AT&T: Virtualized Flexware service already leverages edge computing

AT&T announced today that it is embracing edge computing (EC). In so doing, it said it is “reinventing the cloud to boost the potential of self-driving cars, augmented and virtual reality, robotic manufacturing, and more.”

As one of the biggest wireless carriers in the world, and as one of the driving forces advocating for the evolution of wireless networks from 4G to 5G, AT&T has been participating in the development of edge computing pretty much from the beginning of the concept. AT&T researchers have been writing papers about edge computing for well over a decade. AT&T isn’t “reinventing” anything it hasn’t been involved in inventing for years and years.

In fact, the company announced it’s been deploying technology that supports edge computing, specifically through its Flexware service, to which it recently added more network connectivity options and security capabilities.

So, disregarding the hyperbolic prose and the lack of any actual news, the company has been involved in the development of edge computing for years, and EC is going to have widening use in earnest quite soon, as carriers such as AT&T begin upgrading their networks to support 5G technology and applications that will depend on the availability of 5G services.

Next-gen applications such as autonomous cars and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) will demand massive amounts of near-real time computation, AT&T pointed out.

Autonomous vehicles, for example, are expected to have to perform enormous amounts of processing, primarily for sensing vehicles’ surroundings. But that’s not all they will have to do. Edge computing has long been expected to be a useful option for relieving on-board processors, offloading to the cloud less critical functions such as like updating and accessing detailed maps these vehicles will use to navigate, the company explained.

In the instance of mobile use of AR/VR, smartphones are certainly capable of doing all the necessary processing today—but at the expense of battery life, AT&T said. Shifting some of the processing to the cloud would help there too.

"Edge computing fulfills the promise of the cloud to transcend the physical constraints of our mobile devices," said Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and chief technology officer. "The capabilities of tomorrow's 5G are the missing link that will make edge computing possible. And few companies have the sheer number of physical locations that AT&T has that are needed to solve the latency dilemma."

Edge computing will sit alongside other major efforts at AT&T including its move to software-based network virtualization through the application of SDN and NFV technologies; already the company expects to have virtualized 55% of its network by the end of this year on the way to 75% by 2020.