On the edge of innovation – how MEC is creating opportunities
Mobile operators across the globe have invested billions in their LTE networks, only to see them overrun by internet brands which have been eating into their service revenues. However, the onset of 5G and the IoT, and developments in mobile edge computing (MEC) have handed the initiative back to the operators. Mahdi Yahya, the CEO of ORI, discusses how mobile operators are in a strong position to transform the network edge into a viable commercial offering, one that would appeal to service creators eager to capitalise on the latest network technologies.
The rapid growth of the IoT has brought about an explosion of connected devices that shows no signs of stopping. 5G, the latest mobile connectivity standard, aims to increase network capacity and support the ever-increasing numbers of connected devices and use of data services. The technology will also support higher-bandwidth and low-latency connectivity, providing the flexibility required to support a huge range of next generation IoT use cases, such as connected cars, smart homes and cities and wider industrial applications.
5G systems will rely on the flexibility of cloud computing and virtualisation to deliver new services. However, current cloud computing – commonly located in data centres – doesn’t fully support applications that require ultra-low latency and rapid analysis and response times. These limitations are due to current centralised computing architectures. This is why telecoms and other mobile-first companies are getting excited about MEC.
The concept behind MEC is to place storage and computational power at the edge of the network, close to end users. This shortens end-to-end latency, enables more efficient analysis of data and reduces the likelihood of traffic bottlenecks around the core network.
This growing infrastructure at the network edge offers a huge commercial opportunity for operators, with MarketsandMarkets estimating the edge computing market will be worth up to US$6.7bn by 2022. Operators cannot afford to let this infrastructure become another bit pipe for other companies’ services; they must find a way to monetise and leverage it for service innovation.
Creating an open network edge
Utilising a MEC platform, operators can adopt a similar model to public cloud providers, opening network edge resources to an ecosystem of third party and internal developers. Today, mobile operators have the sites, access and existing deployments at the edge of their networks that can support new services in a MEC powered world. This available compute power includes hardware at an operators’ mobile base stations, but also includes hardware in homes and businesses, such as personal devices and routers.
By adding a virtual service layer over their network edge infrastructure, operators can determine where in their networks they have capacity and compute power to support new services and applications. They can wholesale their mobile edge computing resources to create new revenue streams, or use it to support services of their own. Rather than going at loggerheads with OTT providers, operators can create a collaborative ecosystem of companies that can utilise network capabilities to their full potential, to deliver new and higher-quality services.
Developers from a variety of different sectors can create new concepts designed to leverage the reach and capabilities of mobile networks. Developers can consist of IoT companies, media and entertainment brands and OTT providers, among others. Platforms driving MEC can enable them to define the geography of a new service, then automate the deployment across those specific edge points. They can monitor the in-life health of a service, track billing and customer usage and scale it on-demand.
Services designed to take advantage of the network edge can offer a higher quality of service than those supported by traditional cloud computing. Take, for example, a ride-sharing app: if a number of drivers are blocked in a particular section of two or three streets due to an accident, existing traffic routing wouldn’t provide drivers with that information immediately, due to the responsiveness of information processed in a data centre. However, should that company deploy compute power at the edge, the local traffic information can be prioritised and processed immediately, whilst offering faster analytics and reduced latency. The company could, therefore, detect and more rapidly determine a change in traffic and suggest alternate routes faster.
Potential use cases such as these are exciting, but there is also a simple monetary benefit to moving more analysis to the edge. Currently, connected services generate large volumes of data per hour. This data is then sent back to a data centre, slowing their ability to immediately analyse and respond. By analysing and processing data at the edge operators and OTT players can filter what needs to be sent and what can be cached locally at the edge, saving unnecessary storage and costs.
As operators upgrade their networks to support 5G and new IoT use cases, even more compute power at the edge will be developed. Using new innovations in MEC, operators can monetise their network resources and stimulate innovation across a community of companies in the mobile sector, which can access networks more effectively, driving innovation. It means operators can carry on building for next-generation networks, safe in the knowledge their networks are a marketable asset.