Edge Funds: Show Me the Money!

At the MEC Congress in Berlin there was plenty of evidence that edge computing is more than just a hot topic, but still too few signs of concrete business cases or investment plans.

September 28, 2017

7 Min Read
Edge Funds: Show Me the Money!

BERLIN -- MEC Congress 2017 -- Are you ready for the next communications networking revolution? Because it's on the horizon, at the edge of the network: The addition of computing capabilities at the edge of a mobile or fixed network to enable processing closer to end users is something that's going to happen.

And that's not just the opinion of the crowd gathered here in Berlin, where the edge computing community has been gathered in recent days to take its own collective pulse. Network operators are citing edge computing as strategically important as the 5G world (which demands edge computing availability) in public speeches at industry events such as the recent Mobile World Congress Americas, at the current NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver and, not surprisingly, here in Berlin, where the likes of Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Vodafone have talked of its importance and of their plans. (See CenturyLink: Edge Compute Critical, Not Easy and AT&T's CTO on Edge Compute & the Power of Low Latency.)

But while there's a certain inevitability about the deployment of such "edge computing" assets, the big questions still remain:

  • -- What are the edge computing use cases that meet a need right now?

    -- What are the business cases that can offer a return on investment for edge computing deployments?

    -- To what extent will telcos be able to use their NFV-supporting computing resources as part of their edge computing infrastructure?

    -- Who will fund, build and manage the edge computing infrastructure -- will it be the telcos? After all, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure have already unveiled their distributed cloud strategies, which include the rollout of computing capabilities near to end users or on their premises, while Google has just taken its Cloud IoT Core management platform to public beta.

    -- Will edge computing be enough to meet the needs of the 5G and IoT worlds, or is the broader distributed cloud (or fog) the way to go?

    -- When will there be some at-scale edge computing deployments that can provide some ideas as to how it will actually work in conjunction with an existing network?

    -- Will applications developers take any notice of telecom industry API specifications or just default to writing their apps to run on large cloud platforms such as AWS?

    -- Can the communications networking industry get its shizz together to offer some kind of joined up, consistent approach to the challenge? This question needs to be addressed by both the network operators and the plethora of industry specifications and standards bodies that have "some skin in the game" in edge computing. It could be that we end up with another ONAP situation, whereby a major operator makes a major move and then feeds its results into the industry via an open source body, so creating a de facto "standard" approach. It's worth noting at this point that Telecom Infra Project (TIP) has an edge computing project up and running.

Some early answers are emerging to some of those questions, but what is clear from the past few days in Berlin is that there is now a great deal of movement on behalf of the network operators in terms of tests, trials, strategies and even an occasional early deployment that look certain to deliver some answers in 2018. But there are as yet no industry-wide, broadly applicable answers that will kickstart an edge computing gold rush.

And that's certainly what's missing currently: A game-changing edge computing plan that is accompanied by an eye-watering financial commitment. A few of those will be needed if some industry forecasts are to come true. (See US, Europe to Spend $272B on Edge Computing by 2026 – Analyst.)

In the meantime, here's some of the Light Reading coverage from Berlin plus some other relevant headlines, and then, below, a few snippets from the Congress.

  • UK service provider BT will next month start building a "Droneway" in a remote corner of the British Isles to test the feasibility of using edge computing and drones in difficult environmental conditions. The Droneway will essentially comprise a mobile network connecting two lighthouses across a distance of 23 miles in the Upper Hebrides in northern Scotland, which is often subject to high winds. Ayan Ghosh, the collaborative trials principal for BT's research and innovation lab, told attendees at the MEC Congress that BT would monitor the entire network in real time using edge-computing technologies. It is working with a range of vendors on the project, including Parallel Wireless, Athonet, UVue, Avanti Communications and a software vendor called Airmap, which is monitoring the actual Droneway.

    • Customer demand for edge computing is being driven by three "laws" relating to physics, economics and legislation, according to Satyen Yadav, the general manager of IoT services for Amazon Web Services (AWS). On the physics front, long distances are a barrier to low-latency services, said Yadav, while -- from a more economic perspective -- some organizations want to separate their data into low- and high-value categories, processing some of the information much closer to the network edge. When it comes to legislation, regulations in some countries still prevent customers from sending data across national or even local boundaries, which has been a further driver of edge computing demand for AWS. The cloud computing giant has expanded into the edge computing market through its Greengrass initiative, which was described at this week's MEC Congress as a challenge for operators targeting edge computing opportunities, as well as an example of what can be achieved.

    • On a related note, edge computing specialist Saguna Networks has integrated AWS Greengrass into its Open-RAN MEC solution to help take the management of IoT services close to mobile users by enabling mobile operators to deploy "cloudlets" (get used to hearing that term, folks) as part of their radio access network infrastructure. Saguna has been around for a relatively long time, being one of the first mobile edge computing exponents, and received funding from SoftBank and Akamai in 2015, so it brings lots of experience and heavyweight backing to the sector. (See Saguna Raises Funds From SoftBank, Akamai.)

    • Intel is witnessing growing interest in the potential of edge computing among its customers and is already collaborating with some of them on edge computing deployments, said Mark Gallagher, the director of 5G solutions for the semiconductor giant. "There are vertical markets where you can start to make money today," Gallagher told MEC Congress attendees. According to Gallagher, the first edge computing applications are starting to appear in areas including augmented and virtual reality, industrial IoT and autonomous vehicles. Gallagher also made some bold claims for Intel's new Xeon processor family, saying this could support 3.9 times higher virtualized workload throughput and a greater number of virtual machines than previous designs.

    • With edge computing set to play such an important role in 5G, it's no surprise to see Huawei directing a significant amount of resource in this area, especially as it has both carrier networks and enterprise networks divisions. With 5G in mind in particular, the vendor's principal market expert of packet core and cloud core network product line, Jason Yin, suggested to attendees that there is a technical and business case for developing "MEC-as-a-service" to take advantage of developments such as network slicing and the demand there will be from multiple vertical industry sectors for edge computing capabilities. Yin urged network operators to start preparing their networks for 5G now by running their core networking functions from a cloud platform and then building a distributed cloud architecture.

      — Ray Le Maistre, International Group Editor, and Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading

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