It seems like everybody is talking about 5G, which should become the new standard of mobile Internet and be available in Europe next year. Especially the automotive industry wants it, because of the high data capacity and fast data transfer. But unlike the upgrades from 2G to 3G to 4G, this isn’t just the case of replacing antennas, changing the frequency and expanding capacity. This is about bringing the Internet literally closer to home.

The concept of mobile Internet with 2G, 3G and 4G is straight forward. When you go online on your mobile device, it sets up a tunnel to a centralised server of your mobile provider. From there you enter the Internet. Even if you are abroad, and you use ‘roaming’, your device will set up that same tunnel (via sister networks of your provider). Hence, you will get Dutch Internet settings, like Google in Dutch.

When the Internet of things is going to use 5G for data exchange between the devices, such data must be exchanged locally. A tunnel to a ‘home’ mobile provider would disturb the sequence order of information exchange between the device, which would be disastrous for autonomous vehicles. To make sure this will not happen, 5G is going to rely on ‘mobile edge computing’. And that will change everything.

The idea of mobile edge computing (or multi-access edge computing MEC), is that instead of connecting to massive centralised datacentres, applications will connect to smaller, decentralised datacentres that are closer to the device. By running applications and performing related processing tasks closer to that device (this can be your average device, but also an autonomous vehicle), network congestion is supposed to be reduced and applications perform better and faster.

Back in November of last year, I heard about how 5G will change the infrastructure of mobile Internet as we know it, thanks to MEC. But it wasn’t until recently at a Juniper event, where there was another keynote about MEC, that I realised for the first time that it wasn’t just a marketing speech. Because for MEC to work, it requires these smaller datacentres on the corner of every street.

Can you imagine the infrastructure that is needed for this? Who is going to provide all the necessary cabling? Is it going to be an open market? Does it require the traditional telco’s to invest massively in it – which they probably can get a return on by renting out server space in those small centres? They might call it wireless Internet, but with this kind of infrastructures, it definitely isn’t wireless.

MEC is a logical way to provide services, and it is interesting to see where this will all lead. Does this mean for instance the beginning of the end of the era of centralised computing? Is this going to change our industry a lot? In any case, I know it is something that we are going to hear about a lot more in the coming months and years. And I will follow it up closely.