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Multi-Access Edge Computing: The Future of IoT & Connected Vehicles

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  • Automotive

The rate at which technology evolves has changed the way people interact with the world. Meanwhile, businesses have accelerated their digital transformation initiatives to rapidly innovate and compete on an increasingly globalized stage. One example of this trend is the ever-growing prevalence of IoT devices—from wearables to video cameras and thermostats to kitchen appliances. It goes beyond the consumer market, too. The construction, transportation and manufacturing industries, for example, are also harnessing the promise of IoT. 

Major advances in computing power have made the IoT revolution possible. As IoT continues to advance, planning for its next evolution is essential, especially for the automotive industry. However, the sheer volume of data that connected vehicles transfer and store today is beyond current centralized processing capabilities. This is table stakes, as connectivity issues in vehicles compromise safety and security.

Where IoT & Edge Computing Converge

Long before the automotive industry had to grapple with this problem, telecommunications companies faced communication channel limitations and developed mobile edge computing (later called multi-access edge computing or MEC) as a solution. Since then, MEC has become a framework for many other industries to overcome connectivity challenges.

Edge computing happens at the edge of corporate networks, near or at the physical location of the end user or the data source. This is where connected devices send and receive data or download software updates or content from a data center or cloud. While centralized data channels hinder expansion, create bottlenecks between devices and platforms, and cause latency that impacts user experience, MEC improves the experience by increasing speed and reliability in services.

For example, connected vehicles have sensors and actuators that collect data and perform a variety of functions, including monitoring road conditions and engaging the brakes when a hazard is detected. Because these functions produce such high data volumes that must be analyzed in real time, it must occur at the edge rather than in a central site.

MEC significantly reduces latency and the resulting risks on people’s lives and property. Smart IoT devices, like connected vehicles, have started playing the role of an edge computing node. Woven into the fabric of edge computing and MEC is 5G, which enables more data transmission and improved network coverage.

Automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must keep pace with the amount of data collection from their vehicles, but this challenge is best solved through a broader industry shift to MEC to effectively scale the way it needs to.

MEC is Paving the Way for a Connected Future

The future of the automotive industry relies heavily on the computing power behind connected vehicles, which will be driven by IoT and MEC. As the number of sensors and smart features in  vehicles increases, MEC will be the means of handling the burgeoning data produced by cars. And, as this technology is scaled to the automotive industry needs, drivers can look forward to an improved customer experience and expanded vehicle services.

The decentralized MEC approach would mitigate the limitations of network capacity. No car can be connected to the internet all the time—but in the instance of interrupted connectivity during an operation, vehicles can continue to operate the connected service. In this case, MEC enables connected service functionality (but it might be in a degraded mode).

MEC also enables service software to be decoupled from hardware, so that software service deployments are detached from the development of physical equipment. This gives vehicle manufacturers and service providers a newfound sense of flexibility. Even after a car has been sold, services can be added and updated. A good comparison is the ability to update single apps on a smartphone, as opposed to updating the phone’s operating system in its entirety. This opens up the possibility for a truly bespoke vehicle, expanding the industry expectations for customizable cars that cater to each driver’s unique profile.

A unique opportunity is presented for OEMs to enter a new era of the driving experience. Connected vehicles could bring new revenue streams and increased brand loyalty with customers. By utilizing the IoT data processing framework and MEC that the telecommunications industry built, the future of connected vehicles and devices paints a promising picture.

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