12 minute read

Telecoms/5G

Telecoms on the edge

John Hall, managing director at Proximity Data Centres, explores how edge colocation could be the answer to delivering 5G services.

According to Gartner, edge computing will account for 75% of enterprise-generated data by 2025. Today it only accounts for 10%. The huge increase predicted is largely down to the IoT applications that 5G is expected to enable, which in turn demand huge volumes of data to be processed at the edge. 5G’s small cell architecture and new mobile spectrums will deliver unprecedented low latency and increased bandwidth to support the addition of an increasing number of edge devices for driving compute and storage much closer to the user. The fortunes of 5G, the IoT and edge computing are therefore inextricably linked.

With 5G’s comparable performance to a physical broadband connection, mobile operators and carriers will be able to offer consumers much faster and more reliable applications, such as for video streaming and gaming, as well as boosting the overall experience in terms of voice and data services.

Businesses, industry and public services will also benefit, gaining the ability to wirelessly connect billions of remote edge devices worldwide for monitoring and controlling an array of IoT applications in real-time – for smart cities, smart motorways, factory floor machinery, medical imaging systems, not to mention smart fridges and of course, the

much-vaunted driverless vehicle. According to Gartner, last year 57% of businesses were looking to 5G to support their IoT communications.

Data centres are key In practice much of 5G’s potential depends on data centres. This can only be fully realised by locating many more data centres much closer to edge devices and adapting them to 5G’s short wavelength transmission frequencies, which depend on the deployment of multiple small cells and antennas. In reality, massive infrastructure is still to be deployed and developed in many countries, and to support 5G networks, regional edge data centres are still to be connected to cell towers with fibre optic cabling, including many in the UK. This is absolutely necessary to support 5G’s implementation.

In some cases, this will lead to micro data centres being connected at the base of cell towers for ensuring the critical sub-10 millisecond response times necessary for real-time applications, such as autonomous cars and remote surgery. At the same time, Tier III standard distributed edge data centres and mobile 5G cells/micro data centres will be necessary – for supporting the low latency content delivery and IoT communications requirements of enterprise users and service providers.

Equally, edge data centre proximity is a must to process the data volumes that 5G will create through the proliferation of edge devices and sensors. Long-haul networks will be hard-pressed to handle these data volumes from network traffic and congestion perspectives, meaning much more processing of critical operational data must happen in local data centres. Only the less time sensitive data will be sent back to centralised data centres for further analysis and archiving.

Furthermore, spreading the data traffic load by ensuring much shorter distances to travel between edge devices or users and nearby data centres will greatly reduce data backhaul costs – making the difference between using 10 Gb/s circuits instead of the 100 Gb/s ones typically needed in centralised computing architectures.

The decentralised approach also goes a long way to addressing the security issues of many companies considering edge computing but who do not want their valuable IP being sent long distances via the public cloud. Moving data closer to the edge means internal IT teams can reduce the amount of data they have to store at a single point, which is crucial when addressing cybersecurity threats. By working in a more distributed way and utilising edge data centres, organisations will be more able to focus on stopping the next attack, rather than scrambling to recover from the last one.

According to Gartner, last year 57% of businesses were looking to 5G to support their IoT communications

Move to regional colocation Traditionally, many larger telecom providers have operated their own data centres while also offering up spare capacity within their facilities to third parties for colocation. But more recently as the colocation data centre industry has continued to grow and competition has increased from dedicated colo providers, many telcos have divested large swathes of their estates. This is so they can focus on their core business and maximise the returns on the massive network investments necessary, not least in ongoing 5G rollouts.

Recognising that data centres are expensive to build, own and operate, more telcos are turning to colo data centre operators for data centre infrastructure to support their needs, including moving network operations towards the edge. The Huawei debacle and the subsequent delay in the rollout of 5G have also given CTOs of the big carrier networks more time to assess how they are going to deploy their networks in future.

While often smaller than traditional facilities in terms of space and power capacity, these edge colocation facilities still have to be as reliable as larger centralised ones bearing in mind the mission critical applications they have to support. This will require Tier III redundancy and availability at a minimum, as well as highly scalable bandwidth to meet the intensive edge processing demands of new applications and technologies such as AI, AR and VR. With this, they must also be able to support decentralised public, private and hybrid cloud infrastructures that can be distributed to the edge. Clearly, those data centres that aren’t yet ready for 5G must adapt and refresh as necessary.

However, the actual location of data centres will determine their overall effectiveness in serving as low latency regional points of presence for centralised telco or indeed cloud scale facilities; being physically close enough for bringing data closer to devices, users and customers, for enabling real-time decision making, improved customer service and competitive edge for businesses. And for consumers, an enhanced user experience. For telcos, their dilemma will be whether to build larger and larger ‘pipes’ back to hyperscale data centres or use highly connected networks of regional edge data centres to store ‘some’ of this data, the pay-off being between the cost of computing and storage at the edge versus increasing the size of their networks.

In summary, edge data centres will play a pivotal role in ensuring the whole of the UK – not just its major cities – is reaping the rewards of 5G. While centralised data centres still have a crucial role to play as the hubs of data distribution networks, it is fit for purpose, well-connected and energy-efficient edge data centres that will continue to act as the local depots of data and low latency applications for regions across the country.

Edge data centres will play a pivotal role in ensuring the whole of the UK – not just its major cities – is reaping the rewards of 5G

That’s private!

With social distancing on the cards for the foreseeable future, the implementation of telemedicine has snowballed. Unfortunately, despite the benefits, this also kicks up some serious privacy issues for patients. Alejandro Coca, co-head of TrueProfile.io, explores some of the challenges and solutions that will help build confidence in a now indispensable technology.

