This Omdia report covers a new arena of competition in the enterprise information and communications technology (ICT) industry. Technologies such as Kubernetes have made hybrid and distributed cloud infrastructures more manageable and operationally agile. The emerging Internet of Things (IoT) has led to a proliferation of connected sensors and also connected effectors such as robots. Meanwhile, 5G wireless networks have begun to appear within enterprises. These networks provide dramatically lower latency, enabling new applications in industrial control systems, robotics, autonomous vehicles, and augmented/ virtual reality (AR/VR). As a result, it is a competitive necessity for applications to migrate closer to the end user to fully benefit from lower latency.

The combination of these trends with one more—artificial intelligence (AI)—means that the edge is becoming to the 2020s what the cloud was to the 2010s: the strategic focus of competition in the ICT sector. The applications that enterprises want to deploy at the edge are ones that benefit from the spectacular improvements in AI and machine learning (ML) technologies seen in the 2010s—for example, machine vision, robotics, and time-series data analysis. Having proven itself in the cloud, AI is coming to the edge.

Players from multiple markets are being drawn to this new opportunity. Communications service providers (CSPs), the network vendors that support them, and a new breed of alternative service providers all hope that their expertise in wireless will permit them to own the edge. Semiconductor makers and server OEMs see a major new line of business for their existing server products. Hyperscale cloud providers see a potential disruption of their business model built on centralized data centers and managed services and hope to preempt it by leading the charge to the edge.