With the media and analyst attention 5G and edge computing are getting these days, it’s easy to sense they’re very important technologies. However, it’s not always easy to figure out what they mean for your retail business, or why they’re so often talked about at the same time.
My goal is to help you connect those dots. I’ll start by describing what 5G means for retail, explain how edge computing fits into the picture, then outline how the two can be used together.
5G Accelerates Every Aspect of Retail Operations
5G wireless connectivity is extremely fast, reliable and secure, and it provides the low latency needed to support the most demanding, real-time retail applications. So, it gives you everything fiber gives you. However, because 5G is wireless, you can extend its benefits to the mobile and portable parts of your business, such as delivery trucks, kiosks and pop-up shops.
Now you can bring the same level of high-speed connectivity and real-time operations to every aspect of your business. You have instant access to all transaction data, no matter where it originates, so you can immediately update inventory status. Furthermore, you can easily keep track of mobile fleets and distributed assets.
You can also take advantage of a private 5G network that’s dedicated to your operations. Many feel that a Wi-Fi network is sufficient for business operations, however, there are some key differentiators:
- 5G works over licensed or semi-licensed spectrum, so it’s much more reliable than Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies.
- 5G is more secure than Wi-Fi.
- 5G supports a capability called network slicing, which ensures each device and application gets the exact network resources it needs, when it needs them. This allows 5G to make much more efficient use of wireless spectrum than today’s Wi-Fi technologies.
5G Connects Edge Computing Resources to Your Operations
Edge computing lets you process data on computing resources that are located at the edge of the 5G core network instead of sending it to the cloud for processing. In retail, these computing resources are typically located in regional offices.
Using 5G’s speed and low latency to access regional computing resources lets you avoid the unpredictability and excess time it takes data to travel further across the internet to centrally located cloud resources and back. Data never has to travel further than it absolutely needs to, the on-premises resources are extremely efficient, and you have another way to accelerate your operations.
For example, with 5G and edge computing, you can quickly check the license plate of a delivery truck against an approved list, scan an item against a corporate database, or check a surveillance video for a particular event.
Integrated 5G and Edge Computing Further Increase Efficiency
When the equipment that delivers 5G to your site includes built-in edge computing capabilities, you gain even more efficiencies.
Now, instead of sending an entire surveillance video over your 5G link to regional computing resources, you can perform preliminary processing locally and send just the relevant excerpt of the video for additional analysis. You’re saving bandwidth, and you have faster access to business-critical information.
Benefits Span Retail Operations
Once you understand the fundamentals of what 5G and edge computing bring to retail, it’s easy to see how their benefits can be extended across your operations. I’ve provided just a few basic examples here, and I’ve focused on back-end operations. However, there are also many opportunities to combine 5G and edge computing at each step of the customer journey, from product discovery to checkout and post-purchase.
Dan Picker is the chief technology officer at Inseego, a leader in 5G edge cloud solutions.
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