What Is the Telco Edge?

K. Weldon
K. Weldon

Summary Bullets:

• There are opportunities for operators to leverage edge technology as a key enabler to enhance the performance of applications that leverage their 4G LTE/5G networks. This is especially important for supporting new IoT use cases.

• Operators can provide Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) gear that are essentially micro data centers, collocated with base stations at the perimeter of their networks to process and store data nearer to where it is created. But they can also orchestrate other edge solutions along with cloud services hyperscalers, equipment vendors, and IT service provider partners.

There are many locations where operators can locate or orchestrate edge resources:
– Within their own network(e.g., at telco offices)
– At the perimeter of their network(e.g., at RAN or base station locations)
– At third party locations between the edge of the CSP and operator networks, or at the edge of a customer’s network
– Within customers’ networks(e.g., for retail and factory locations)

By locating a mesh of local or regional micro data centers adjacent to telco infrastructure to store and process data, there are benefits both for the operator and the enterprise customer. The benefits to the operator include lowering the cost of sending traffic to a remote data center or public cloud.

By positioning equipment that communicates with wirelessly connected IoT devices such as gateways that are close to the customer site, or by empowering edge computing directly on IoT devices, operators and their customers can optimize workloads and shorten the path data has to traverse. This has benefits for many verticals – the 5G/edge combination in particular can help support high availability, reliability, low latency for real-time data collection/analytics; support for massive numbers of IoT connections, and support for ultra HD voice/video and AR/VR.

Edge computing is also key for private networks supporting real-time IoT use cases in verticals such as manufacturing, retail, sports and entertainment venues, ports, airports, healthcare facilities, smart cities, and smart buildings. Operators can further monetize their edge investments through orchestration – i.e., deployments in which they become an intermediary between app developers/platforms, OEMs, and cloud service providers. With 5G and edge together, the operator is really at the core of the solution ecosystem, with the opportunity to provide and monetize a wide variety of value-added services.

However, operators need partners for many of the use cases described above. They need partners to provide MEC and edge equipment and software, relationships with hyperscalers to bring cloud services closer to their customers and provide access to developers, and ITSPs and enterprise software vendors to help develop and deploy use cases that benefit from edge-enabled resources.

While they revenue-share with many of these partners they also gain connectivity revenue from increasing use of their 4G/5G and in-building fixed line, WiFi, and DAS solutions, as well as service revenue from MEC-as-a-service offerings; they can also monetize advisory, proof of concept, deployment, integration, professional services and ongoing managed services and support.

Some examples of the kinds of edge partnerships that operators have been striking include the following:

• AT&T has alliances with Microsoft, IBM, HPE and Google for 5G, edge, and IoT infrastructure and use case development. It first launched a productized MEC software offering in early 2019 to support ultra-low latency, superior connectivity and coverage, and enhanced data security for both 4G and 5G networks.

• Verizon has an alliance with SAP for data analytics and management and an alliance with AWS to combine 5G edge with AWS Wavelength for developers to build low latency applications. It has also disclosed plans to add distributed edge computing facilities in ten new locations in 2020.

• Vodafone has an alliance with IBM to combine IoT, 5G, and edge computing with IBM’s multi-cloud, industry expertise and professional services. It also has an alliance with AWS to combine 5G with AWS Wavelength, and it offers dedicated or hosted MEC which it positions as a key enabler of its new Mobile Private Network solutions.

• Orange has a Dell alliance for developing edge/MEC and 5G use cases. It also has an alliance with Lenovo to leverage Intel’s Rack Scale Design to pool and abstract hardware components; it also partners with Huawei for 5G, cloud enablement and slicing.

• Deutsche Telekom launched MobileEdgeX in 2018, now an independent marketplace for edge resources. It also runs the Living Edge Lab to test ultra low latency applications. DT partners with Wind River to offer the EdgeAir private enterprise edge cloud. T-Systems offers managed edge computing and analytics services and integrates edge computing into public clouds such as Azure, AWS, and Open Telekom Cloud.

• Telefonica developed its own OnLife MEC platform of central office edge pods with plans to increase to 1,000 sites. It recently signed a MOU with KT, China Unicom and Telstra to collaborate on a multi-operator MEC alliance.

Once 5G is more ubiquitously deployed and once slicing is available, there will be even more opportunities to join these technologies together to support new applications. We also hope to see more reference customers and use cases in actual deployments come on line. While COVID-19 may delay the market momentum we had hoped to see in 2020, 2021 will no doubt uncover more partnerships, use cases, and real-world deployments.


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