Next-generation tech like self-driving cars and augmented reality will need huge amounts of computing power.
AT&T on Tuesday detailed its plan to use “edge computing” and 5G to move data processing to the cloud, in order to better support these new technologies.
“[Edge computing] is like having a wireless supercomputer follow you wherever you go,” AT&T said in a statement.
Rather than sending data to AT&T’s core data centers — which are often hundreds of miles away from customers — it will be sent to the company’s network of towers and offices, located closer to users.
For example, let’s say you’re wearing VR glasses but the actual virtual reality experience is running in the cloud. There could be a delay in what you see when you move your head if the data center is far away.
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AT&T aims to reduce lag time by sending data to locations much closer to you. (AT&T has agreed to acquire Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. The deal is pending regulatory approval.)
5G networks will be driving these efforts. Experts believe 5G will have barely any lag, which means a lot of the computing power currently in your smartphone can be shifted to the cloud. This would extend your phone’s battery life and make apps and services more powerful.
In the case of augmented and virtual reality, superimposing digital images on top of the real world in a believable way requires a lot of processing power. Even if a smartphone can deliver that promise, it would eat up its battery life.
“This solution moves the data crunching from the device to the cloud at the edge,” an AT&T spokesman told CNN Tech. “[This is] one way to reduce latency, but it’s less practical due to the effect on the battery or even hardware required.”
The “edge” refers to the physical points of the network that are closer to customers.
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5G will also enable faster speeds and could even open the door to new robotic manufacturing and medical techniques.
AT&T is rolling out edge computing over the “next few years,” beginning in dense urban areas.