Today, only a small fraction of data from mobile devices and the Internet of Things reaches the cloud. Explanations for this gap includes:
- Economics: The cost of transporting large volumes of messages from the device to the cloud.
- Privacy: Regulations that require sensitive data to remain on the premises.
- Latency: The need for ultra-fast response times, which are impossible when interacting with the cloud.
These needs create a unique opportunity for carriers and providers to innovate by bringing cloud computing into their communication infrastructure. Given the total growth of mobile data usage and the necessity to keep pace with bandwidth requirements, carriers and providers have sought incremental solutions, thus clearing the path for Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC).
MEC was initially defined as, “IT and cloud-computing capabilities within the access network in close proximity to mobile subscribers and connected IoT devices,” allowing network operators to provide new services and meet demands for instant interactions and greater bandwidth. MEC creates cloud computing ‘cloudlets’ in access networks, enabling communication service providers (CSPs) to improve the delivery of content and applications, generate new service revenue, improve network efficiency and deliver next-generation services.
Beginning in September 2014, hardware and software teams began placing smart nodes at the edge of mobile networks to run virtualized software on general purpose server hardware housed within a secure form factor.
From the start, the edge was defined as the tower, but with the growth of the market, even in just the last six to eight months, things have moved quickly and the technology has slowly started to merge and converge, moving the edge anywhere outside the data center.
“The edge can really be defined as closer to the customer who’s using it, and driven by the use case,” explains Jeff Sharpe, director, strategic product planning, network and communications solutions at ADLINK Technology, a global provider of leading Edge Computing solutions that drive data-to-decision applications across industries. “The edge has actually been redefined by the use cases driving the technology, which can be anywhere in the network outside the data center.”
By processing data locally, this cloudlet architecture minimizes up-stream traffic and accelerates response times.
According to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute [ETSI], “MEC provides a new ecosystem and value chain. Operators can open their Radio Access Network (RAN) edge to authorized third-parties, allowing them to flexibly and rapidly deploy innovative applications and services toward mobile subscribers, enterprises and vertical segments.”
“CSPs offering Edge-Cloud Computing services can assume key positions in the growing cloud computing market,” says Tally Netzer, director of marketing at Saguna, a MEC pioneer that makes broadband faster, smarter and more profitable with virtualized software solutions. “As MEC moves forward, collectives of cloudlets in large scale deployments will be managed and automated in this highly distributed cloud computing architecture.”
Sharpe says priorities for operators are simple and two-fold: They want to “optimize networks to save money and offer more services that are not competing with over-the-top [OTT] apps.”
Both ADLINK and Saguna were early to bet on MEC, partnering to build out hardware and software solutions (respectively).
“We knew that data centers were not going to provide some of the latency that’s required for higher quantity and faster solutions,” Sharpe says, explaining the principles of adaptability and flexibility that drove the decision to pursue MEC. “What we’re seeing in the industry is a divergence of technologies within the telecom space.”
Indeed, MEC offers opportunity, particularly for equipment providers, IT platform providers, operators and system integrators. Edge Computing can provide near real-time analysis of data and decrease the cost of operations and data management. The architecture can also improve the efficiency of the infrastructure utilization.
MEC aims to create an open Edge-Cloud Computing ecosystem, where diverse services and applications can run with lower latency and higher throughput.
With MEC, mobile operators can achieve 5G goals with 4G networks, today. Indeed, the MEC architecture is critical in enabling 5G networks to deliver significantly faster data, ultra-low latency and connect more devices.
Edge Computing also allows service providers to address the needs of vertical markets. Unlike other technologies, MEC opens the possibilities to change the telecom value chain by inserting new players, including the MEC service provider and application developers.
The applications for MEC correlate with the vertical markets, which have a wide variety of service requirements. MEC use cases are already coming to fruition, including within:
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR)
- Connected Cars
- Drone Control
- Enterprise Services
- Homeland Security
- Content Delivery
For example, within the automobile industry, connected vehicles are beginning to emerge on the market, with a steady stream and hopeful flood to come. With the rise of data collected by connected cars, lower latency will be essential to store and process data quickly and within close proximity to the cars. This allows for real-time feedback on traffic, safety and other warnings.
What’s to Come
That MEC remains relatively new on the market demands that industry and consumers be educated. MEC can help CSPs transform their communication infrastructure into smart service networks. Although the network architecture is still under deployment, business is indeed moving to the Edge.
While MEC is quickly evolving, Edge Computing is a necessary architecture to meet 5G requirements, and enables service providers to enter vertical markets.
Netzer predicts that: “If things continue at the current pace, hundreds and thousands of cloudlets will be deployed in a single network.”