Verizon Gets Serious About Edge Computing

Mike Dano
1/31/2019
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Verizon said it tested edge computing functions on its 5G network in Houston and found that it was able to cut latency in half through the application of the technology.

"For applications requiring low latency, sending huge quantities of data to and from the centralized cloud is no longer practical," said Adam Koeppe, Verizon's SVP for network planning, in a release from the company. "Data processing and management will need to take place much closer to the user. MEC [mobile edge compute] moves application processing, storage, and management to the Radio Access Network's edge to deliver the desired low latency experiences, thereby enabling new disruptive technologies."

This isn't the first time that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) executives have discussed the potential around edge computing. Nor is Verizon the first operator to test such technology. But the fact that Verizon tested edge computing on its 5G network in Houston -- and then issued a press release about it -- represents a signal to the market that the nation's largest wireless network operator is serious about the possibilities around edge computing, and could well invest money into a commercial deployment of the technology.

At least, that certainly appears to be the writing between the lines in Verizon's announcement. It's worth noting that specific, concrete plans for deployment of edge computing are conspicuous in the announcement only in their absence.

Moreover, the release doesn't provide details on key aspects of the test itself, including what the actual latency measurement was. A Verizon representative didn't immediately respond to questions from Light Reading on the topic. (During his keynote at CES, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said 5 milliseconds of latency was one of the "currencies" of 5G.) (See Verizon's 5G CES Keynote: T-Shirts, But No Beef.)

But Verizon did explain exactly how it conducted the test, and the operator also provided some color on why it might embark on a broader deployment of edge computing technology: "In this test, the engineers used an Automated Intelligence (AI) enabled facial recognition application to identify people. Using MEC equipment located in the network facility, the application was able to analyze information right at the edge of the network where the application was being used (instead of traversing multiple hops to the nearest centralized data center). As a result, the engineers were able to successfully identify the individual twice as fast as when they duplicated the experiment using the centralized data center," the operator said.


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In its release, Verizon also highlighted some specific use cases that could make use of the super-fast speeds and low latency provided by edge computing and 5G:

  • Immersive virtual reality
  • Self-driving cars
  • Remote-controlled robotics
  • Hosting events at venues
  • Industrial automation
  • Retail
  • Gaming
  • Video analytics

Further, stated Verizon: "Lower latency is one of the numerous benefits to come from introducing MEC at the edge of the network, but it is not the only benefit. An increase in reliability, energy efficiency, peak data rates, and the ability to process more data through more connected devices are also benefits of introducing MEC technology."

Verizon's edge computing test could well serve to whet the appetite of the growing number of vendors, both of the established and startup variety, that are keen to see operators and others invest in edge computing. After all, a major edge computing deployment would likely require the purchase and installation of hundreds or possibly thousands of small data centers at key locations across the country.

Verizon's edge background
Verizon launched its fixed wireless 5G Home service, running on the carrier's 5GTF network standard, in Houston and three other markets last year; download speeds for customers have reportedly ranged from 300 Mbit/s to almost 1 Gbit/s. (See Verizon's Home-Grown 5G Arrives Today.)

Verizon's edge computing test in Houston appears to build on some of the operator's previous announcements. (Indeed, Verizon executives for more than a year now have applied the "intelligent edge network" phrase to Verizon's efforts to improve its overall network, from wireless to wireline.)

For example, Verizon last year announced it would replace the thousands of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) service routers with what is essentially a vendor-specific version of a white box, in a move heralded as a first step toward disaggregation at the edge to allow Verizon to scale its hardware and software separately. (See Verizon Takes a Big Step Towards a Smarter, Simpler Edge.)

Further, Verizon inked an agreement with Qwilt in 2017 to deploy that vendor's "open caching" into its network for video delivery. The move allowed Verizon to essentially store video content in physical locations that are closer to end users, thus eliminating the amount of traffic traveling over the operator's network. Verizon reported a 20% reduction in traffic traveling over its network via the move.

Verizon isn't the only operator testing edge computing. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for example, plans to soon begin testing edge computing functions for enterprise applications in its AT&T Foundry test center in Plano, Texas. That effort builds on the edge computing tests AT&T ran last year for augmented reality, virtual reality and cloud-driven gaming. (See AT&T Expands Edge Computing Testing to Enterprise Use Cases.)

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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