South Korea, already a 5G leader, has become a mobile edge testbed, with each of its three operators forging an alliance with different global partners.
In the latest move, LG Uplus announced Monday an agreement with Google Cloud to take advantage of its AI, automation and Kubernetes capabilities.
LG Uplus CEO Ha Hyun-hwoi said the operator believed the Google collaboration would draw new business opportunities.
LG Uplus would utilize its capability in multi-access edge computing (MEC) "for seamless data transmission so that our 5G B2C and B2B services can be unique," he said.
Since last December, SK Telecom has also been a partner in AWS' dedicated edge solution, AWS Wavelength, which extends the Amazon cloud to provide compute and storage at the edge of 5G networks worldwide.
SK Telecom has an active roster of partners in MEC use cases, most recently signing up Shinhan Bank for financial services, and Woowa Brothers, the company behind popular food delivery app Baedal Minjok, to build robot delivery services.
The third South Korean telco, KT, has not yet signed with a cloud provider but has joined with other major operators including Verizon, Vodafone and Telstra to enhance MEC interoperability and specifications.
MEC is not strictly tied to 5G, but its promise of low latency and ability to shift traffic away from transport networks is vital for 5G success. It is also essential to being able to build out the vertical 5G use cases that telcos are so keen on.
But it is costly, and only a handful of operators – such as SK Telecom and Deutsche Telekom – have built out MEC platforms.
As Counterpoint analyst Gareth Owen has pointed out, "achieving these low latency levels will require [operators] to build a dense network of MEC data centers at considerable cost and with significant business risk."
Rather than adding MEC to every cellsite, the most cost-effective approach is deployment "at a few tens of EPC sites and large central office facilities (Levels 3/4)," he adds.
An analysis of SK Telecom's MEC projects by STL Consulting says one of the operator's core ideas is that working with big OTT players "is complementary and not mutually exclusive to developing a MEC platform in-house."
Application developers won't start creating applications for the network edge until there is sufficient scalable infrastructure, STL argues.
Operators will need to accelerate rollout, and "this can be done in a modular way ... rather than building hundreds of fully fitted edge data centres from day one."
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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading