Ericsson launched a content delivery network in 2016 called the Unified Delivery Network (UDN) that created a federation of participating service providers, including Telstra and Vodafone. That effort survived Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm's cost-cutting efforts over the past few years, as well as his sale of Ericsson's media business.
Then, late last year, Ericsson rebranded UDN into an edge computing play called Edge Gravity that operates like a startup within Ericsson. Edge Gravity retained the 80 or so operators that had signed up to participate in the UDN, and now is working to expand the number of operators participating while concurrently working to sell Edge Gravity services not only for content delivery but also for edge computing.
"It's real edge stuff happening now," said Yves Boudreau, the CMO of Ericsson's Edge Gravity. "It's a market that's being created."
Perhaps the best signal of Ericsson's progress in the edge computing market is its agreement with CDN provider Limelight. For roughly a decade Limelight has operated as a traditional CDN, but in recent years the company has been working to rejuvenate revenues by expanding into related areas including video game streaming and edge computing. Limelight said it would partner with Ericsson late last year, and the company recently announced that it expects 30% year over year revenue growth in the second half of this year, mainly driven by the $7-9 million it expects to generate through its Ericsson Edge Gravity partnership.
"Ericsson knows how these carrier networks work and operate … Ericsson can get up inside these [service provider] networks where we can actually have capacity built inside the network, which can improve latency quite a bit," said Ersin Galioglu, VP of strategic initiatives at Limelight, adding that Ericsson knows networks while Limelight knows how to make deals with content providers.
Limelight and Ericsson aren't the only players in the CDN space now targeting edge computing: "We have the ability for our customers to run applications on our edge platform. We're increasing the investment there," said Akamai's Tom Leighton on a recent conference call with investors.
What kinds of companies are buying the edge computing services sold by the likes of Limelight and Ericsson? Real-time video game streaming is certainly one.
Olivier Avaro, CEO of Blacknut, said that the company launched its video-game streaming service in Europe at the beginning of 2018, offering access to around 200 gaming titles for roughly $13 per month. The company plans to expand into the US market in the third quarter of this year through Ericsson's Edge Gravity.
Using Edge Gravity "is really going to improve the stability and performance of the service," explained Blacknut's Avaro. He said Edge Gravity will help Blacknut reduce user latency by a factor of two, to around 30 ms. Reducing latency, and thereby reducing jitter, gives players the "feeling that the experience is stable and robust," he said.
Atlanta-based startup Haste is also working with Ericsson on a low-latency service for service providers and targeted to PC gamers. And Network Next is hoping to launch a similar service for video-game companies through a partnership with Limelight.
"The gaming space has been interesting for us," acknowledged Limelight's Galioglu.
Edge computing has other applications besides gaming. Other applications include drone scanning and gunshot detection. But gaming is certainly the application that's generating the most hype considering Google's planned Stadia launch and Microsoft's ongoing testing of its Project xCloud game streaming service.
The transition from CDN to edge computing hasn't been completely smooth for Ericsson. For example, the company in 2016 boasted that Paramount Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox were among the companies that had joined its CDN. When questioned about those two media giants this week, Ericsson referred questions to Limelight and Limelight referred questions back to Ericsson.
Nonetheless, Ericsson's Boudreau boasts that Edge Gravity represents part of the vendor's attempts to ensure its service provider customers can remain relevant in an increasingly tumultuous telecom industry. "It's not just about the AT&T network anymore. It's about the Verizon network, the AT&T network, the T-Mobile network, the Vodafone network, the Telstra network -- it's about a global network. And so when people try to access those networks ubiquitously across the world, but they're all operated by a thousand different operators, it makes it quite challenging to leverage and harness the potential of those networks. So how can we help?"
As Boudreau explained, Edge Gravity is a way for Ericsson to get access into carrier networks through a revenue-share model that then helps operators fund the construction of additional infrastructure -- infrastructure that Ericsson is surely happy to supply.
Edge Gravity currently counts around 22 edge computing sites globally, including 11 locations in the US. Those sites are mainly inside Equinix data centers connected through Ericsson's MPLS network. But Boudreau said Ericsson's goal is to grow the number of computing sites within the Edge Gravity network by adding operators' existing computing sites into the service. For example, he said AT&T currently counts 5,000 central office computing locations, each of which could be added into Edge Gravity's edge computing service. Doing so would essentially create computing locations that are more geographically dispersed, thus lowering latency by moving computing resources physically closer to end users.
However, Boudreau acknowledged that Edge Gravity faces an uphill climb in its efforts to entice operators to join its cause. He said operators in the US have been hesitant to sign on to Edge Gravity. Currently, TDS Telecom and U.S. Cellular in the US are listed as supporting Edge Gravity, and Boudreau said Ericsson is working to add additional operators, but he declined to provide details.
In that respect, Ericsson sits in relatively the same position as other edge computing hopefuls, such as MobiledgeX, that are working to collect and unify edge computing sites from wireless operators into a cohesive and comprehensive edge computing service that can then be sold to cloud gaming companies and other developers and customers. So far though, heavyweights like AT&T and Verizon appear to be keeping their edge computing options open rather than signing on with any one particular vendor. Already Verizon has promised to launch its own mobile edge computing service later this year.