Innovation & Strategies
Edge Computing: what are the opportunities awaiting telecom operators?
Seeing the exponential growth of connected objects, video streaming and new uses such as cloud gaming or virtual reality, some fear networks will hit their saturation point in the years to come. Content Delivery Networks (CDN) already provide a partial response to issues in data conveyance. However, it is only effective downward (for downstreaming) and does not meet the data processing needs of connected objects.
It is in this context that telecoms players are developing so-called “Edge Computing” solutions. Let’s take a look at what edge computing is and what opportunities it opens up for operators.
What is Edge Computing?
A network architecture…
Simply put, Edge Computing could be defined as a decentralized cloud architecture. It makes it possible to move computing, storage and network resources and put them closest to where consumer needs arise. As a result, Edge Computing has three advantages over usual Cloud Computing:
- latency times are shorter,
- network saturation is lower since only essential data are fed back to the network core,
- data can be processed or even stored more easily, in a sovereign territory.
Edge Computing was originally designed as a mobile architecture, and called “MEC” for “Mobile Edge Computing”. One of its key purposes was to meet the latency requirements of 5G.
Today, standardization organizations still use the term “MEC”, but only to denote a fixed and mobile Edge Computing architecture. “MEC” thus refers to multi-access Edge Computing. The defined standards can be applied to LTE, 4G and 5G architectures, and to all fixed technologies, though the architectures were built for throughput architectures that were normally symmetrical.
…. and software stacks
Apart from the purely networked architecture, software and physical devices can be used to speed up the processing of large-scale data in near-real time. In the most advanced use cases, e.g., with autonomous vehicles, the aim is twofold:
- reduce latency time to less than 1 millisecond
- achieve packet loss levels equivalent to those of standard telecoms.
What are, to date, the first applications of Edge Computing?
Edge Computing is still not widely available to the public. It is not yet mature enough to be commercially deployed on a network scale.
However, digital players such as HP, Azur, Dell and Google are already offering the first solutions for industrial players. Most of these solutions consist of deploying the capacities of a centralized Cloud as close as possible to industrial sites. This approach makes it possible to process data in real time, or even completely automate industrial processes, assisted by connected objects. Amazon, like other players, even offers solutions of this kind for remote industrial sites that cannot have permanent connectivity; this is true of oil platforms in particular.
Applications for B2B…
These first applications have been followed by experiments that are already very advanced in many areas. These include:
- the health sector, with medical sensors or even implementations for treatment or operators,
- surveillance systems, with local data processing,
- Big Data in real time across an entire mobile network,
- or even, in the longer term, the creation of large-scale edge computing architectures for smart cities or autonomous vehicles.
…but also for the general public
Edge Computing will also be offer benefits to certain consumer applications. For example, optimizing latency and processing data close to the user will greatly serve virtual reality and cloud gaming, for instance. As for proactive caching close to the user, it makes it possible to optimize the use of the Internet network for all content, in particular videos.
However, while these optimizations are of benefit to the user experience, and therefore user satisfaction, they appear fairly difficult to monetize.
Edge Computing: an opportunity for telecom operators
Edge Computing nevertheless holds medium and long-term strategic interest for telecom operators. It is a means of enhancing the value of operators and their networks, seen as mere “pipelines” to service and content providers.
Can Edge Computing be used to reshuffle the deck, to the benefit of operators?
Operators can make their network nodes into strategic locations, not only for interconnection and access but also for the storage and calculation spaces which they could operate with compatible platforms. In this respect, incumbent operators would obviously be at an advantage: they have multiple points of coverage across the territory. These would enable them to enjoy extremely low latency rates if they were equipped with computing capacity. By way of comparison, giants such as Google currently have only two real anchorage points in France (Paris and Marseille).
Cutting costs at the Edge
Furthermore, Edge Computing could also become a major cost-cutting center for operators, in two respects:
- as a distributed dynamic architecture, it makes it possible to pool data storage and processing capacities, currently not 100% used, across the entirety of the network,
- the deployment of an Edge Computing architecture makes it possible to virtualize some network functions by hosting them on servers.
Digital players, in the broadest sense of the term, are already seizing on the subject of Edge Computing. Google is expanding its Edge nodes, Amazon and Microsoft already have operational Edge platforms and Ericsson plans to aggregate points from multiple operators worldwide to create a reliable Edge platform.
Consequently, operators cannot take for granted that they will capture a greater share of the value. Unless they make their move quickly, they could once again end up with only a limited partition.
by Lou CHEVREUX the 15/07/2020Read more