How will 5G change application architecture?

A few years ago I worked with a product development team in a large company. Posted on a large sign on a wall in the common area was a list of development and architecture guidelines. One of them read:

Optimize scale economics for CRAN/last mile network capacity & data center power/cooling.

I always thought that it was a strange guideline, oddly worded and difficult to follow. Develop enterprise software for the cooling needs of the data center? I could imagine a VP making this statement looking score some credibility points.

But with 5G is on the horizon and scheduled to be generally available in 2020, I’m reminded of that statement. Over time the pendulum for client-server architecture has swung from fat-client, to full server-side, to a hybrid document model. The current practice of frequent incremental asynchronous interaction and horizontal scaling is an evolution built on past models. What will happen as 5G becomes reality?

As complex as 5G is, the fundamental goals are clear:

  • Extreme Mobile BroadBand (xMBB), providing extremely high data rates and low latency for huge numbers of concurrent users
  • Massive Machine-Type Communication (mMTC), enabling communication for potentially billions of network devices
  • Ultra-reliable Machine-Type Communication (uMTC), targeting extremely reliable and low-latency communication for a broad and emerging category of services that are dependent on availability, latency and reliability

One important consequence is that 5G wireless will compete with current landline business. Large scale communication service providers operating physical networks today will definitely be impacted as consumers will buy 5G for residential and commercial service. This means that the behavior characteristics of these new networks will affect a lot of people. And these behaviors will certainly be different from current networks.

For example, 5G will likely rely heavily on edge caching to achieve responsiveness, throughput and availability. This will effectively much further distribute current hosting and data center architectures. It’s likely we will consider these fronthaul edges as a part of the server host network, even sending full containers and data shards to the edge cache to optimize user experience.

Radical network topologies ahead!

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