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Edge Cloud Deployments – Operator Proof Points

James Crawshaw
9/30/2019

At the recent Edge Computing Congress in London there were some hints of how communications service providers (CSPs) might make money from edge cloud. But the event was not overrun with developers asking when edge cloud compute would become available, nor were there hordes of enterprises clamoring for new edge cloud-enabled services. There was, however, a palpable sense that if CSPs don't move faster, they will lose the edge cloud opportunity to public cloud behemoths.

Heavy Reading has been researching the edge cloud opportunity and below we highlight some of the proof points from operators that are investing in these capabilities, some more cautiously than others.

CenturyLink – leveraging existing investments
Heavy Reading spoke with Dave Shacochis, VP Hybrid IT Product Management at CenturyLink, to learn more about the company's recently announced plans to invest in edge cloud compute. According to Shacochis, CenturyLink, an enterprise-focused wireline operator, is already investing in compute capacity to support NFV; edge cloud leverages those same investments. Shacochis sees the greatest appetite for edge cloud services in sectors such as retail, hospitality, food services, logistics, transportation and manufacturing where the businesses are spread over a wide geography.

For example, one customer (unnamed but we think a retailer) had been considering buying servers to host a business application in each of its 2,000 sites. Instead CenturyLink has designed the application for them on its 100 edge cloud compute nodes and providing the 5ms of round-trip latency the application requires.

"We fundamentally believe that edge computing is a solutions business, not a technology sale," notes Shacochis. "Edge computing can be served by a range of connectivity technologies. Ultimately it is about moving processing closer to the interactions, but no closer than necessary."

Deutsche Telekom – patiently investing
Alex Choi, senior vice president for strategy and technology innovation at Deutsche Telekom, spoke with Heavy Reading about the operator's edge cloud plans. The company is currently running edge cloud computing in four locations (central offices) in Germany with a fifth location planned by the end of this year. While this is a small number of sites for a country the size of Germany, Choi says it is sufficient to meet the needs of their trial customers. DT runs MobiledgeX's open platform software on its German edge clouds. MobiledgeX was set up by DT in 2018 as an independent company to drive open edge development and create a global marketplace of edge resources and services that will connect developers with mobile networks. For this, MobiledgeX is building a federation of mobile operator partners. Longer term, he says the company is open to collaboration with external cloud providers as well as other CSPs that are deploying edge cloud, as well as building its own edge cloud sites. "It's all about scalability," notes Choi.

DT is working on several applications for consumers and enterprises that will leverage edge cloud's capabilities. Earlier this year DT and MobiledgeX announced trials with mobile gaming firm Niantic and AR/VR software studio 1,000 Realities. And on the enterprise side, DT has multiple ongoing trials including one with lighting manufacturer Osram for factory and warehouse automation. However, Choi notes the company's edge cloud initiative has not yet reached full commercialization because the ecosystem is not yet mature. "We continue to make investments to build the right ecosystem, and for developers our platform is wide open. We need to be patient. Edge cloud will take time to build traction just like public cloud did."

SK Telecom – already in production
SK Telecom launched its mobile edge computing (MEC) platform in March (see here). In email correspondence with their MEC team, they explained to Heavy Reading that MEC is the only way to achieve the low-latency promise of 5G by re-locating all services within the MNO's network. SKT plans to deploy MEC in 12 data centers by 2020 to reach nation-wide coverage.

SKT expects that smart factory, virtual/augmented reality and video game streaming will be the main MEC applications. In December 2018, SKT's MEC-based "Detective Inspection" solution was supplied to Myunghwa, a South Korean auto parts maker. This is now running on SKT's 5G network with an average latency under 15ms (round trip time).

SKT is running its own data centers for edge cloud and using third-party facilities. For processing it uses a combination of CPUs, GPUs, and AI ASICs. SKT sees an opportunity to collaborate with public cloud companies by interconnecting their service platforms. Content companies can also enhance their applications by tapping into the MEC capabilities of CSPs.

Vodafone – MEC is a modest investment
In emailed comments Vodafone representatives told Heavy Reading that the company is optimistic, in the long term, that MEC will enable new applications for a modest investment. With fewer than 60 data centers across the EU, Vodafone believes latencies of less than 20ms can be achieved across its entire EU footprint. It sees MEC as a success-based capex, not a "build it and they might come" proposition, as it can be tailored to specific use cases and customers. While Vodafone is bullish about the long-term potential, it recognizes that the emergence of applications that take advantage of MEC will take time.

Vodafone Business is offering both dedicated and distributed MEC to the enterprise market. Dedicated MEC combines a mobile private network at the customer premises with low-latency computing services on site. Vodafone says it has seen demand for dedicated MEC from several industry verticals including oil & gas, mining, manufacturing and transportation.

Vodafone is also preparing its networks for the launch of distributed MEC services, which offer low-latency computing from the edge of the wide area network. Distributed MEC should offer the flexibility of public cloud services with the low latency, data sovereignty and localized decision making of on-premises compute. Vodafone believes distributed MEC will be used for video analytics, real-time asset inspection, augmented reality for remote field force, drone control and detection, AI-powered media editing and production as well as immersive experiences in retail, events, and tourism.

Don't be late to the 5G edge cloud party
To find out about more real-world edge cloud initiatives from CSPs such as AT&T, BT, China Mobile, Korea Telecom, NTT, Orange, Telefonica, Telstra and Verizon, check out our latest paper, Don't Be Late to the 5G Edge Cloud Party: CSPs Have Little to Lose and Much to Gain. In it we examine the use cases for edge cloud computing, explain why 5G is a catalyst for CSP adoption, and map out the emerging edge cloud computing ecosystem (including optimal compute architectures).

The edge cloud is already under construction but CSPs are in danger of being relegated to just a connectivity provider. As mobile and fixed networks become increasingly virtualized, the investment hurdle for edge cloud is lowered significantly. With the availability of new computing resources CSPs have little to lose from edge cloud and potentially much to gain.

This article is sponsored by Qualcomm.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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