Akamai Technologies: key steps to support 5G technology

By James Kretchmar
James Kretchmar, CTO, Akamai Technologies Inc, on the key steps for supporting 5G...

Despite the fact the Internet was born just half a century ago, it now forms an absolutely critical part of our day-to-day lives, particularly in such an atypical year as 2020. It has facilitated the move to working from home for millions worldwide, has let us stay in touch with family and friends, and has allowed us to stream new movies and play the latest games.

But with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing massive behaviour change on businesses and consumers alike, the Internet has been put under the spotlight and, in many instances, has needed to facilitate increased network traffic. On Akamai’s global platform, peak traffic for the month of March 2020 was 167 Tb/s, more than double the March 2019 peak of 82 Tb/s. And with more users and more content coming online, the traffic the Internet must manage will only grow larger. Not to mention the expected impact of demanding new technologies like 8K UHD or VR streaming.

Technology never sleeps though and the latest innovations coming our way promise to bring more speed and convenience than ever before. This prompts even further behaviour change, with increased demand for more and higher quality streaming and better and faster online experiences. However, there’s one question that remains: is the Internet ready?

The advent of 5G

The prospect of 5G is an exciting one, promising increased bandwidth, lower latencies and more. But these improvements aren’t a given. As we’ve learned through past experience, improving one part of a technology, in this case the mobile network connectivity, does not always improve the overall user experience and sometimes can actually have an adverse effect.

As faster and more reliable mobile connections allow users the possibility of richer experiences, they will quickly adopt them, and then come to expect them to be flawless: HD video with fast startup and no rebuffering, instantaneous websites and speedy downloads, to name just a few. However when millions of consumers are pushing 5G mobile networks to these new limits, incredible new pressure will be put on the system in ways which faster links alone cannot manage.  

Even with 5G, if content is not positioned very close to the device requesting it, it will have to traverse many networks across the Internet before arriving at the device. Each hop the content has to jump through is a bottleneck that can become congested and ruin the experience, and these bottlenecks will only be worsened by increased demand. Users connecting to servers hosting content in a centralized manner will simply encounter a poor quality experience as network connections become overloaded.

If you’re not operating on the edge, you’re clogging up the works

The potential obstacles to be encountered from these burgeoning technologies can only be overcome with an intelligent edge architecture. Early iterations of the Internet imagined that content would flow from a single source directly to each intended recipient - regardless of the distance or audience size. However, as the volume of content and users rapidly grew, it became clear that this architecture could not support the most popular and in-demand content. 

An intelligent edge platform is by its very nature highly distributed. It delivers content to users from a server that’s close-by, avoiding bottlenecks and congestion on the Internet, and reducing the load on the servers hosting the content. This makes it possible to deliver higher definition video without glitches, load websites without delays and download software in a fraction of the time. The intelligent edge is also programmable, so that organisations can make dynamic decisions in serving content while maintaining the lowest latency possible to the end-user.

The past few months have been but a small wake-up call for the industry and we’re only at the very beginning of the next chapter of the Internet. Let’s capitalise on the sense of urgency that has seen us through these turbulent times and start architecting our services so that the Internet can continue to deliver on its promise of a more connected, collaborative and content-rich world. It’s clear that 5G promises so much, but to truly embrace it and feel its full benefits, we must look beyond the hype of faster connections to transform business on the Internet.

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