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Why Walmart is turning stores into “edge computing centres”

In 5G networks, latency is a big deal. Latency is the time it takes for a data signal to travel from a user device to the internet and back again. Mobile operators hope that low-latency 5G networks will lead to new service opportunities. These will appear in areas such as cloud gaming, virtual reality/augmented reality, and self-driving cars.

Edge computing is not new. It’s been touted as a useful resource for mobile operators for years. Many carriers have tested the concept but haven’t been convinced of the business case. Now, it appears that 5G is where edge computing should live as carriers aim to differentiate themselves beyond high-speed data.

Walmart may be just what US mobile operators need to push new 5G latency

Many operators around the world are adding edge computing to their fledgling 5G services. They are doing this through partnerships in order to enhance their ability to offer compelling new consumer and business applications. Verizon Wireless has partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS). AT&T has a number of edge alliances with Microsoft, HPE and IBM. Vodafone announced partnership with AWS in December.

In the US, mobile operators may get another unlikely edge computing partner – multinational retail giant Walmart.

According to reports, Walmart is looking to turn its US superstores into ‘edge computing centres’ while roof space will be rented out to mobile operators for 5G antenna installation. Walmart may be a highly attractive partner given that edge computing faces a return-on-investment hurdle.

Upgrading to the edge at every part of the network is financially unfeasible. The cost for a nationwide network that could deliver data in 10 milliseconds would be an unwieldy investment for any carrier. About 90 per cent of Americans live within a 10-mile radius of a Walmart store.

The close proximity of these edge computing sites to 5G networks could bring ultra low latency services to the masses. Walmart can leverage the assets it already has while competing against Amazon and thriving in the e-commerce space.

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