This is the third in a series of pre-MWC round-ups. Part I covered Analytics, AI, new radio and antennas, and Part II NFV, cloud and open source news, plus the 5G delulge.
It’s a little odd for your correspondent to see how MEC is now going mainstream. As noted on Twitter.com, it feels a bit like watching a band only you and your mates liked go commercial.
The official conference programme contains two main sessions on the topic – one of which asks “Do 5G Business Cases Depend More on Core or Edge Upgrades?”, and the other which is titled “Owning Edge Infrastructure: Burden & Opportunity”. Both these titles suggest that the conference planners were looking to reflect a certain ambivalence about the topic. Do we need to invest in edge infrastructure? If so, do we need to do it now, and what are actually going to get out of it?
But the topic also got the official nod from GSMA marketing supremo Michael O’Hara in an interview with SDX Central, he said that “now that 5G is bringing speed to the network, many attendees are interested in how they can lower the network latency (and their costs) with edge computing and add intelligence and automation through AI”.
I have followed MEC in most of its guises right from its birth, and watched as it expanded out from Nokia’s “server bolted to a base station”, from Saguna’s gateway and Intel’s underlying support in ETSI. The questions posed above have always been the questions that have followed MEC around. The logical – perhaps theoretical – sense has always been there. The actual hard commercial “business case” needed to come in behind.
In that time edge computing in mobile networks has mutated from something right at the edge to more of an all encompassing term to mean anything that is between the user and the centralised core. That expanded the semantic meaning, but also widened the investment rationale.
Several shots in the arm – those investment drivers – arrived in concert. 5G may require a vRAN whose virtual BBUs need somewhere to go – how close to the user depends on the split of physical-virtual processing. A distributed, virtualised core also needs somewhere to go – perhaps in a few tens of central offices across a network. IoT analytics to facilitate low latency operations needs somewhere to go – perhaps in private cloud environments serving nterprise sites. Ditto security processing. HD video may well need to be optimised and/or cached nearer to users, as part of operator owned or partner CDNs. VR/AR apps too require that low latency capability.
Alongside that comes the more rounded out technical enablers – the NFV infrastructure and the VNF management capability, and the COTS hardware platforms.
And so this momentum means that MEC and edge computing more generally is set for more prominence at MWC than before. This is reflected by the big industry standards and open source bodies,
The Open Networking Foundation is presenting one, overarching, CORD demo at the event. This will featuring numerous Edge Cloud innovations integrated into a cohesive CORD architecture. Really there’s a lot – check out the link.
ETSI itself has released new MEC white papers – its first for a while. The two papers are entitled “Cloud RAN and MEC: a perfect pairing” and “MEC deployments in 4G and evolution towards 5G” respectively. It also has two MEC hackathons planned to accelerate multi-access edge computing adoption and interoperability, and encourage all stakeholders to use the group’s specifications to develop edge applications.
AT&T said that edge computing would play a major part in its transition to 5G. Read this blogpost for more – “We’re moving network access to cloud computation, but we’re keeping it physically close to our users.”
The Small Cell Forum, always sniffing the air for a trend that might be allied to more sales of small form factor cells, also nods to edge computing in its recent output. An anonymous blog post on the site said, “Another important trend, which is accelerating now, is the convergence of telecoms networks with cloud and computing infrastructure and services. In dense networks, in enterprises and cities, this is most clearly seen in the move to combine local connectivity with edge computing, in order to deliver content and low latency services close to the user. Edge computing will support a wide variety of innovative applications from self-driving cars to interactive signage to virtual reality gaming, and will be at the heart of a large number of demonstrations at MWC – and also an important driver for small cell deployment in the coming years.”
Below, as a list, is lots more evidence of the industry momentum to more fully explore MEC potential, and to develop solutions for it. You can add to these the Vasona and Mavenir solutions we have mentioned in the past couple of newsletters.
1. Central Office 2.0
Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT) is advancing its “Central Office 2.0” concept – based on its NFVi – representing a vision for the next-generation Central Office to advance edge computing for high-performance and low-latency 5G applications. QCT is engaging with Intel and Red Hat to develop solutions that meet the growing capacity and low-latency demands at the edge of the network.
