in yellow vest carries a tablet down warehouse aisle with magenta highlights around boxes on shelves
A man using drone
Shoppers stand in aisle at market looking at shelves with magenta callouts about items

5G and MEC address some common challenges.

Gartner has identified “four major gaps” in business requirements that are driving the edge computing paradigm: 

  1. The need for lower latency (more real-time responsiveness in business operations)
  2. The increase in local data flows (much of which is ephemeral and noisy)
  3. A requirement for resilience even when the network connection is down
  4. The confidentiality or intimacy of the data and interactions (some regulated, some not)

With its low latency, bandwidth, resilience, and robust security, 5G can close these gaps. So, it’s not surprising that 5G is such a natural fit with MEC.

The potential business benefits of MEC solutions.

There are compelling advantages—including responsiveness, resilience, and efficiency—when processing data locally or at the network edge. In many cases, these performance gains translate into business benefits. 

Here are a few ways that can happen: 

  •  Data-intensive applications like augmented reality (AR), employing on-premise MEC systems, can be used for employee training and real-time assistance. 
  •  Backhaul traffic is reduced when data is processed closer to the end device, resulting in increased efficiency and lower costs. 
  • MEC may be more dependable than a centralized datacenter in a crisis or infrastructure failure, providing resilience for local data processing.

What does that look like in practice? Taqtile, a T-Mobile for Business partner, has developed an AR solution that uses 5G and MEC to support frontline workers in areas such as manufacturing and field maintenance.

Where MEC starts to gain traction.

5G and MEC work together in two primary ways: 

Illustration of robots working on assembly line
Illustration of automated guided vehicles rolling along on factory floor

Fixed edge can be valuable when processing data at a specific site. In precision agriculture, for example, sensors are used in the fields to monitor weather, soil, insects, and other factors related to a farm’s health.

Alternatively, 5G and MEC devices can be used together to establish a mobile edge, where 5G’s low latency, broadband capacity, and wide coverage provide ideal data connectivity. “Mobile use cases,” says Chan, “are where the Edge may really start to gain traction.”

Potential mobile edge use cases include theme parks, sporting events, and retail shopping centers—anyplace mobile devices or users generate data. 

Fast-emerging business use cases.

Business explorations into the potential for using 5G and MEC together often start with a particular opportunity or challenge to be solved. Such conversations, Chan says, are generally focused on solutions, more so than the technology itself.

Applications based on computer vision—which employs digital cameras to generate visual data—are a leading example. Manufacturing is another hot area, with MEC systems being deployed on the factory floor for process automation and predictive maintenance. 

Other use cases identified by ETSI include IoT, local content distribution, data caching, and vehicle-to-anything (V2X) connectivity. “MEC will enable new vertical business segments and services for consumers and enterprise customers,” according to ETSI.

There are emerging applications across industries, such as immersive customer experiences in retail, event reporting in construction, and product tracking in transportation and logistics. 

These deployments often involve technology partners working together to provide customers with an end-to-end network solution. We collaborate with equipment manufacturers, infrastructure providers, and cloud service providers to assess 5G-plus-MEC opportunities, and to bring the pieces together in an integrated architecture. 

The expanding frontier: mobile edge.

As edge computing catches on, it’s likely to spread to more devices and wider deployments. Economics are accelerating the trend, as MEC devices and intelligent routers with built-in processing become more affordable. As that happens, MEC deployments could grow to hundreds, or even thousands, of endpoints. 

Mobile edge, says Chan, could become “the next frontier” in edge computing. “We're thinking about Edge a little bit differently than the other guys,” he says. 

What might that look like? It could evolve into a bustling ecosystem of mobile edge solutions powered by 5G in transportation, logistics, supply chains, and other industry sectors. 

That’s an opportunity for business and technology leaders to think differently about the ways that 5G and MEC can be used together to deliver value to their own organizations and customers. 

Discover more 5G resources.

1Gartner, Inc. “Infographic: Understanding Edge Computing,” April 2022.

2See “Infographic: Understanding Edge Computing,” April 2022, by Gartner Inc. 

3Gartner, Inc. “What Edge Computing Means for Infrastructure and Operations Leaders,” October 2018. 

5G: Capable device required; coverage not available in some areas. Some uses may require certain plan or feature; see T-Mobile.com. 5G use cases are still emerging and new devices being created; see details on current 5G capabilities & services.

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