Verizon, Vodafone, SK Telecom and KDDI are among the first telecom operators to partner with Amazon's AWS to develop commercial edge computing services running on 5G networks.
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy at Amazon's re:Invent conference to announce that Verizon's new edge computing platform, 5G Edge, will run the new AWS Wavelength 5G edge computing platform introduced by Amazon. The companies said they have been working on the technology for 18 months.
Importantly, Verizon and Amazon said they're already testing the service in Chicago with video game publisher Bethesda Softworks and the National Football League (NFL). Bethesda says it will use the platform in its new Orion cloud gaming technology. "By substantially reducing latency and bandwidth, Orion provides a much better experience for gamers and significantly lowers costs for publishers, developers and streaming service providers," the company said. Bethesda joins Ubisoft, Charter and others in eyeing edge computing for online gaming.
Verizon executives declined to discuss what the NFL might be doing with the service.
Verizon and Amazon said they expect to deploy their new edge computing service in "other locations" across the US in 2020.
The Verizon/Amazon partnership is a competitive response to the alliance between AT&T and Microsoft's Azure announced earlier this year, which also focuses on 5G and edge computing.
The actions mark a dramatic turnaround for both AT&T and Verizon following their withdraw from the cloud computing space during the past few years. Verizon sold its 29 data centers to Equinix for $3.6 billion in 2016, and AT&T sold its 31 data centers to Brookfield Infrastructure Partners for $1.1 billion in 2018. The operators' cloud computing ambitions withered in the face of heated competition from giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Google.
Now, though, both telcos are embracing their former cloud computing rivals, as some had predicted.
Amazon jumps into 5G, edge computing
During the company's re:Invent conference, AWS CEO Andy Jassy explained that Amazon is working to extend the company's cloud storage and compute services closer to users -- actions that plant Amazon squarely in the edge computing sector. He said doing so will allow AWS customers to avoid the costs of transmitting large amounts of data to distant AWS data centers, and to reduce application latency by physically locating computing and storage assets geographically closer to users.
Latency is a measure of how long it takes to send a message across a network, and 5G promises dramatically lower latency than 4G. However, 5G can only reduce the latency between a user and a cell tower -- after that, messages must then be routed across a wired network to their ultimate destination. The further those requests have to travel -- from Los Angeles to New York, for example -- the longer the latency. Placing computing resources geographically closer to the "edge" of the 5G network, or physically closer to a user, can reduce latency.
And that could have significant implications for latency-sensitive services like online video game streaming or virtual reality.
AWS' Jassy explained that Amazon is working on several products in the edge computing arena. He said that AWS Outposts -- announced last year and now available -- will allow Amazon's cloud computing customers to install AWS computers at their physical location. And, during the company's re:Invent conference today, he also announced two new edge computing services from Amazon: AWS Local Zones (computing and storage resources located in specific geographic areas) and AWS Wavelength (a computing service for mobile users and connected devices).
Importantly, Amazon explained that AWS Wavelength must be installed into telecom operators' networks. "With Wavelength, AWS developers can deploy their applications to Wavelength Zones, AWS infrastructure deployments that embed AWS compute and storage services within the network operators' data centers at the edge of the 5G network, so application traffic only needs to travel from the device to a cell tower to a Wavelength Zone running in a metro aggregation site," Amazon wrote in a press release. "This removes a lot of the latency that would result from multiple hops between regional aggregation sites and across the Internet, which enables customers to take full advantage of 5G networks. Wavelength also delivers a consistent developer experience across multiple 5G networks around the world, and allows developers to build the next generation of ultra-low latency applications using the familiar AWS services, APIs, and tools they already use today – eliminating the need for developers to negotiate for space and equipment with multiple telecommunications providers, and stitch together application deployment and operations through different management interfaces, before they can begin to deploy their applications."
AWS said it is collaborating with Vodafone, SK Telecom and KDDI to launch AWS Wavelength across Europe, South Korea and Japan in 2020, "with more global partners coming soon."
What's noteworthy here is that a wide range of other companies are also targeting the space where Amazon and AWS Wavelength are playing. For example, Ericsson's Edge Gravity, Deutsche Telekom-backed MobiledgeX and startup Mutable are just a few of the companies looking to aggregate operators' edge computing infrastructure into a cohesive product that they could then sell to developers. It's likely that Amazon's entry into this space could put pressure on other edge computing software vendors.
Verizon's '5G Edge' strategy
Verizon promised in February that it would launch a "mobile edge computing" service sometime this year, and its announcement today with Amazon essentially fulfills that pledge. Moreover, Verizon's move to partner with an established player like Amazon also dovetails with the company's relatively new corporate ethos to partner where necessary instead of building all its own services. This new approach is reflected in Verizon's partnership with Apple for streaming music and Google for streaming TV.
However, Verizon executives mostly declined to discuss how the operator's edge computing strategy might evolve. "Stay tuned," teased Verizon IoT executive Steve Szabo in a discussion with Light Reading. Szabo declined to outline how and when Verizon might expand its "5G Edge" service beyond Chicago, including how long it might take the company to build a nationwide service that would appeal to an online gaming company like Bethesda.
However, Szabo did say that the offering will use Verizon-owned computing resources that are located inside its network, and that the operator would not use third-party computing resources like the ones offered by Vapor IO in Chicago. He added that AWS Wavelength is software, not hardware, that Verizon is installing into its network, and that AWS developers would pay for access to those computing resources. But he declined to provide any further commentary on the business model for the service or the financial arrangement between Verizon and Amazon.
Interestingly, Verizon Chief Strategy Officer Rima Qureshi told Light Reading that Verizon believes there will be "multi-cloud solutions" in the future, which could indicate Verizon's partnership with Amazon's AWS is not exclusive and that Verizon could also ink edge computing agreements with the likes of Microsoft's Azure or others. However, she said that today's announcement between Verizon and Amazon is just a start, and that the opportunity will grow in the future.