2. 5G Berlin
The 5G Berlin project, a new Berlin-based innovation cluster bringing together researchers and industry to test and promote 5G applications, will make its first project the creation of 5G testbed that includes the deployment of 5G radio and Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) to manage the city’s street lamps on the mmWave spectrum. CND will contribute the 4G/5G core network and adapt it to advanced use cases – for example, multi-access connectivity with non-3GPP radio such as Li-Fi (Light Fidelity).
3. ADVA and BT demo at MWC
ADVA will host a joint demo with BT to illustrate how edge computing and network slicing techniques can enable emerging 5G applications. Technology partners involved in the MWC demo include 6WIND, Accelleran, Athonet, Lumina Networks, Mavenir and Spirent.
The showcase will demo how virtual network functions (VNFs), such as evolved packet core components and virtual RANs, can be hosted at the network edge.
4. Saguna, AWS and Vodafone demo at MWC
Saguna and Vodafone will demonstrate a joint MEC-based driver monitoring Proof of Concept (PoC) using Amazon Web Services (AWS) Greengrass. Visitors will be able to see a live demonstration of the driver monitoring PoC featuring a live camera feed streaming over a Vodafone 4G LTE Network. Operating inside the access network, Saguna’s MEC solution hosts the AWS Greengrass AI video analytics application.
5. Qwilt and Athonet video offload
Qwilt and private network operator Athonet will demo live mobile edge video offload using Qwilt’s Open Edge Cloud CDN running within the Athonet Mobile Edge Computing Local Breakout environment. This demonstration was developed to help service providers see a live MEC solution tackling video streaming created by live and on-demand OTT services, while providing native support using standard 3GPP interfaces for legal intercept, security, billing and other functions.
6. ITRI, Advantech and Wind River demo of Micro Data Center
ITRI will demonstrate its research from an ETSI MEC Proof of Concept, running on Advantech’s Packetarium XLc, a Micro Data Center in a box with 288 Intel Xeon cores and Edge Cloud storage capacities. Wind River Titanium Cloud is the platform for ITRI’s service offload; bandwidth management coupled with low-latency application processing at the network edge.
7. Italtel adds virtual transcoding at the edge
Italtel i-EVS (Enhanced Video Services) – the latest advancement of its virtual Transcoding Unit (vTU) application – runs over a Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) platform and has been updated with new features, including Context-Aware and Location-Aware mechanisms, enabling Service Providers to launch new value-added services.
“The MEC platform provides a virtualized layer which allows the high processing of content at the network edge and is a fundamental step towards the creation of an experimental network infrastructure that anticipates 5G,” said Giulio Gaetani, Head of Software Business Unit at Italtel.
8. MEC with no mobile operator
Virtuosys has an Edge Application Platform that it claims “changes the economics of delivering MEC”. The mesh network-based solution does not require the support or involvement of a mobile operator. The company will demonstrate vertical market applications running on the platform at MWC.
The Virtuosys pitch is that stand-alone networks provide edge connectivity even when connections to the internet cannot be guaranteed. The Virtuosys’ Edge Application platform allows management of services at the edge with a white label app store, whilst an open development architecture allows developers to deploy apps specific to their own needs in the cloud, at the edge, or a combination of both. The distributed compute platform, meanwhile, increases the coverage and compute power each time an Edge Server is added to the Mesh.
“The promise of edge computing in the wireless industry has been well documented, and in particular how it will play a key role in enabling a wide range of innovative IoT services. However, to date, actual deployments have been few and far between,” said Alan Jones, CEO of Virtuosys.
9. Edge for automotive
Finally, an edge focussed industry association focussed on the needs of the atomitive industry – The Automotive Edge Computing Consortium (AECC) – has formally launched operations as a cross-industry alliance. The AECC wants to bring players together across the automotive, IT, telecommunications and cloud computing sectors to collaborate on the network and computing infrastructures and standards needed to support automotive big data. It has a white paper available for download here.