Mobile edge computing is a fast moving technology wave that is vital to delivering content via forthcoming 5G networks.

The shift in viewing patterns and other mobile-based changes in consumer behaviour and web experience expectations is driving an edge computing boom.

The requirements for localised technology which can transport, store and process bandwidth hungry packets such as 4K and UHD content is fuelling the market expansion.

This technology, sometimes referred to as fog computing, is a next generation integration of IT and networking technologies.

At a top level edge computing simply means placing content as close to the user as possible. This local caching is seeing the rollout of storage-heavy – usually flash storage – processing light data centres which sit closer to the edge of the network. 

This requires a convergence of IT and networking technologies, both fixed and mobile, unseen before.

Mobile edge computing (MEC) is a new technology designed for IT and cloud computing capabilities. The technology’s main purpose is to ensure there will be an efficient system to deliver content to the users at a fast pace and provide a great service experience.

”We are being pushed to see what can we do to make content delivery as resilient as possible” - Steve Carlini, Schneider

MEC is being seen as the link to the consumer for the emerging 5G network and for the development and convergence of the mobile broadband network to new infrastructures such as network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN).

Features of mobile edge computing:

On-premises Computing software can operate separately from the main network whilst keeping access to local resources. This feature is important in machine to machine (M2M) and particularly in security

Proximity Source of information collected for analytics and big data whilst maintaining direct access to devices with specific business applications

Lower latency An asset of the customer experience as content gets delivered and prevents congestion in specific parts of the network

Location awareness Being either wifi or cellular the wireless network can determine the location of each device within the network edge

Network context information Applications and services offer context-related services which are different from mobile broadband. This enables new applications to be applied and connection to local mobile subscribers

Source ETSI

In a service environment based on IT, MEC provides a lucrative point in the mobile network which maintains access to the radio access network (RAN) edge.

MEC provides a highly distributed computing environment that can be used to deploy applications and services as well as to store and process content in close proximity to mobile users.

The server provides computing resources, storage capacity, connectivity and access to user traffic and radio and network information.

Where IT and infrastructure comes into play is the domain of Steve Carlini, Senior Director of Data Center Offer Management and Marketing, Schneider Electric.

For Schneider, edge computing for broadcasters requires a specific approach to building the data centre infrastructure that will sit in 5G and mobile base stations. The IT topology tends to flash storage with less server processing requirements.

Local cache

“What we’re seeing is the necessity to cache the content locally – often on-demand content,” says Carlini.

”We’re seeing the move to actually a more standardised IT architecture to be able to deliver high bandwidth content. There are hyperconverged technologies being deployed at the edge. On the storage front, the major IT suppliers are putting total flash storage together on our infrastructure. Flash is standard for hyper-converged.

”The move to the edge is being led by the content delivery network players but also the big service providers such as Verizon have invested a lot in next gen network build out infrastructure and now they want to leverage it.

”In my view 5G is going to be more of a local wifi – macro towers and base stations will serve local networks. We’re starting to see the next generation of towers being rolled out and they need very specialist data centre power and cooling infrastructure. The towers can be in harsh environments.”

Carlini says Schneider is developing solutions to house the infrastructure and the IT equipment to put in harsher type tower environments.

”It often has to be a sealed solution,” he says. ”This and a combination of the content types that are being stored and pushed through the edge comes up in conversation with customers all the time. We are being pushed to see what can we do to make content delivery as resilient as possible.

”This is pushing us towards lithium ion technology solutions on battery power, as they last longer and are resistant to heat with no performance degradation. There is also the remote monitoring of the edge data centre which is a key aspect of maintaining uptime,” says Carlini.

Edge computing types source schneider electric

Edge computing types (source: Schneider Electric)

This is a fast moving area and recent events have reflected how standards are being developed.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) MEC Industry Specification Group has been renamed to Multi-access Edge Computing to embrace the challenges in the second phase of work and better reflect non-cellular operators’ requirements.

This group has also expanded its scope to address multiple MEC hosts being deployed in many different networks, owned by various operators and running edge applications in a collaborative manner.

Future work will take into account heterogeneous networks using LTE, 5G, fixed and wifi technologies.

Additional features of the current work include developer friendly and standard APIs, standards-based interfaces among multi-access hosts and an alignment with NFV architecture.

To drive efficiency the MEC system will provide a standardised and open system able to support different virtualisation techniques, with the capability for an application to discover applications and services available on other hosts, and to direct requests and data to one or more hosts.

Fog computing

Fog computing

MEC: “a novel paradigm”

Peter Corcoran, wrote a paper on the development of MEC (available on the IEEE) titled: Mobile-Edge Computing and the Internet of Things for Consumers: Extending cloud computing and services to the edge of the network.

It says: “MEC is a novel paradigm that extends cloud-computing capabilities and services to the edge of the network.

”Due to dense geographical distribution, proximity to consumers, support for high mobility, and open platform, MEC can support applications and services with reduced latency and improved QoS.

”Thus, MEC is becoming an important enabler of consumer-centric IoT applications and services that demand real-time operations. The OpenFog Consortium and standards development organizations like ETSI have also recognized the benefits the IoT and MEC can bring to consumers.”

Fog computing 2

Fog computing 2