The noise around edge computing appears to have built to a crescendo as virtually all of the nation's major cell tower companies are in various stages of testing out the technology.
Those companies join a wide range of other players in the wireless space -- including mobile network operators, startups and equipment providers -- investigating the opportunities around computing deployments that are placed physically closer to end users.
"The new use cases for the edge purely, the first stuff we're starting to see, is people trying to take advantage of these new wireless options. Big enterprises that have a lot of stuff in the cloud, but because they want to improve the performance of the apps, or mobile payments or something, they want to deploy something at the edge. It's already happening," said Ihab Tarazi, Packet 's recently appointed CTO. Tarazi was previously CTO at data center and colocation provider Equinix Inc. (Nasdaq: EQIX), but moved to Packet last year, shortly before the company announced a $25 million Series B round of funding, in order to lead Packet's edge computing efforts.
And it appears that Packet is having some success in the area. Tarazi said Packet is already supplying edge computing services in 190 locations for Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s newly established IoT service, called Curiosity. Further, Packet's products are powering some initial edge computing deployments from all of the nation's major tower companies: Crown Castle International Corp. (NYSE: CCI), SBA Communications and American Tower Corp. (NYSE: AMT).
"This is what it's all about, figuring out our operational model and optimizing the servers," Tarazi said of Packet's edge computing deployments.
Packet is already running one edge computing location for SBA in Boston and two in Chicago for Crown Castle and the tower company's edge computing partner, Vapor IO. Tarazi said Packet is also gearing up to launch an edge computing location for American Tower, though he declined to provide details on that effort.
Altogether Packet hopes to have 15 edge computing locations up and running this year, on the way to the company's eventual goal of scaling up to 50 edge computing sites, Tarazi said.
The addition of American Tower to Packet's partner roster has not been previously disclosed. The tower company did not immediately respond to requests for more information about its edge computing efforts, but the company's CEO hinted at such actions in October: "Our sites can act as a convergence point for the wireless access network, cloud services, the Internet of Things and enterprise networks. We are currently engaged in discussions with players in numerous industries that may ultimately be edge compute tenants and expect to further explore the potential long-term opportunity going forward," American Tower's James Taiclet said, according to a Motley Fool transcription of his remarks during the company's quarterly conference call with investors.
Indeed, American Tower counts a total of 57,000 tower sites around the US, and each one could potentially supply the power, fiber and real estate necessary to run an edge computing data site. And those sites could power the kind of speedy computing services that wireless operators might want to sell to consumers, enterprises and others in a 5G world -- which is likely why American Tower isn't the only tower company investing in edge computing technologies.
Next page: The evolution of the edge