In the 1950s, the concept of telemedicine was first put into practice in the US, transmitting radiologic images at large distances via telephone. Originally a tool to reach patients living remotely, it has now become one of the fastest-growing areas of healthcare.

The Covid-19 pandemic has done nothing but accelerate this growth. At the beginning of the outbreak, GP surgeries urged patients not to come into their practice to prevent the potential spread of the virus and health secretary Matt Hancock advised that consultations should be done by telemedicine where possible. Since then, there’s been a dramatic increase in the use of telemedicine, with a survey by the Royal College of GPs finding that six in ten appointments in mid-July were conducted by telephone.

However, with rapid technological advancements comes potential risks and barriers, such as connectivity limitations and data privacy. Providers must ensure they put patient safety first by ensuring they hire verified medical professionals and by investing in the right technology to facilitate telemedicine. We believe blockchain has a role to play in some of these key elements, helping ensure data privacy and patient safety.

What is telemedicine? If you’ve yet to come across the term ‘telemedicine’, it’s defined as follows: ‘Telemedicine is the use of technology to virtually administer medical advice, prognosis and support from a qualified practitioner to a telehealth patient.’ Telemedicine enables qualified healthcare professionals to safely and remotely provide their services to telehealth patients, eliminating in-person interactions and the chance of viral transmission.

Services offered via telemedicine include mental health support, chronic disease management, psychiatry, family planning, medication renewal, on-call visits and much more. Telemedicine hours often go beyond standard office hours for physicians, which is of particular benefit to those who live or work far away from the nearest healthcare centre.

Further, telemedicine services can reach populations regardless of geography, while their ability to respond to medical emergencies where there are critical healthcare shortages is beyond valuable.

Through this pandemic, the need to socially distance and protect the vulnerable has made telemedicine an essential service. The rise of telemedicine this year was not just a quick-fix as a stop-gap for the world to re-adjust to the effects of the pandemic, but a solution that is very much here to stay. A Forrester report estimates that there will be 20 million telemedicine care visits in the UK alone by the end of 2020. These virtual care services will and have become an accepted alternative to the traditional methods of delivering healthcare.

With rapid technological advancements comes potential risks and barriers, such as connectivity limitations and data privacy

The connectivity challenge There are clearly many benefits to the telehealth boom – increased convenience, the potential to limit overhead costs, and even the new insight doctors get into their patients’ lives. Further, telemedicine has progressed past the traditional telephones of the 1950s and is widely done over video now. This delivers a better service, helping to improve patient outcomes. However, it’s not all plain sailing and there are some barriers to adoption.

Firstly, for clinicians working for a telemedicine provider, many have reported experiencing video fatigue, longer workdays, and a loss of work-life balance. Further, for many patients, particularly those that are located in rural and less-developed regions, access to a reliable internet connection is arguably the biggest barrier to connecting with clinicians online. Without an accessible and reliable broadband connection, there is no way they can get the treatment they may need.

The privacy challenge Outside of these barriers, there is the issue of data privacy. Although telemedicine has truly taken off over the last year, it will still be the case that many will be hesitant to adopt the technology on the grounds that they want to protect their health-related data.

As evidenced in the national rollout of the test and trace app, huge widespread concerns around the privacy of health data have emerged throughout the pandemic, which can quickly turn into unfounded conspiracy theories. However, privacy concerns themselves are perfectly understandable, even more so when it comes to telemedicine. Some telemedicine services allow patients and doctors to share and store sensitive information such as test results and x-rays, meaning the right technology must be in place to ensure these records are protected.

The topic of using blockchain technology to protect patients’ medical records is not a new one. However, it isn’t something that has yet gained traction as healthcare institutions struggle to digitise and keep pace with technology advancements.

However, this is where we believe that the use of blockchain should be implemented, decentralising the storage of data so that no central party has control over its content, and nobody can tamper with the records because every member has to agree to its validity and can check the history of record changes.

The recruitment challenge From doctors and nurses to radiologists and psychologists, healthcare professionals are being hired to supply the fastest growing healthcare area and its constant demands. An inefficient hiring process can result in costly lawsuits, imprisonment, brands suffering reputational damage, casualty, and even loss of life. The true value of verification within the telemedicine industry is more important now than ever to alleviate recruiting challenges.

Why is it important though? As with a physical healthcare environment, a virtual one facilitated by telemedicine needs to provide patients with a safe environment. The key to achieving this is through the right medical professionals. It’s critical for healthcare professionals to be properly vetted before allowing them to practice on a telemedicine platform and therefore providers must ensure they source verified, credible healthcare professionals to be assured of their skills and qualifications.

With this in mind, an innovation that is gathering pace is blockchain-powered verification. For example, using a blockchain-enabled professional document verification platform can enable candidates to securely upload and verify private documents, such as passport or university certificates, providing them with a form of portable credentials. NHS recruiters and healthcare regulators can then view and verify candidates’ credentials against the blockchain.

From a recruiter’s standpoint, this can help to drastically streamline the verification process by eliminating the continual churn of verification requests on employers and educational institutions every time a healthcare professional applies for a new role.

For candidates themselves, the process is also expedited as their credentials only need to be verified once before being saved on the blockchain. They can then share this with potential employers at any point during their careers, rather than having to be verified each time when applying for a role.

By using blockchain-enabled professional document verification, telemedicine providers can eliminate the risk of hiring unqualified, fraudulent individuals, ensuring that patients and co-workers are protected.

Building confidence With telemedicine increasing at a rapid pace, it is critical that providers build confidence in any solution, as well as making it as accessible as possible. While the focus previously was all about getting a service up and running quickly, the focus now needs to be on implementing a long-term solution with the patient at the heart of the service.

When it comes to healthcare, patient safety and privacy should always come first and blockchain technology has a clear role to play in many aspects of telemedicine.

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