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Moving networks closer to remote workers with edge computing

12 Feb 2021

For businesses looking to make remote working a permanent feature of their operations, investing in reliable, high-speed connections so employees can easily do their jobs is critical.

This applies to everyone from factory workers who need to remotely monitor machine performance from home to reduce congestion on the factory floor, to train operators looking to analyse passenger numbers in real time to ensure social distancing.

But with employees spread over large areas and many no longer close to a central data point, it takes longer for important information to get to them, which in turn increases the potential for it to get lost along the way.

The key is creating a more reliable “last mile” of connectivity, which puts that essential data closer to the people who are using it, no matter where they are. Allowing them to make business-critical decisions in real time.

This is known as Edge Computing.

Edge Computing speeds up data processing by shortening the distance data needs to travel. It’s no longer being sent to cloud data centres — instead, it’s being processed closer to the source. This reduces delays, speeds up access and improves the performance of the network.

With Edge Computing, employees and businesses can send and receive large amounts of data remotely and without delays, ultimately boosting productivity.

But what does this mean for the future of business?

Powering real-time data

For data to be reliable enough to base business decisions on, it needs to be new. Ideally, it needs to be real time. Gathering real-time data in a remote working environment is a different prospect than doing it through a single, physical workforce.

This is because your remote employees might not be close to the cloud data centre that is processing the data (unlike your office or building). In these circumstances, data processing can take too long for it to be useful, while problems with connections can affect data capture — possibly resulting in missing information — so it’s not always reliable.

To maintain the reliability of data while allowing remote working, you need to place the data as close to the users as possible. This is where Edge Computing and cloud come in.

Edge Computing means employees can reliably access real-time data from anywhere, allowing them to make decisions based on accurate information.

Unleash live is an AI-powered video analytics platform that can connect existing camera installations to real-time AI analytics solutions. It allows businesses to remotely monitor crowd density and use real data to inform safety procedures. All of this is made possible through 4G, 5G and Edge Computing.

For example, during COVID-19 the ability to monitor passenger numbers remotely during the day meant less staff needed to be physically present, reducing the risk while still collecting data to monitor passenger numbers during the day.

The data collected helped with identifying trends to create safety protocols to protect passengers who needed to commute for work, for example, managing passenger flow around the station.

By identifying cloud-based infrastructure close to where services were needed, Unleash live’s platforms meant it could reliably gather and send real-time data from live stream camera feeds to provide reliable data to inform safety protocols — without concerns over latency or reduction in performance — which could lessen the reliability of the data.

Ultimately, it meant increases in passenger safety.

Ensuring reliable remote connectivity

Body camera footage has become vital for people working on the front-line. During emergency operations, the images captured by these cameras can inform real-time decision making and lead to better outcomes.

Digital Barriers uses low-bandwidth live video streaming and analytics — using Edge Computing — to ensure these cameras are reliable and, by extension, keeping workers safe.

But this technology isn’t just important for front-line workers and emergency services; it can help monitor the safety of employees working alone in remote locations, such as engineers in the field or workers at industrial plants.

This technology also allows workers to monitor plants, machinery, workers and anything else in real time from anywhere.

For example, managers at an industrial plant would be able to access the feeds from home to monitor the safety of staff in the field. This would help reduce the number of people needed at the office or plant while ensuring feeds and data is still being monitored effectively.

The biggest challenge with this kind of technology is ensuring that data is transmitted and analysed in real time. Any delays in transmission because data can’t get over the network quickly enough could put people at risk.

Digital Barriers can use Edge Computing to connect these remote cameras, even providing access to multi-camera viewing and GPS tracking in real time.

When we think about the future of remote working, these are the kinds of safety technology employees will expect to help keep them safe.

Powering next-generation technology

Autonomous operations are part of the future workplace, whether it’s mobile vehicles or static equipment. Monitoring these machines and vehicles in real time can help reduce maintenance costs and downtime by catching problems earlier.

Ford, for example, are using Vodafone’s high-capacity 5G network and Mobile Private Networks (MPN) to transform their production line. Through the network, they can capture data in real time and identify how they can speed up the assembly process, bringing greater precision and efficiency to the factory. Future applications include untethered robots and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to complete repetitive tasks.

Furthermore, by using Edge Computing, businesses can monitor these machines remotely, which is ideal during periods when you need to limit the number of workers on-site. As for machine maintenance, remote workers could issue instructions to those on-site from their homes and let them know which machines are due for repair.

The time it takes for a machine to process data and forward it onto a remote worker has been one of the main barriers to this kind of monitoring in the past. But by moving the data collection closer to the user with Edge Computing, it’s possible to improve the performance of remote monitoring.

There are other applications for this technology as well, such as remote tracking and early warning. For example, location data platform HERE is using Edge Computing and 5G to help solve the problem of remote tracking.

Their technology means vehicles can detect obstacles ahead and not only warn the driver, but alert others in the area as well. This same function could send alerts to staff working from remote locations in the right scenario.

Looking to the future of remote working

New technology like Edge Computing and 5G are the next step in powering a future that is more remote and flexible than today.

What happened in 2020 forced us all to change mindsets and reframe how we think about work, productivity and employee wellbeing.

Now is the time to start investing in the technology that can help make that future a reality.

Ready to learn more? Let’s build a tech stack for your future workplace, together.

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