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The Edge

Mobile industry starts talking like the cable guys

LOS ANGELES – MWC LA – Specifications. Interoperability. Ecosystems. Cross-industry collaboration. Scale. Partnerships.

Those words and attributes, typically assigned to chummy cable industry initiatives and projects such as DOCSIS 4.0, "10G" and yes, even the ill-fated OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), were being applied liberally here Tuesday at an opening session focused on the recent activities of the 5G Future Forum (5GFF).

The 5GFF, a group formed in 2020 to accelerate the market for Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), is spearheaded by several carriers from around the globe, including América Móvil, KT Corp., Rogers Communications, Telstra, Verizon Communications and Vodafone. And, based on the companies represented here today, Google Cloud is also putting some weight behind the initiative.

Early on, the 5GFF has issued a pair of technical interoperability specs. Its "MEC Experience Management" spec defines a set of APIs for functional exposure to edge and workload discovery. The "MEC Deployment" spec defines requirements to enable hyperscalers and service providers deploy and integrate global MEC physical frameworks, including facilities (power and cooling, for example), monitoring and security.

Panelists remarked that 5G, and its push toward the edge and low latencies along with a broader "cloudification" of the mobile network, is a transformational move going beyond "speeds and feeds" when compared to the iterative steps taken from 2G to 3G and from 3G to 4G. That more significant shift, they said, fits into MEC and the desire to drive it toward global, interoperable scale.

5G is a "transformation" that will enable "programmatic access" to the mobile network and put carriers in position to deliver services on-demand with QoS, Luciano Ramos, SVP of network development, planning and engineering at Canada's Rogers Communications, said. That includes support by the hyperscalers and building up a broader ecosystem around it all, he added.

"That journey can only be done by the big telcos and big carriers and guys like Google," Sunay Tripathi, director and head of product, telco and enterprise at Google Cloud, said. 5G, he added, is "more of an ecosystem play" than past generations of the mobile network.

Google, Tripathi said, has a "big motivation" to work with big carriers and to help build out an interoperable edge network that can support a multitude of applications. "The goal here is to work with the carriers to see if they can build the edge like the cloud was built."

But to achieve the kind of global scale that the 5GFF wants, the organization will need more than Google's support with respect to the cloud.

The organization has not announced any direct links to AWS and Microsoft Azure, but the 5GFF "is very much a multi-cloud strategy," Janine Grasso, VP of business development at Verizon (and the session's moderator), said. "Rest assured that we're taking a holistic approach across the globe."

Bullish about MEC

On of the organization's members, Vodafone Business, is pursuing a plan to bring Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) services to millions of customers across regions such as Europe and Africa. The company has lit up edge computing services in the UK and plans to go live in Germany in the coming months.

"I think these are transformational technologies for businesses of all sizes," Mark Allinson, strategy and development director at Vodafone Business, said.

Allinson acknowledged that the mobile industry doesn't have a great track record of cross-cooperation and collaboration. But MEC, he stressed, represents a pragmatic reason for carriers and cloud providers to work more closely together with respect to areas such as network orchestration, bi-directional APIs and resource management.

The idea is to "come up with common specifications we can adopt from one edge location to another across networks and across countries," Allinson said. "We can't do that as a telecom industry alone. It's an ecosystem play."

Allinson said he's hopeful to broaden membership and participation in the 5GFF to help accelerate the deployment of MEC capabilities in more regions around the world.

"You're welcome [to join] regardless of the stage of development you're at," he said. There are no entry fees, but partners must make a contribution to the shared cost of the effort and likewise commit to bring people and their expertise to the Forum.

Ramos noted that Rogers is developing go-to-market models for interoperable MEC services. Rogers, he said, is working on a plan to conduct a live demo based on the current specs. "Imagine a network at global scale. That's what we're really building here," he said.

He said the need for a scaled MEC ecosystem became increasingly acute during the pandemic as people needed to stay connected as they worked and schooled from home. And that need was particularly seen in suburban and rural areas that are further away from traditionally placed data centers, routers and content distribution nodes.

"We realized that latency matters," Ramos said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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