In a recent article that appeared in Light Reading, “Time for an Edge Computing Reckoning,” Senior Editor Mari Silbey addressed the subject of edge infrastructure, especially where it concerned near-futuristic applications such as smart cities, autonomous vehicles and drones.

There’s no question that these are exciting, potentially transformative instances of connected things which will change how we live, work and play. But as Silbey asks, how practical are they for mass-market adoption given the present limitations in infrastructure? And what are the smart killer apps that will encourage network operators to anticipate favorable cost-revenue projections, supporting new investment to make them a reality?

Today, there is constant pressure on networks to satisfy intensive traffic requirements with the lowest possible latency — pressures that will only increase exponentially with the arrival of the IoT into our homes, businesses and communities. Gartner predicts that more than 21 billion IoT devices will come online by 2020.

The stumbling block is that IoT applications require back-end computation to happen seamlessly with practically no latency. The disruptive power of industrial and consumer IoT applications such as robotic manufacturing, machine learning and augmented reality are all dependent on unprecedented amounts of data being transferred and processed near-instantaneously. Because it’s not going to be realistic to transmit data from billions of devices to the cloud, process it, and then relay it all back to the source, organizations will need to send the analytics to the cloud, and process data closer to the sensors at the edge.

Where and What Defines the Edge?

As EdgeConneX® Chief Innovation Officer, Phill Lawson-Shanks, has commented, “Consumers are accessing data via wireline and wireless infrastructure at ever increasing rates, with ever higher expectations. Consequently, bandwidth and latency issues are driving solutions to the edge.”

That said, in the Internet of Everything, where is this edge and how do we define it? As Silbey writes, “From a broader industry perspective, part of the issue with edge computing is also understanding where the demarcation point for the edge exists. Is it at a data center? A cable node? A small cell? A home gateway? A smartphone?”

According to Lawson-Shanks, “the edge is the transition point between where a service is offered and where it’s consumed. And by that accounting, the edge will move depending on what the service is.”

This definition reflects EdgeConneX’s unique approach to data center architecture. While other data center providers have approached the market with the mentality that if we build it they will come, as Lawson-Shanks has said, “We build a data center where people need it, build it quickly, and bring in an ecosystem to support it.”

One example of such an ecosystem is the EdgeConneX Edge Data Center® (EDC) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. EdgeConneX collaborated with a telecommunications service provider and an extensive network of ecosystem and peering partners to build a Buenos Aires EDC that will serve as a robust connectivity and peering platform, offering customers extensive fiber, density and peering options with wholesale economics. As a result, enterprises and end users in an underserved region in South America will now gain access to low-latency connectivity and content delivery, as well as advanced cloud and communications services that were previously unavailable.

Lawson-Shanks has also called for the development of new ecosystems around the “micro-edge.” As Silbey writes, “These would include groups of organizations that invest in and develop edge systems presumably through some kind of neutral and open platform. Traditional operators will continue to own most last-mile connectivity (at least for the foreseeable future), but others will step in to help build on top of those network links.”

But before our streets and highways see autonomous vehicles, Amazon delivers packages to our doors with the help of drones, and smart utilities serve our communities, there is much work to done.

Today, London, New York and Tokyo all are all pursuing smart city initiatives. But so are Tier II cities such as Denver and Portland, and Latin American locales including Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. If the IoT promises an era of ubiquitous connectivity, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it will be edge infrastructure, Edge Data Centers and supporting ecosystems that will make good on that promise.