Takeaways from MWC19: Getting closer to the Edge

via Flickr © dullhunk (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © dullhunk (CC BY 2.0)

  • So much will soon depend on the 5G edge and who gets to control it
  • Plenty of edge talk could be heard at MWC of course
  • But don’t expect that 5G edge services are just around the corner

The first thing to say about the network edge is that are many ways to define it - and the total is growing. The primary advantage of the edge is to improve data latency between device, network and back. So for mobile telcos it’s an imaginary demarcation line defined by the first (or last depending on your perspective) points at which mobile data comes into and leaves their networks and where a degree of processing or computing could take place. That definition was inevitably waffly because there are many technical variables - for instance fronthaul (one of the flavours of the past year) implies that the edge moves into the network a hop or two.

On the other hand, if the edge is understood as a distributed cloud function, then it could move into the user’s own domain and settle on a corporate computer, a home Wi-Fi hub, or even onto a device like a smartphone where an onboard Intelligent network (IN) chip might deal with the application  directly without troubling the low latency network much at all.

Let’s leave the definitions.

What we’re talking about here is the telco network edge and how it might be used to advance the telco cause by enabling a telco (or a federation of telcos) to develop services in combination with partners and deliverable in no other way.

If data has to hop its way at the speed of light to a distant data centre and back, that obviously slows things down.So in the end the edge is likely to set up shop at many places across the end-to-end data trail, from the very edge (on-device) to halfway to the Web scale data centre - all depending on the data concerned, the value of the application and the importance of latency to that application. It’s all very fluid.

Cloud applications positioned (or part positioned) at the edge of telco network, however, might be ultra snappy and sold on to users as such. Think multiplayer games. Jason Hoffman, CEO of  MobiledgeX has, as he told us at MWC.

MobileedgeX was founded by Deutsche Telekom with the objective of finding the missing piece in the edge space says Jason. That piece, they decided, was to act an aggregator of the existing infrastructure that’s present within the mobile networks, and then present that to a common market before connecting with devices and their applications.

“So a lot of what we do is about exposing mobile infrastructure assets that exist already,” he says. “We connect that to the public clouds on one side and the applications developers on the other.”

It may have been started and owned by Deutsche Telekom but the idea of MobileedgeX was also to engage with other operators, like South Korea’s SK Telecom, says Jason. The mission is to engage with as many CSPs (both ‘cloud and ‘communications service providers) as it can and then do as much native device integration as it can.

“What we’re seeing is the emergence of new categories of applications which require a collaborative industry structure to run them -  augmented and mixed reality, machine learning, and of course autonomous vehicles.

“Applications need an edge,” says Jason.

Both at and during the runup to MWC there was much talk of edge. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), for instance, announced the HPE Edgeline EL8000 Converged Edge System, designed to generate low-latency services for media delivery, connected mobility, and smart cities.

The move highlights another edge advantage - it’s ability to support ‘real-time’ services and cope with huge data volumes. HPE offers an IDC forecast that projects that 150 billion devices will be connected across the globe by 2025, many of which will be processing data in real time. So IDC predicts real-time data to represent nearly a third of the global network data total by 2025. (Estimated to be 33 zettabytes in 2018, IDC forecasts the ‘Global Datasphere’ will grow to 175 zettabytes by 2025 - if you’re a fan of frightening numbers).

Edge computing was also advanced by Telefónica, which used MWC to push both broadcasting and producing television with 5G. It claimed its TV solution relies on low latency, edge computing, and high bandwidth. Using it, the TV producer can remotely manage the different inputs while connected to a fibre optic link and generating a video signal ready to be launched to any TV program, such as the news.

MWC shows that ‘the edge’ is still very much at the capabilities stage. How the industry hammers the technology into a series of business models (there will be no one size fits all, although there may be key standards) is bound to be the next big area of discussion. It may be all about low latency, but don’t expect too much speed.

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