The benefits of MEC (multi-access edge computing) sound promising indeed. But what exactly is MEC, and how can it benefit industries like retail? According to Juniper Networks, the benefits include new services and revenue streams, real-time analytics with lower latency, reduced cloud data storage and transport costs, improved availability of applications and IT assets, the ability to conserve network bandwidth and reduce network congestion, and increased security and compliance.

AT&T Business calls MEC the “short road to ultra-low latency operations.” It moves the computing of traffic and services to the network edge. Because MEC isn’t sending traffic and services up the cloud to process it before sending it back, there’s less latency, which can open doors for more near real-time performance, even for high-bandwidth applications. In manufacturing, such applications include using video to detect errors and defects, even on the smallest scale, immediately. This technology then allows manufacturers to address issues before they turn into large-scale problems. For more on MEC in manufacturing and the connection between 5G and MEC, read Multi-access Edge Computing Essential to 5G.

Multi-access edge computing use cases also frequently include applications that require location tracking and AR (augmented reality) in industries like retail. One common painpoint for retailers is their reliance on Wi-Fi infrastructure, which can become overloaded when supporting POS (point-of-sale) devices, smart printers, digital signage, employee handheld devices for in-store use, and more. As Intel points out in its The Business Case for MEC in Retail: A TCO Analysis and its Implications in the 5G Era, the result is sluggish customer service during heavy traffic times, which tend to correlate with times of peak foot traffic. In other words, the times retailers need good service the most they often don’t have it.

What’s more, if retailers can barely handle the demand on their networks now, they’re probably not as keen to look forward at what applications they can bring in to improve the customer experience through connectivity. For instance, AR solutions that show customers how a product can be used, what reviews there are on a particular item, or even what other products would complement an item they’re considering can all engage customers in the brick-and-mortar sales experience. A MEC environment in retail could preserve existing wiring for a store, while offering the benefits of LTE (long-term evolution) coverage and edge computing.

Intel suggests an MEC solution could potentially generate up to a 55.9% cost savings for retailers over the course of three years, while significantly reducing WAN traffic during peak times. By leveraging MEC and edge computing in general, retailers are also putting themselves in a better position to compete with the likes of Amazon and other online retailers. Physical shopping will never live up to the convenience of online shopping, especially for Generation Z, but it offers other benefits. The key is to preserve a unique and fulfilling buying experience in physical stores by leveraging cutting-edge IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. Behind the scenes, retailers will need to be gathering data and, in some cases, processing and analyzing it in near real-time. Operations need to be fluid and efficient, and edge computing can make a huge difference there. From improving store security and surveillance to understanding consumer trends and providing engaging in-store experiences that drive sales and encourage brand loyalty, the low latency associated with edge computing is worth a close look by retailers.

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