Vodafone, AWS tee up 5G mobile edge compute in London

Vodafone Business is building on its edge compute partnership with AWS, launching its its first commercial 5G MEC center in London next spring, alongside with a wider MEC innovation program starting in early 2021.

Similar to Verizon in the U.S., Vodafone is working to deliver multi-access edge computing (MEC) and 5G by embedding AWS Wavelength at the edge of its 4G and 5G networks.

Verizon and AWS on Tuesday just announced Las Vegas as their eighth 5G MEC market, with a target of 10 planned by year’s end. During an investor conference this week CTO Kyle Malady said they see a lot of traction in the MEC space, on both the enterprise and consumer sides.   

Vodafone, meanwhile, will let business customers, independent software vendors (ISV) and developers experiment and pilot applications that require ultra-low latency. It said Vodafone Business’ distributed MEC service will roll out next year, first at the commercial center in London. Vodafone and AWS teamed up last year and the operator has been trialing MEC solutions based on AWS Wavelength zones with customers at two beta test sites in the UK.

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The commercial MEC center will use Vodafone’s 5G network and create a wide-area ultra-low latency zone in and around London, and extend to Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol, and Cardiff. The zone will also reach many towns in along the M4 corridor, and parts of Wales and Cornwall.

A beta site is slated to open in Dusseldorf, Germany in 2021, where Here Technologies will start trials early next year. Here Technologies also has worked alongside Verizon on road safety technologies. Part of that is leveraging high-precision location data and applications to avoid collisions, in efforts tied to Verizon’s 5G network and Edge platform.

The first AWS Wavelength Zone in Germany will become generally available in Dortmund later in 2021, allowing developers to work on applications for businesses in Dusseldorf and Colonge. Like the forthcoming location in London announced Wednesday, those areas will also be home to innovation hubs for business customers to test out MEC.

Vodafone called out MEC as a key factor for 5G, touting a recent low latency time of less than 10 milliseconds between a base station and the location where the application server is hosted, compared to typical response times of 50 to 200 mx. It took place between a test site near Newbury in the south of England and Birmingham in the Midlands.

Incubators for enterprise customers

The operator named some of the usual suspects in terms of applications, like industrial IoT, autonomous cars, and augmented reality, as beneficiaries of the ultra-low latency 5G MEC can deliver.

However, while capabilities of MEC and 5G have been linked and telcos and hyperscalers have been teaming up (Verizon and AWS, AT&T and Microsoft Azure, for example), some say the business models for 5G and edge aren’t completely clear.

Patrick Lopez, the founder of consulting firm Core Analysis, recently told Fierce that the only way it works is if operators maintain and increase their enterprise customers.

RELATED: Business models for 5G Edge look scary for operators: Special Report

Creating the MEC innovation hubs for customers to test out technology and inviting developers to build applications for the enterprise seems to be one way that operators like Vodafone are trying to facilitate uptake and use cases.   

“Working with AWS on edge computing means we are making it simpler for both independent software vendors and our customers to experiment with this emerging technology. We’re doing this by offering an incubation space to create and test applications that we can then industrialize and scale,” said Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business, in a statement.

Four companies have already successfully created and trialed applications at its MEC test sites.

RELATED: Microsoft, AT&T create edge compute zones

That includes Dedrone, which an airspace security service to warn, classify and locate drones; Digital Barriers, a company working on video analytics for bodycams worn by frontline emergency workers; Groopview, a startup working on a community viewing experience where live or on-demand video is synched so groups can watch together from physically separate locations; and Unleash live, an AI-powered video analytics platform to help automate visual alerts and monitoring for cities, enterprises and infrastructure.

And Vodafone is making a push to the wider developer community overall to come up with applications using multi-access edge compute. It’s launching a MEC innovation program with AWS early next year, targeting not only distributed MEC capabilities embedded at the edge of the operator’s mobile 4G/5G network, but also dedicated MEC to use in private networks for enterprise.

Vodafone’s 5G network currently spans 127 cities and nine European markets.