• The Bridge Alliance’s Federated Edge Hub has the potential to drive adoption of 5G MEC solutions in the enterprise segment.
• However there are challenges related scale, skills, and solution sets that could be addressed through industry partnerships.
Breakthrough for MEC Interoperability
On March 16, the Bridge Alliance, an industry group of 33 operators, largely based in Asia Pacific, announced that two of its members, South Korea’s SK Telecom (SKT) and Singapore’s Singtel, trialed a proof of concept for multi-access edge compute (MEC) interconnectivity. The trial saw SKT and Singtel simultaneously stream the mobile game “World of Warships” running on a virtual game server deployed by gaming infrastructure company Gamye, into the MEC environments of the telcos and connected to smartphones using a standalone 5G network. The interconnection service, which Bridge Alliance has named the Federated Edge Hub, plans to add two more operators to the platform sometime in th near future, namely Australia’s Optus and Thailand’s AIS. While the proof of concept demonstrates a use case of 5G and MEC for consumer services, the real potential of the Federated Edge Hub lies in developing solutions for the enterprise.
Operators across Asia are currently working with network vendors, hyperscale cloud providers, independent software vendors, device makers, enterprise and government organisations to build use cases for the technology. As the Federated Edge Hub matures and more members join, it could evolve into a marketplace for enterprise 5G applications and solutions. The standards-based approach to develop workable MEC applications will make interoperability simple. Further, the ability to simultaneously spin up the same services across distributed geographies will make 5G MEC technologies more appealing to large MNCs who often have cross border requirements and enable them to offer consistent user-experience across different countries. This could also help improve interest in the technology in markets where enterprises are less likely to invest in cutting-edge technology. Having a list of repeatable solutions that have been deployed by enterprises in other markets could ease doubts around investing in a new technology.
Some of the Bridge Alliance member operators have been leading the global push towards developing enterprise solutions based on 5G, as well as incorporating MEC into solutions. These have the potential to be included into the Federated Edge Hub going forward.
SK Telecom has been at the forefront of 5G and MEC development. Currently the operator offers 5G mobile services nationwide alongside a service it calls 5GX Cloud solution. This solution offers a mobile edge computing environment to enterprise customers either at SKT sites around the country or the option to deploy an MEC server on-premises. The platform offers storage and compute environments that draw on AWS’ Wavelength edge compute services as well as SKT’s own proprietary services and comes bundled with 5G connectivity. The service allows enterprise customers, ISVs, and integrators to build their own applications and solutions within an MEC environment. SKT has already worked with manufacturing and medical industries to deploy services on the platform.
China Unicom, another bridge alliance member is also using 5G and MEC to build enterprise solutions. The operator is working with network vendors like Huawei and ZTE as well as local device manufacturers and software vendors to develop industry solutions based on MEC and 5G. For example, China Unicom has introduced a 5G smart manufacturing platform in partnership with Huawei, to Midea Group, one of the largest home furniture and appliance manufacturers in China, that sees Midea using a private 5G network and MEC for IoT applications like factory automation and predictive maintenance.
While providers such as SK Telecom, China Unicom and Singtel are quite advanced with their 5G MEC developments, there is a significant gap with telcos in other countries where 5G is still new and yet to be deployed. This Bridge Alliance Federation Edge Hub (e.g., technology partners, industry applications) could give the latter telcos a jump start in building their 5G MEC capabilities rather than starting from scratch.
Hurdles to Overcome
Despite the potential there are still hurdles to overcome. While 5G rollouts are commencing around Asia and globally, many operators have not launched or have only trialed MEC services. Further, once an MEC platform is deployed, it usually takes a broad ecosystem of partners to realize a fully fledged industry or enterprise solution. Each country has a set of domestic players with different partners and capabilities (e.g., 5G frequency bands and features). This fragmented and localized ecosystem in Asia will make the deployment across multiple geographies more challenging. Deploying multiple game servers is much simpler than developing a machine vision AI for the manufacturing industry. Further, while the leading operators in the Bridge Alliance have resources and experience working in areas like cloud, application development and integration, not every operator will have those skill sets on staff, which make deploying MEC solutions more difficult. Further, often industry solutions are created alongside specific device partners and certification can be a challenge when changing markets. Lastly, not every application developer will have the ability to scale their solutions globally.
The Bridge Alliance should seek to address these challenges of skill gaps, device certification and scale through further industry partnership. Within China, for example, government, operators, industry, and vendors are working together to develop standards for industrial communications in order to be able to repeat and scale solutions once one is developed. For example Huayang Mining Group, China Mobile, and Huawei set up the 5G Communications Coal Industry Application Innovation Alliance, bringing the project into the substantive promotion phase, involving 70 enterprises and institutions.
To address scale and skill gaps the Alliance could consider working with hyperscale cloud providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure to leverage their existing mobile edge compute solutions in the Federated Edge Hub. These companies are already working with operators on individual basis to develop MEC solutions, and many enterprises are already comfortable working within these compute environments. Further they provide developer tools and can help easily scale solutions within their environments. Meanwhile the Bridge Alliance can provide market penetration and reach that the hyperscalers do not have.