A brief overview about Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC), its benefits and potential usecases
It is not an exaggeration to say that we are in the middle of a data revolution. The growing share of world population having access to the internet, the evolution of multifaceted and data-hungry applications or virtual worlds like the metaverse as well as their rising usage in every aspect of human life cause an exponential growth of data volume and consequently data load on telecommunication networks. In addition, they tremendously increase the complexity of data handling for telco operators, especially due to the increasing demand for real-time processing and the need to meet regulatory requirements. To respond to these circumstances, new concepts are required, with Edge Computing being a promising one. In the following article, Niklas Schleßmann and Leonard Michalas take a closer look at Edge Computing, outline promising use cases, and discuss why it is an integral concept of Telco’s future 5G network architecture.
Before the mid-2000s, data was mainly stored and processed on infrastructure within the physical boundaries of its user. The private or enterprise users primarily relied on internally managed solutions, but Cloud Computing quickly replaced on-premises infrastructure in many fields. Although traditional Cloud Computing started a new era of flexibility, efficiency, time to market and scalability, there are limitations since servers that store and process data are distributed over multiple geographical locations far away from end users and thus cannot fit all requirements demanded.
Edge Computing is an optimized way of Cloud Computing as data storage and processing is performed nearby end-users ’devices. The technology is still in an early stage of its development cycle and there is no common understanding among Edge Computing providers and customers of what the term exactly means. For a better understanding, Edge Computing can be subdivided into categories with respect to the distance between the location of the cloud where data is stored or processed and the end-users who use the data (see simplified graphic 1):
As MEC clouds are deployed closer to the users than traditional clouds, MEC has advantages for end-customers and operators (see simplified graphic 2):
Edge Computing use cases may be roughly separated into two groups; Firstly, use cases that rely on data that is time-sensitive or too large to efficiently transport, store, or process centrally or, secondly, use cases that have strong requirements regarding speed, reliability, stability, or security. In order to decide whether a use case rather requires a MEC or a traditional Cloud Computing infrastructure, a long list of features needs to be considered. For simplicity and convenience, we clustered and assessed some exemplary use cases in two dimensions:
Data transmission requirements:
• Low latency, i.e., real-time
• Ultra-reliability & stability
• High bandwidth
Data processing requirements:
• Data sovereignty / privacy / security
• Data storage and compute power
• Reduction of processing needs of an end device
Exemplary results are shown in graphic 3:
For each metric in the two dimensions, a point evaluation from not relevant to highly relevant has been conducted, leading to an overall score of 12 per dimension. In detail, not relevant = 0 points, somewhat relevant =1 point, relevant = 2 points, very relevant = 3 points, highly relevant = 4 points.
As seen in the graphic, a very promising edge use case could be “instant cloudification”. This means users no longer have their data and compute power directly on their device but instantly download and upload their required data to an Edge Cloud for storage and processing. The storage and compute offload from smartphones to the MEC cloud requires high data transmission and data processing capabilities (9 points in each dimension). Customers want to access or stream their data in real-time as well as in an ultra-reliable, stable, and very secure way. Furthermore, the high-speed bandwidth of 5G allows having data instantly downloaded and uploaded. In addition, smaller device storage/processors enable smaller designs and totally new customer experiences, e.g., access to virtual worlds via smart glasses.
As promising as the topic of Multi-Access Edge Computing sounds some challenges regarding user mobility and interoperability still need to be solved. Although telco operators increasingly setup Edge Computing infrastructure, these infrastructures sit at distributed places within one operator’s network. Handling client movement within the network of one operator as well as the interoperability across edge resources of other national or international operators are still challenges.
Providing uninterrupted services to “on-the-move” clients by complex multi-operator Edge Computing architectures does not only jeopardize key benefits such as ultra-low latency and reliability, but also makes it difficult to deploy use cases. Fast and cost-efficient deployments of use cases are not possible if the Telco Edge resources are not interoperable with each other.
One solution for these challenges is the utilization of an orchestration platform. An orchestration platform sits on top of the operators’ edge capabilities. It manages deployments across the different infrastructures and efficiently handles the traffic of the deployed services between various Edge Clouds. This concept, also known as Telco Edge Cloud, allows to aggregate and consolidate all the operator edge services into a common near-by customer cloud environment. Application providers can utilize this Telco Edge Cloud like their public cloud setups, not worrying about the architecture of the telco network edge resources, while still leveraging its benefits such as ultra-low latency or data sovereignty. One example of such an aggregator platform is MobileEdgeX, which allows application providers and startups to build their 5G applications once and deploy them across all Telco Edge infrastructure without the need to worry about topics such as interoperability, traffic orchestration or handling client movement. Thus, Edge Cloud system platforms like MobileEdgeX are important elements to provide access to the edge resources across various network providers (see case study).
Founders and developers who want to learn more about 5G and MEC can test out the technology at Wayra´s TechLab. Sponsored by Telefónica, the lab enables to trial 5G and MEC use cases in an easily accessible test space. Located in the middle of Munich, the Tech Lab provides necessary technologies, like a 5G public network (NSA) with 70 MHz Telefónica owned spectrum, a 5G private network (SA) with 100 MHz industrial spectrum, a global standardized Telco Edge Cloud and NB-IOT & LTE-M on LTE 800. Moreover, developers and founders can access a large entrepreneurial ecosystem, business expertise as well as development support to bring startups’ 5G and MEC solutions to the next level.