The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the need for edge computing by cable operators and other service providers. Sheltering-at-home has caused an explosion in online gaming – an application that relies on a low-latency network with compute equipment close to the edge. In fact, cloud-based gaming is the number one edge computing use case (after video caching), according to the 24 cable executives we recently interviewed.
Broadband Success Partners asked each executive eight questions about edge computing. Answers to the first three questions about the definition and drivers of edge computing, as well as the location of edge equipment, can be found in this earlier blog post on Light Reading. Here's the rest of the story.
Why is cloud gaming the top edge computing use case? One executive said that "these are delay-sensitive applications which benefit most from edge compute." Another noted the growth in offerings by Google, Facebook, Shadow and others.
After cloud gaming, healthcare sensors & telemetry (massive IoT) and surveillance & physical security ranked as the primary use cases.
Going beyond use cases, we asked "What is the largest opportunity area for your company with edge computing?" Half of the executives see "new business services" as the greatest edge compute opportunity. As you see here, almost 80% of the Business Services executives we interviewed chose "new business services." Network engineering executives split between "new business services" and "enabling MSOs to play a larger tole in 5G," with each gaining support from 31% of respondents.
Next we asked, "What is the most significant challenge to supporting edge computing?" Close to half of the executives cited operations to support monetizing new services as the biggest impediment. Why? "Edge computing is a new paradigm driving new workflows," according to one of the executives. Another respondent highlighted their "inflexible OSS/BSS systems – preventing an agile approach to innovation."
To overcome the challenges and make edge computing a reality, where is the investment greatest? Far and away, programmable infrastructure is the number one investment area. Network automation ranks number two.
As to why programmable infrastructure is the primary funding area, this answer from one executive was typical: "We need to rethink our network topology. To move to a distributed architecture, a massive number of new elements go into the infrastructure and must integrate with the existing hardware."
Lastly, we asked about the timing of their edge compute strategies: "Does your company have a strategy to incorporate edge compute?" Over half of the executives said their edge compute plans are rolling out now. Another 25% said they will have a plan by 2022.
The differences in timing by MSO size are striking. Tier 1 executives are clearly planning and executing their edge compute strategies faster than their Tier 2 counterparts. In fact, almost twice as many Tier 1 MSOs are rolling out their plans now. What's also interesting is that 18% of Tier 2s are not planning to develop an edge computing strategy.
In summary, the research headlines are:
- Headends and hub sites are preferred locations for edge equipment – together they were chosen by close to two-thirds of executives;
- Almost 60% of executives view "improved customer experience" or "enablement of new revenue streams" as the most important edge computing driver;
- Cloud gaming is the primary edge computing use case – after video caching;
- Operations to support monetizing new services is the number one edge computing challenge, and
- Cable operators believe programmable infrastructure and network automation are the top investment areas to move to edge computing.
What are the implications of this research for service providers? In devising or reevaluating your edge compute strategy, start by prioritizing the use cases you envision will be the most popular. Understand the latency requirements needed to deliver an excellent customer experience. Where will you place edge equipment to achieve this experience while investing at an acceptable level? Striking the right balance today and in the future is critical.
— David Strauss, Principal, Broadband Success Partners