5G IoT, Edge Computing and their Vital Role in Retail
The retail industry continues to experience unprecedented and unpredictable changes. Challenges such as talent acquisition and evolving consumer appetites leave leaders with little control over what happens next. With the state of the current landscape, retail stakeholders must create a business environment that's both dependable and adaptable. One area in which this is possible is connectivity. Leveraging the advantages of edge computing with Internet of Things (IoT) deployments will give retail leaders a resilient, customizable and powerful connection on which they can depend.
Understanding Edge and IoT
Today, organizations of all kinds have a heavy dependence on IoT. In the world of retail, a successful IoT environment can include digital displays or signage, video surveillance, physical security, building automation, self-service kiosks, and more.
Retail IoT devices also gather customer data to work with an in-store merchandising application. That customer data must then be securely transferred to cloud or data center storage area from which a marketing team, or artificial intelligence, can analyze it. From there, the retailer can use this to develop business rules that create revenue, promotions and generate repeat customers.
For IoT components to function in concert they require a dependable network. When businesses can minimize network downtime, they can consequently prevent interruption in the IoT services they need. Edge computing provides methods to mitigate against these interruptions while maintaining an organization's control over their IoT environment.
There are multiple edge computing strategies that retail businesses can leverage, however, the customer edge provides a unique advantage. With edge containers at the customer edge (customer location), companies can move key, lightweight components of their application workloads physically closer to users, thereby decentralizing their services. Applications run and process data locally, thereby improving processing speed and reducing latency and the amount of data traversing the network to be stored in the cloud. This saves costs on data storage and data transmission.
Running applications at the edge also improves transaction resilience. With a router placed at the customer edge, if a network goes down, IoT applications can continue to run locally until the network link is restored.
So, Where Does 5G Come In?
Although there are many benefits to combining IoT deployment with edge computing, there are also a few friction points. Not all retail businesses are created equal when it comes to time, location and resources. Depending on the location of certain retail businesses, it can be cost prohibitive or even impossible to install a broadband or fiber connection. However, 5G and cellular can connect locations that were previously unreachable.
Also, with a 5G connection, businesses can ensure a strong connection with lower latency. When it comes to data transmission, 5G has transmission times that are more than double that of preceding cellular technologies. Applications for IoT that wouldn’t run previously at necessary speeds can now be considered with the combination of edge compute and 5G.
IoT environments also need optimal security when it comes to their network. Sensitive information, such as customer data, must be protected. There have been multiple security enhancements made to the 3GPP standard for 5G, including zero-trust concepts, identity practices and communications security.
IoT and the Edge in Action
A Michigan-based car wash technology provider is a great example of how IoT and edge computing have allowed the business to revolutionize car wash operations for its customers. It provides a subscription based, as-a-service offering to car wash owners that comes with a full IT rack and enterprise network accessories that connect to all IP-enabled devices.
Data storage and transmission is key to how this company shows up for its clients. This includes data on industrial car wash components, point-of-sale systems and network performance. This data, which the company reviews and presents to each client, comes from multiple sources and can be extremely sensitive (e.g., customer credit card data). The technology provider needed a connectivity solution that can effectively transfer data from multiple sources, keep that data secure, and be set up without large amounts of time and resources. Enter edge computing.
Data collected at each site is pushed securely, and in real time, through routers at the edge to a central data center. Then the company can provide personalized analytics, based on that data, to car wash operators so they can improve their businesses. Installing these network components doesn’t take an extended period of time and the technology provider can handle the SaaS maintenance for a monthly fee.
Uptime is critical for any car wash business. Car wash components, POS retail transactions and even security cameras must stay in operation. Edge computing in an IoT environment helps here as well. With the car wash applications running on routers at the edge, even if there’s a link outage, these applications can continue to run locally until connectivity is restored. Therefore, important functions such as data transfer, security cameras or POS operations can continue.
Today’s Retail Businesses Need an Edge
As the customer appetite continues to shift, and the meaning of a great customer experience evolves, businesses must remain prepared to meet their needs. Amidst this landscape, there will be opportunities to build and sustain great customer relationships with services that are constant and business rules that are adaptable. With a 5G IoT environment, combined with the right edge strategy, retail leaders will remain prepared irrespective of the next wave of retail challenges.
Dee Dee Pare is a senior product marketing manager at Cradlepoint, a company that develops cloud-managed wireless edge networking equipment.
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Expertise in marketing management experience for networking, IoT, cloud, video, software and business to business products in domestic and international markets.