IoT+Edge Computing+5G: A Winning Combination
Agencies are quickly discovering the virtually limitless possibilities of technologies like IoT, 5G connectivity and edge computing. Deployed and used correctly, these cutting-edge technologies promise to provide real-time actionable information, which agencies can use to avoid situational or mechanical downtime, better manage assets, protect public health and safety, along with generally improving efficiency and saving money.
While the greatest benefits occur when these technologies are used together, they provide plenty of possibilities on their own. Internet of Things (IoT) devices, for example, help agencies monitor virtually everything. They can either take the form of actual sensors placed on assets, in facilities, or can be embedded in machinery.
Federal agencies are adopting IoT in droves, citing increased data collection and improved operational efficiency. According to a recent , 62 percent of federal respondents said their agencies are either using or plan to use IoT to collect environmental, health/biometric or telematic data, control or monitor equipment or systems and track physical assets like fleet vehicles and equipment. Many agencies indicated that they expect to expand use of IoT.
Edge computing is a close cousin to IoT, and another form of data collection gaining traction throughout government. An edge device can be anything used outside the office environment—a smartphone, laptop, sensor or monitor to collect data. Edge computing is the process of storing, processing and analyzing data where the data is generated and collected. The data typically is routed back to a data center or cloud repository after being processed. With this capability, agencies can get the insights they need onsite, increasing mission efficiency and readiness.
5G, a new wireless standard that promises much faster bandwidth (up to 10x that of 4G) and speed than previous technology, along with lower latency. With 5G in the mix, agencies will be able to process more data at the edge, more quickly.
The key is finding a way to combine these technologies into processes that produce real benefit for agencies and citizens.
“The real promise of 5G, IoT and edge computing is knowing which movie is going to be requested for download and being able to service the request at the first aggregation point of the 5G network—the edge,” said Jack Nichols, federal CTO at CDW•G. “And if citizens can
download an entire movie in seconds, they will have the same expectation for government services.”
Getting to that point will take some time, Nichols said, but with the right infrastructure, guidance and technology, it’s more than possible. The first hurdle is finding an effective way to manage the massive amounts of data that sensors and other edge devices produce. And it is a lot; according to IDC, IoT devices alone will be creating more than 79 zettabytes of data within five years. Bandwidth and performance also can suffer with the influx of so much data. Effective network and cloud technology are critical infrastructure capabilities to handle this massive influx of data.
Some agencies also have security concerns about IoT and other edge devices, not only because they are often installed or used in areas far away from physical data centers, but because each device is different, making it difficult to apply standard security. These issues are surmountable, however, with the right assessment and guidance.
Federal lawmakers are addressing these concerns as well, with a new bill voted into law in December 2020 by Congress. The IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 requires that all Internet-connected devices purchased by the federal government comply with minimum security recommendations issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This bill will have a major impact on the way federal agencies buy and use any type of Internet-connected device.
To address these issues and ensure the best outcome from these promising technologies, agencies should first consider what new offerings or services can be provided through IoT and edge computing, and then determine how best to accomplish those goals. Often, it is helpful to consult with a solution provider that has the understanding, knowledge and expertise to help navigate the waters of transformational IT. The breadth of products and services available via the ITES series of contracts can address all of these issues.