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Industry Voices: Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) and Connected Vehicles

Opinion piece by Maxim Ragotner, Key Account Executive, EPAM Systems.

From electric vehicles to self-driving cars, the automotive industry is undergoing a significant transformation driven by the Internet of Things (IoT).

These innovations in information technology, such as sensors and better data processing and control, will move transportation systems from conventional technology-driven models into data-driven ones, generating an enormous amount of real-time data. In fact, by 2025, it is predicted that there will be 470 million connected cars in use. Although this incredible volume of data is beyond current centralized processing capabilities, harnessing its power represents a remarkable opportunity to make roads safer and more efficient. One possible solution is multi-access edge computing (MEC) which can mitigate network capacity limitations, enable car customization and improve data transmission, allowing for increased speed and reliability.

Why is MEC needed in the automotive sphere? 

MEC was developed by the telecommunications industry to solve connectivity issues and channel limitations and is now used by many other sectors to resolve similar problems. Edge computing (just as its name suggests) happens at the edge of a corporate network, near the physical location of the end-user or the data source. Because data doesn't have to travel back to a central data center but is possessed and stored at the network's edge, latency gets reduced considerably. And, as a result of the colossal amount of data produced by vehicle sensors and actuators that must also be analyzed in near real-time, automakers have, like telecom and many other industries before them, transitioned to MEC. By incorporating MEC into their automotive tech frameworks, automotive manufacturers can bring technology resources to the end-user and help businesses effectively manage their fleets. Plus, MEC can scale with the automotive industry's needs, allowing for future improvements to customer experience and expanded vehicle services, including more enhanced road condition monitoring and precise brake engagement.

How MEC mitigates connectivity issues and more

Not only will MEC make the use of connected vehicle data possible but it will also remove limitations of network capacity and improve connected service functionality. Centralized data channels are prone to bottlenecks between devices and platforms, latency and connectivity issues, MEC, however, increases speed and reliability and decreases latency, boosting the safety of drivers and their property substantially. With the dynamic nature of roads being anything but static, MEC enables heightened protection by processing information in near real-time. Although cars can't stay connected to the internet at all times, the decentralized nature of MEC allows vehicles to continue to operate on the connected service.

Other possibilities of MEC include an IT service environment and cloud computing capabilities, which would permit developers to build applications for wireless edge devices such as autonomous vehicles. MEC also enhances battery monitoring and predictive maintenance, helping drivers and companies know when to charge or repair their machines economically and timely. Additionally, it makes the idea of customizable cars more likely as it allows service software to decouple from hardware, thus separating software service deployments from the development of physical equipment. Giving manufacturers and service providers greater flexibility in vehicle design opens up the future for bespoke cars tailored uniquely for individual drivers.

MEC, 5G and autonomous and connected vehicles 

While the capabilities of 5G are sometimes exaggerated, it does provide faster network speeds, high capacity and low latencies which, when paired with MEC, result in enhanced data transmission and improved network coverage. To truly realize safer roads, especially regarding their fluctuating nature, connected cars, cloud-connected traffic management and other applications will need near-instantaneous responses and data analysis. The expanded bandwidth and low lag of 5G cellular networks drive the fast data transfer essential to edge computing-assisted vehicles, particularly autonomous ones. Likewise, businesses with commercial, autonomous fleets should leverage private MEC infrastructure as their trucks will travel outside the coverage of private area networks. Similarly, enterprises with edge computing in autonomous and connected vehicles should utilize a MEC solution integrated with a private 5G network. This will allow for near real-time insights and enhanced decision-making.

Changing transportation for good

MEC presents automakers with the unique opportunity to solve one of society's greatest challenges. Whether businesses are in the automotive industry or not, IoT data processing, MEC and 5G will open new revenue streams, increase brand loyalty and create new efficiencies to bring us into a new era of transportation innovation.

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