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Edge Communication

August 15, 2023

"Edge communication" is a communication system or network architecture that enables real-time data processing and communication at the network's edge.[1] More concisely, it is a culmination of separated sensors and devices scattered across differing locations, with each device generating data. Traditionally, all the data would be returned to a central location (like a data center) for processing and analysis. However, with edge communication, the idea is to perform these tasks closer to where the data is being generated: the network's edge.

How It Works

The physical architecture of the edge can be intricate, but the fundamental concept is straightforward. It involves client devices connecting to a nearby edge module to achieve more responsive processing and seamless operations. Various devices can serve as edge devices, such as IoT sensors, employee laptops, smartphones, security cameras, or even internet-connected appliances like the microwave oven in the office break room.[2]

Imagine you are attending a music concert and want to capture the performance on your phone. As a single person, it's relatively easy to record a video and share it with your friends. However, consider if everyone in the concert venue tried to record the performance simultaneously and share it online. The situation becomes chaotic and overwhelming.

In this scenario, each person's phone is like a device that generates data, such as video footage. When only a few devices are involved, the network can smoothly handle data transmission. However, as the number of devices transmitting data increases, issues arise. The network experiences congestion, leading to latency, delays, and poor quality of the shared videos. Additionally, the bandwidth required to handle such a massive influx of data becomes unsustainable and costly.

Similar to the challenges faced in the manufacturing equipment monitoring or remote video camera example, the concert analogy illustrates how a network can struggle when simultaneously inundated with data from numerous devices. It emphasizes the importance of efficiently managing data transmission and finding solutions to address latency, bandwidth limitations, and overall quality degradation when scaling up the number of devices transmitting data on a network.

Space Application

Regarding space, edge communication tackles inherent, long-distance obstacles when supporting interplanetary communication. Processing the data closer to the data collection simplifies data movement; moreover, large data transfers back to Earth or to a central control center are avoided – which are time-consuming and bandwidth-intensive.

Edge communication systems in the space industry can involve onboard processing and analysis capabilities on satellites, rovers, or spacecraft. This allows for quicker decision-making, more efficient data transmission, and the ability to prioritize or filter data before transmitting only the most relevant or critical information back to Earth.

New Uses of Edge Computing

Manufacturing: Imagine regularly taking detailed pictures of a high-pressure pipe to check for cracks. This generates massive data, which can cause congestion if sent to a central data center. By processing this data at the edge, closer to where it's collected, the strain on the network is reduced and can quickly respond if a defect is detected. Specific data about the fault back is sent to the cloud for further analysis and sharing with other facilities, allowing companies to proactively address issues before they affect production.

Healthcare: Health providers use artificial intelligence to analyze genetic information to understand how it impacts a patient's health. This generates a considerable amount of data, but once the analysis is complete, most of the data becomes less valuable. Collecting and processing this data locally saves time and network resources. Firms only need to send essential genetic information back to a central cloud service or server, which helps to speed up the process and reduce the amount of data being transmitted.

Retail: When you go to a store and scan items at checkout, sending every barcode to a central location for price lookups would cause transaction delays. But with edge capabilities within each store, the scanners can quickly retrieve the prices locally. This improves the customer experience by reducing waiting times and ensuring smooth and efficient transactions. Retailers can use edge nodes for diverse functionalities like integrating point-of-sale data, targeted promotions, foot traffic tracking, and store management applications.[3]

Cell Phones: 5G cell phones utilize edge computing to enable low-latency applications, enhance content delivery, leverage advanced AI functionalities, facilitate IoT connectivity, and improve network efficiency. This combination provides faster and more responsive user experiences, unlocking the full potential of 5G networks.

[1] Ahmed, A. (2022, April 14). How edge takes a key role in business. EY.

[2] New IDC spending guide forecasts double-digit growth for investments in Edge Computing. IDC. (n.d.).

[3] Shaw, J. G. and K. (2022, May 31). What is edge computing and why does it matter?. Network World.


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