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The Edge

What cable wants from the edge

As noted in the first two parts of this series, few things are hotter in today's tech world than edge computing. Companies of all types are seeking to bring powerful Internet functionality as close as possible to users at the edge of their service delivery networks. That's not surprising, because edge computing offers huge potential to transform the entire underlying structure of the Internet – from massive, centralized data centers to a highly distributed storage and computing ecosystem.

Edge computing seeks to achieve this by placing the huge processing power of computers and the Internet right where the decisions need to be made in real time or near-real time. The technology aims to bring intelligence all the way to the devices at the network edge almost instantly, rather than spend precious milliseconds on round trips to the cloud or a data center.

As a result, the cable and broadband industry is exploring edge compute's potential as it looks to develop and deliver such next-gen, low-latency connectivity services as augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), cloud gaming, holographic video, light-field displays, smart homes, 5G mobile, autonomous vehicles and others.

To learn more, Heavy Reading recently teamed up with four leading tech vendors to conduct a comprehensive study of cable operators' edge computing views, plans and strategies. In this series of sponsored blog posts, we present the results of that study, discuss the implications and share conclusions about cable's edge computing efforts.

Driving factors to implement edge cloud solutions

Among other things, the Heavy Reading study delved into the edge cloud strategies of cable operators and other wireline service providers. This section started off by examining the driving factors for operators to implement edge cloud solutions for broadband service delivery.

Factors such as flexibility and resiliency emerged as the biggest driving factors. But other factors, such as latency improvements, scalability and opex reduction, also proved to be critical.

Specifically, nearly two-thirds (64%) of survey participants checked off flexibility as a driving factor, making that the top choice. Resiliency came in a strong second, logging 51%. Close behind were latency improvements, scalability and opex reduction, all of which clocked in between 46% and 49%. Security lagged well behind at 17%, as can be seen in the chart below.

Based on these results, there are numerous major drivers pushing network operators to embrace edge cloud solutions for delivering broadband service. However, flexibility looks to be the dominant driving factor.

Driving factors to implement edge cloud solutions

Implementation timing

Another survey section focused on the edge computing approaches of network operators. The survey kicked off this focus by asking providers when they plan to implement a consolidated virtualized access network and begin the move to a multi-access edge cloud ecosystem. While just 11% of survey participants said their company plans to do so this year (2021), slightly more than one-half (52%) intend to do that next year (2022). Further, another 28% plan to start making the shift in 2023, as shown in the chart below.

As a result, a whopping 91% of respondents expect their company to begin implementing a consolidated virtualized access network and advancing to a multi-access edge cloud architecture over the next two and a half years. If the industry actually achieves that pace, it will constitute a remarkably quick transition to a complex next-gen technology like edge computing.

These results also indicate that most operators are either ready, or nearly ready, to converge their core network and make the move to a multi-access edge computing (MEC) architecture. That shift will require them to maximize the use of their hardware resources to support their new array of software-based network functions.

Implementation timing

Most interesting applications

Moving on to how service providers will use the edge cloud, the survey asked participants to choose the most interesting applications for a deep edge cloud solution. Respondents could select up to two applications.

Virtualized RAN (vRAN) easily led the pack, with more than three-quarters (77%) of survey participants picking it as a key application. Virtualized PON (vPON) made the grade as well, generating support from 53% of respondents.

No other edge application came close to matching those two. Of the remaining choices, virtualized CMTS (vCMTS) scored the highest, garnering votes from 32% of respondents.

Most interesting applications

Deployment plans for platform

In the overall strategy section, the survey tackled how service providers plan to deploy their edge compute/RMD/FMA (Remote MAC-PHY/Flexible MAC Architecture) platforms. Although the results were somewhat mixed, most operators intend to leverage DOCSIS technology as an option in their edge compute rollouts.

Specifically, nearly three-fifths (57%) of respondents said their company plans to use fully DOCSIS 4.0-compliant embedded edge devices. Plus, with multiple answers permitted, more than two-fifths (41%) indicated they intend to use DOCSIS 3.1 remote PHY devices (RPDs) with compute board for vCore. Thus, both the current version and next-gen versions of DOCSIS figure heavily in operators' edge compute plans, as can be seen in the chart below.

At the same time, many operators are also looking at using hardened edge servers providing RMD/vCore functionality to multiple RPDs. This indicates that providers are exploring multiple ways to deploy their edge compute platforms.

What these results also show is that operators are seeking ways to relieve the pressure on their hub sites by easing the space and power constraints on them. In addition, the results indicate that providers plan to keep at least some of their DOCSIS services in their hubs.

Deployment plans for platform

More key results will be shared in our last blog in this series later this week or early next week. For a free copy of the Heavy Reading white paper detailing all the study results, please click here to register.

This blog is sponsored by Harmomic.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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