How Mobile Edge Computing Will Benefit Network Providers —
The pace of innovation has been invigorating, but exhausting. Now that everyone has a better idea how everything fits together and what it can do, shortcomings and limitations have become more obvious. For example, smartphones aren’t the ultimate mobile device. Wireless augmented reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), wearable devices, and autonomous systems are coming.
As impressive as 4G/LTE is, it needs to be improved to keep up. The cloud can evolve and be improved with a continuing stream of specialized server instances for AI, machine learning, inference, and gaming, for example. Improving the communications links between cloud servers and users or devices is a continuing effort.
The cloud and mobile infrastructure are clearly synergistic and mutually dependent. More applications for both consumer and business run in a cloud, and more access is from mobile, Wi-Fi, and cellular wireless devices. Going forward, the success of mobile and the cloud are inescapably dependent on each other. But competition exists for a larger share of the market. As every aspect of our private and work lives evolve into a cloud-based mobile delivery model, this market is growing at an ever-increasing rate.
Edge computing is cloud computing, moved closer to the user or device. In other words, the cloud is closer to the "edge" of the access network. Moving it closer reduces the network connections and improves the performance in terms of latency, jitter, and bandwidth.
Sometimes edge execution is necessary such as for autonomous vehicles. In some applications, edge computing has economic and performance advantages, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Because edge computing is a distributed system, it’s complex and requires automatic operation. Despite these complexities and uncertainties, latency and network performance have always been strong and transformational enablers.
Note that low latency does not mean close proximity. To achieve the low latency required for a specific use case or application, you need to examine how to attain the optimal economic solution. A good IP network design can achieve the low latencies and optimal economic location for edge computing.
Implementing mobile edge cloud computing within the mobile infrastructure requires the following:
• Server resources that supply the virtualized, on-demand resource.
• An underpinning infrastructure that connects the servers to the mobile user or device, to the Internet, and to the other edge resources that constitute the edge cloud.
• An operational control system that manages and orchestrates the allocation of resources and accounts for services delivered, and the provisioning and operation of the cloud resources.
• Integration of this cloud infrastructure with the control system of the mobile operator systems so cloud applications can access and source information. This information may be about the connected user or device including authenticated user identity and independently refined and validated location and perform telephony services.
Deutsche Telekom Learnings
To understand edge market potential, Deutsche Telekom (DT) invested in quantitative research over the last 3 years. This research will soon be released openly online so others can engage and create a collective understanding of the total market.
DT learned that 5 categories of new business services for service providers are enabled by investment in the mobile edge:
Cloud-related opportunities that emphasize the benefits of reduced network latency. Compared to wired connections, cellular connections offer more location flexibility (unwired) but with greater latency until mass-market 5G deployment. It’s easier and quicker to build and operate a global cellular edge because of the computer use within the infrastructure, and because of the existing, mature, roaming business federation among operators.
Mobile applications that benefit from higher bandwidth connectivity such as augmented reality experiences and games. Niantic’s pioneering Pokémon GO and the anticipated Harry Potter games are 2 examples. Edge computing enables higher scaling that benefits clustered multiuser games or experiences that share context such as player location and orientation among players that are geographically located close to one another.
Cloud applications that are enabled by intimate use of local context such as the upcoming enhanced AR capabilities in Google Maps.
5G initiatives that overcome application connectivity issues in 4G. The 5G discussion has highlighted many potential applications that can also be implemented within an edge-enabled 4G infrastructure.
Agile development platforms within the cellular infrastructure that enables operators to collaborate with device vendors on differentiated offerings and to rapidly add subscriber features and functionality in response to market opportunities or challenges.
The first 4 categories are often thought of as benefits that will accrue at some point in the future, but not part of shorter-term initiatives and commercial plans. The new opportunities would be explored at some future date when 5G deployment matures.
Cloud-focused application and service builders won’t wait to implement early versions as OTT solutions. If mobile edge computing can be implemented before 5G, it gives mobile operators the chance to participate in these early efforts. They can learn from them and discover the required partnerships and go-to-market strategies.
The fifth category relates to using the edge as an agile development platform for the mobile operator. This topic isn’t often discussed, but it should be. The traditional generational evolution cadence of the mobile industry is a competitive disadvantage against the on-demand innovation of over-the-top alternatives even if the integrated and optimized infrastructure solution has advantages.
A mobile edge cloud can be used by a mobile operator and its various business partners to evolve features and services much more rapidly than has been possible within large generations and to develop or augment new subscriber services, or to work with device vendors to create differentiated subscriber device offerings. An edge cloud brings a developer-friendly platform into the operator infrastructure for the first time. It enables functional integration with the cellular infrastructure and low-latency, high-bandwidth connectivity to the device that isn’t possible from the conventional cloud.
Case Study: Deutsche Telekom (DT)
In 2018, Deutsche Telekom (DT) executed a 2-year internal study that evaluated the potential impact of edge computing on mobile operators. The study suggested the potential benefits were real, and it highlighted the fact that many of the potential services would be more attractive to application and service builders if they were available in a coordinated and aggregated way from many global operators.
As a result, MobiledgeX was structured as an independent company rather than as an internal DT operation. It is capitalized to use a structure that allows it to receive additional external investment over time.
The business strategy begins with the creation of a federation of mobile operator partners by developing software that creates a developer-friendly system platform that is accessed and orchestrated from the cloud. The software is implemented as cloudlets that run on server resources near the mobile edge.
The offering is built around modern cloud architecture with virtual machines and containers. It’s built to run on virtualized server environments that many network providers are adopting already as part of a virtual network functions evolution. The network appliances are replaced by software workloads running on virtualized commodity servers.
MobiledgeX provides the technical infrastructure that enables application code to be deployed in standard packaging such as a virtual machine or container. It’s deployed automatically, on-demand, at an optimized location, when a mobile application using it is invoked. This lets the developer provide a declarative specification of how deployment should be done, and optimizes the location dynamically based on the current resources and loads.
Today, DT deploys this edge computing process across Germany within the DT mobile infrastructure.
This is just one case describing how edge computing, cloud computing, and 5G, can interrelate to benefit mobile operators. It also shows how network providers can begin or accelerate their edge adaptation of 4G that can evolve naturally to 5G as it matures.
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MobiledgeX is an edge computing company founded by Deutsche Telekom AG and headquartered in San Francisco, California, and is building a marketplace of edge resources and services that will connect developers with the world’s largest mobile networks to power the next generation of applications and devices. For more information about the 2019 Cisco and MobiledgeX white paper Edge Computing and Global Mobile Services Infrastructure: Why wait for 5G to mature when you can start now?, and more about Edge Computing, please visit www.cisco.com/go/edge and https://mobiledgex.com/.