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Life on the edge: edge computing explained and why it matters for telcos

Edge computing for Telcos

Edge computing is one of those new concepts in telecoms that we keep hearing about. But it’s not always obvious what the ‘edge’ is and why it’s important.
So let us explain.

Edge – or Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) to give it its correct name – refers to apps and services that can be accessed ‘closer’ to the end user by deploying infrastructure at the ‘edge’ of a service provider’s network.

In the traditional model, the processing and storage of data usually occurs on remote servers residing far away from the end user or device. This is increasingly the case as more of our information is held in the cloud – which usually means servers operated by one of the big cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft or Google.

But these remote, centralised cloud servers come with disadvantages in an age where end devices are requiring ultra-fast speeds and super-low latency response times.

The answer is a distributed cloud within a geographically dispersed infrastructure, which brings the cloud as close as possible to where the data is being requested.

Edge computing is also a key concept underpinning 5G. According to Ericsson, 5G will account for around one-fifth of all mobile data traffic by 2023, while around a quarter of 5G use cases will depend on edge computing capabilities.

“The main benefits edge solutions provide include low latency, high bandwidth, device processing and data offload as well as trusted computing and storage,” says Ericsson.

This means that edge will be fundamental to both new 5G-powered enterprise and IoT services, and consumer applications such as virtual reality and gaming.

Let’s have a look at some real-world use cases where this combination of edge computing and super-fast 5G networks can make a difference.

In the automotive industry, most modern cars have cellular connectivity but streaming information about the car and its journey back and forth to a mobile network can be costly and inefficient. That’s a problem when, according to Intel, an autonomous vehicle will be able to generate up to 4TB of data per day.

Instead, edge capabilities allow a connected car to process data in real time, eliminating the need for centralised processing. This unlocks a range of new opportunities in areas such as self-driving, smart traffic management, and better fuel efficiency and car maintenance.

There are also multiple use cases in industrial settings: for example, using edge infrastructure to optimise production lines and provide real-time AI to monitor stock levels.

“By extending cloud computing to the edge, [enterprises] can run AI/analytics that make actions faster, run enterprise apps to reduce impacts from intermittent connectivity and minimise data transport to central hubs for cost efficiency,” explains IBM in a recent report.

Today only round 10 per cent of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside a traditional centralised data centre or cloud. But, by 2025, Gartner predicts this figure will reach 75 per cent.

So what does this mean for telcos?

A report last year from Omdia concluded the rise of edge computing will see operators face increasing competition with app developers, cloud providers – but would also present an important opportunity to unlock new revenue streams.

“As 5G technology and networks evolve, edge computing can provide a high-performance, on-demand, and cost-effective platform capable of supporting a growing number of use cases [but] CSPs will need to establish their role in the value chain by determining the right business model and partner(s) and also where new revenues will come from,” the report concluded.

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