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Crunch Time for the EdgeCrunch Time for the Edge

Edge computing looks to be an essential piece of the 5G puzzle but it's going to take a long time to slot into place, as MobiledgeX is finding out.

June 21, 2019

5 Min Read
Crunch Time for the Edge

Edge computing has been pitched as a useful resource for mobile operators for some years already: Nokia took its approach to MWC more than six years with what it then called Liquid Applications, while edge-focused startups such as Saguna Networks have been around even longer (and still are, to their credit).

What started as Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) became Multi-access Edge Computing (still MEC), as the central offices/local exchanges of fixed-line operators looked as hot (if not hotter) than the basestation facilities of the cellular players in terms of edge compute resource locations.

Now, though, we've reached crunch time for edge computing. The 5G and associated FTTH plans of the world's operators are providing the impetus, infrastructure and raison d'être for the deployment, management and use of edge compute and storage resources, but there is scant evidence of real world deployments.

That's disappointing to many, including edge computing platform startup MobiledgeX. The Deutsche Telekom-backed edge computing management specialist had at the very least hoped to have the support of many of the world's influential operators by early this year and become the de facto choice for mobile infrastructure owners seeking to put edge computing resources to work as part of exciting new service strategies for consumers (real-time, cloud-based gaming) and enterprises (industrial automation, perhaps).

The MobiledgeX team was bullish through 2018 and made great progress, to be fair: It has some operator support, including that of one of the world's first 5G service providers, SK Telecom in South Korea, but it's far from dominating the sector and positioning itself as the partner of choice for network operators.

That's not because MobiledgeX has done anything wrong (that we know of): It has a strong team, it's involved in a deployment at its parent company's network in Germany and it's working with multiple operators, as we noted in February, since when it has added Canada's Telus to its list of supporters.

But pretty much all of those network operator relationships are exploratory because, quite simply, the mobile operators aren't yet sure what they would do with edge compute resources even if they were able to build, identify and harness them. Key questions remain unanswered. What is the use case for edge computing? What is the business case for mobile operator investment in edge computing? Are mobile operators best placed to build and/or manage such capabilities, or are third parties such as the web services giants more suited? If they build it, will no one come? Will developers build apps to run on edge compute platforms and, if they did, would anyone use them?

That's why MobiledgeX's latest efforts involve sharing information about potential use cases, based on the conversations it has had with industry players during the past few years, and inviting the industry to share their views on such use cases via an online portal called Edge Navigator. The startup's chief marketing officer, Geoff Hollingsworth, and VP of marketing, Ryan Wilson, say the data already housed in the Navigator is based on research done by Deutsche Telekom prior to the formation of their outfit, as well as information gathered since MobiledgeX was formed at the start of 2018. Based on that existing data, "multi-player and cloud gaming, V2X communications, and Industrial IoT [are] among the most viable near-term edge use cases based on nine critical market and edge-related factors," the company notes in its official announcement.

Now the plan is to "crowdsource what the industry thinks is important," says Wilson.

Hollingsworth says the aim is to "find a way to help the telcos … edge is inevitable -- it all comes down to risk and reward." The big question, though, is: When will a core group of operators take that risk in any significant way?

At the same time as crowdsourcing use case information, MobiledgeX is also engaging further with the application developer and device community: It is now accepting applications to its early access developer program from parties that "want to experiment with the power of edge computing performance in live networks." And who wouldn't want to do that, right?

These are worthy efforts, no doubt, but show that the industry is a long way off answering many of those key questions still plaguing edge compute strategies: Hollingsworth admits that MobiledgeX missed the initial, aggressive deadline he had set for the company in terms of being the go-to player for mobile operators.

The latest deadline is to share "insights from contributions to Edge Navigator by users … later this summer, once trends and key findings begin to materialize."

There's still time to be the de facto partner of choice, of course, but the longer things go on, the more competition there is: For example, London-based Ori also has its eyes on the same prize with its DNA platform, and has banked seed funding, while Mimik Technology has also unveiled an edge cloud platform and a software developer kit (SDK).

Early 5G networks may be up and running, but the edge computing piece of the puzzle is still far from being locked into place.

MobiledgeX Launches Edge Navigator Tool, Pitches Developers
MobiledgeX Kickstarts Developer Program
Telus Trials MobiledgeX
SKT Boasts 60% Cut in Latency With Edge Platform Move
Europe's Big Telcos Are Getting Edgy About 5G
Deutsche Telekom Desperate to Impress in 5G
MobiledgeX Seeks to Conquer the Network Edge, From Barcelona
DT, Niantic, MobiledgeX & Samsung Demo Edge Multi-Gamer Experience
SK Telecom Teams Up With MobiledgeX
Deutsche Telekom to Swap Startup Investments With SK Telecom — Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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