Edge, swarm, cloud and next-generation networks: Unlocking virtual dimensions
Recently, I delivered a session to a university on the topic of the future of work which turned out to be a great learning experience, both for me and for the students I addressed. The insight that I gained was that after graduation, many students living in remote areas would like to continue working in areas where they spent their childhood — with big houses, empty clifftops, or close to the beach.
Unfortunately, the digital divide remains pronounced. Users in remote areas lack access to the fastest internet speeds, and existing cellular networks cannot guarantee network roll-out in all sparsely populated areas. This has been a persistent issue that has forced many of them to move to urban areas that offer ubiquitous, high-quality connectivity. The work from home phenomenon is starting to have a clear geographic impact, pulling workers farther away from urban cores. What would it be like if the connectivity was extended to remote places?
Atos’s latest emerging technology report, Unlocking Virtual Dimensions, shows how the evolution of three key technology trends — next-generation networks, edge-swarm continuum and the cloud — is creating a virtual revolution that is extending and augmenting the physical world. These technology-enabled virtual dimensions reveal abundant opportunities for new ways of operations to address the challenge raised above.
New connectivity options are rapidly gaining the maturity to bridge this gap and reduce the connectivity divide. The few options that have emerged are:
- The evolution of 5G, where we see increased spatial distribution levels, a fivefold increase in cellular sites, and growing demand.
- Full fiber with dedicated connection offering gigabyte download speed.
- Satellite-based broadband, which increases the reach and resilience of connectivity. Many enterprises are looking at satellites as a backup option, and we see early adoption of satellite broadband with initiatives such as Starlink, SpaceX, Kuiper, etc.
However, processing all the information centrally in the cloud will be too expensive and will have a major impact on bandwidth. This is where we see the evolution of the cloud continuum moving to the edge, with processing done close to the data source. The edge is instrumental in connecting high-speed networks, multi-cloud services, data sources and data consumers. The proximity characteristics of edge computing will avoid issues around bandwidth, as the processing will be done close to the source.
As the edge computing ecosystem evolves, the heterogeneity of hardware and software will also evolve and create many complications. Plug-and-play self-configuration will be the need of the hour. Edge computing will need to have features like we see in the swarm intelligence of collective decentralized, self-organizing systems. The concept of swarm intelligence has been around since the late 1980's. We could see a swarm of edge satellite nodes in orbit that will further help increase the spatial network connectivity levels.
But as we observe this triad of technologies rapidly gaining maturity, there is still one vital need: a business platform capable of bringing all providers together for easy-to-use services, affordable pricing and simple installation processes. There are aspects of cybersecurity risk that need to be addressed and operation resilience in the fragile world.
In Unlocking Virtual Dimensions, we use a torus model to depict the interface between the physical world and the virtual world. This same model can be used to visualize how the technologies described above will help move from the center (urban areas) to suburbs and remote locations.
The center of the model is the realm with a massive concentration of people in urban areas. Here, as explained above, connectivity and edge are stretching the boundaries of the physical world in new and disruptive ways. They act as bridges between the physical and the virtual dimensions. As we move outward through the torus into the virtual realm, we explore examples of emerging scenarios where new virtual operating models will become an essential vehicle for productivity — as well as less commuting, reduced costs and carbon emissions.
To understand the opportunities and impact of these new virtual world operating models, I invite you to read our latest Atos Scientific Community report: Unlocking Virtual Dimensions. and listen to our experts’ podcast.
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