Now that the industry has debated the importance of a virtualized core and the cost-effectiveness of an open radio access network (RAN), mobile operators are turning their attention to the network edge. In fact, you don’t have to look very far to see that wireless operators like Verizon are already using the network edge as a competitive differentiator with its “Intelligent Edge” marketing campaign.
This focus on the network edge and the potential of multi-access edge compute (MEC) is likely what prompted the launch of two new industry groups in the past few months, both of which are focused on the network edge.
In January, mobile operators Rogers, Telstra, Verizon, Vodafone, America Movil and KT founded the 5G Future Forum with the intent of collaborating on the development of interoperable 5G specifications for the network edge across key regions of the world including the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe. Although the name of the group doesn’t contain the word ‘edge,’ it is definitely focused on that part of the network. The forum says it plans to develop a simple way for developers to create applications that will require resources at the edge such as those that are latency sensitive or require compute power or storage. In the release, Vodafone Business CEO Vinod Kumar said that these new specifications will make it easier for applications to work consistently across operators and will support devices that move between countries.
The second group, called the Telco Edge Platform, is headed by the GSMA and includes operator members such as China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, EE, KDDI, Orange, Singtel, SK Telecom, Telefonica and TIM. This group, which was just announced late last month, is planning to develop an interoperable platform that will make edge computing more easily available. Its goal is to develop that platform this year and allow operators to decide what capabilities they will make available. For example, an operator may want to provide compute and storage capabilities to application developers and software vendors.
The GSMA said it plans to develop the framework for the telco edge platform and then let operators decide how they want to use it and in particular, how they will monetize it.
Although the two groups sound pretty similar, according to Henry Calvert, senior director of technology at the GSMA, they are actually approaching the network edge differently. The GSMA wants to create a common infrastructure platform while the 5G Future Forum is looking at more of the vertical applications that will be developed for the network edge.
“These are not contradictory efforts, and we support their forum as much as possible,” Calvert said.
He added that the first phase of the Telco Edge Platform will be in Europe and then the second phase of the plan will expand to the rest of the world. And while there currently aren’t any U.S. operators directly involved in the project, he believes that isn’t necessarily an obstacle to this platform being deployed in the U.S. He also noted that operators are maturing differently across different markets and regions, and that may have an impact on how quickly the Telco Edge Platform expands beyond Europe.
And while the 5G Future Forum says it wants to create new specifications for applications on the edge, Calvert emphasized that the Telco Edge Platform isn’t creating specifications. “The GSMA is not trying to be a standards body, we are just specifying the needs. If there are problems with specifications and interoperability [we] will work with the 3GPP to tweak the specs,” he said.
But it’s not just the 5G Future Forum and the Telco Edge Platform that are exploring the capabilities of the network edge. The Bridge Alliance, which is a group of 23 mobile operators primarily from Asia, the Middle East and Africa, that collaborate on areas such as roaming, Internet of Things, and enterprise mobility, also formed a global MEC Task Force in January.
The MEC Task Force includes SK Telecom, Singtel, Globe, Taiwan Mobile and other operators, and says it plans to develop an edge computing ecosystem within Asia that will make it possible to develop advanced 5G use cases such as smart factories, cloud gaming and autonomous driving.
Calvert said that just like the 5G Future Forum, the Bridge Alliance is looking at different applications for MEC and new ways to monetize their relationships with customers.
5G Future Forum, Telco Edge Platform and the MEC Task Force may have different goals but all are trying to figure out how to make it easier for enterprises to take advantage of the capabilities of edge computing. And like a lot of mobile industry forums, these three groups will either flourish or flame-out in the next few years. It all depends upon how the network edge progresses.