The Edge

All Major Tower Companies Are Sniffing Around Edge Computing

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

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mhammett 2/4/2019 | 2:50:38 PM
Farce "Edge computing" regarding mobile is a farce any closer than the LTE core.
bullschuck 2/5/2019 | 11:54:54 AM
Re: Farce I mean, some places it might not make sense to have compute at the cell site. But what about a Disney park? Host their corp email server. Host a ton of guest services interaction. AR/VR/Interactive stuff. Heck, you could charge rent to travel sites that wanted to be hosted on your system. So on one end is the cell site in my suburb, and on the other side is a Disney park. There's got to be a line there somewhere in between where edge computing makes sense.
mhammett 2/5/2019 | 7:47:41 PM
Re: Farce Various technologies such as CoMP send data from multiple towers. That negates servers at the towers.

Also, the latency of going across a metro area is negligible for anyone but HFT.
wayne_du 2/6/2019 | 2:21:42 AM
you must deeply understand service first today,

even the infrastructure dept. and service dept. are in same company

there are still some misunderstanding and requirement un-match or deplayed


if they are from different comany


with the fast changing technologies in service

how can the tower people can follow their requirements?

that will be  a  big chanllenge!


bullschuck 2/6/2019 | 10:59:32 AM
Re: Farce I disagree with your point about latency being unimportant. AR/VR, A2X, all these are going to need < 35 ms latency, maybe < 10 ms. I don't see that being done going all the way back to the LTE core. But maybe you and I might be defining LTE Core differently. I'm thinking MTSO level. You might be thinking CRAN hub level.

And like CoMP, I don't see folks putting that at the LTE Core level either. You didn't say as much, but maybe you're seeing it go to the CRAN hub level as well, which is the same place I see most edge computing.
mhammett 2/6/2019 | 11:09:39 AM
Re: Farce Chicago to Columbus, OH is 10 ms. I'm talking within a given metro. 10 ms should be no problem.

Anything within a couple hundred miles is going to be under 5 ms and thus make little to no difference.
brooks7 2/6/2019 | 2:12:20 PM
Re: Farce mhammet,

That may not be true.  The speed of light for propgation is about 1msec roundtrip per 100 miles (and that is light in a vacuum).  If there are transceivers (for example a router) in the way than the propogation delay will be considerably longer as there is a general use of store and forward packet systems.  That does not take into account any coding delays in any transceivers.

Now, I don't think that any of this is a problem as I think that applications will need to deal with delays longer than that in any case.


Duh! 2/6/2019 | 10:00:23 PM
Re: Farce Seven,

Can't help geeking out here. Speed of light in fiber is (C0 * Group Index of Fiber), which is 0.68. So prop delay = 1/Cfiber =  4.9 μs/km. (sorry to switch units on you). At 100+ Gbit/s in the metro and core, prop delay is the dominant factor in total latency. It's fair to rough estimate 100 km (not 100 mi) = 1 ms round-trip latency.

There are industrial applications that won't work with that much RTT. 5G transport and a couple of electrical grid applications come to mind.
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