Industry Voices—Doyle: 5 myths about multi-access edge computing

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Vendors and service providers are taking a hard look at multi-access edge computing, but several myths need to be overcome. (Pixabay)

Multi-access edge computing (MEC) is a network architecture that supports compute and storage capacity at the edge of the network. Proponents believe that MEC provides substantial performance benefits for applications requiring low latency. 

A number of industry giants have recently announced large investments and product strategies around MEC, including HPE and Dell/VMware. Here's a look at five commonly held myths about MEC.

 

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MEC applications have common requirements

MEC application requirements are typically driven by the need for very low latency, for example, the need to make a decision on local data more rapidly than is possible if the data is sent to a centralized data center for processing. MEC can provide additional benefits in terms of high availability and the security of keeping sensitive data in a local location. Classic examples of MEC applications include virtual reality, medical applications, 5G cellular networks, video, industrial controls and self-driving cars.

Each of these leading examples of applications that will drive MEC deployments has significant differences in network requirements, architecture, software design and most importantly, their business cases. Business IoT applications are growing in popularity, but each has a unique design—and IoT providers with horizontal technologies have failed. The technology behind self-driving cars is in the nascent stages of development.

MEC will be driven by the deployment of 5G

5G is the emerging standard for the next generation of cellular wireless networks. 5G leverages local compute at the RAN to power intelligent traffic routing, video and application prioritization. For 5G, MEC enables coordination of the massive bandwidth capacity and reduces latency for real-time applications such as video. Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei are all architecting local compute for their next-generation radio networks. This does not necessarily mean that wireless carriers will host third-party MEC applications at the edge of their networks. 5G will gradually be deployed between 2019 and 2026, and its business case (i.e., running the wireless network) is distinct from that of other MEC applications.

MEC will be standards driven

Many standards organizations are involved with setting the architecture for MEC, including ETSI, OpenFog, and ORAN, each focusing on different aspects of MEC technologies. Given the diversity of MEC application requirements, the rapid technological evolution of the IT industry and the relatively slow pace of standards development, it is possible MEC deployments will move independently of the major standards bodies. MEC adopters must currently select from a wide variety of hardware platforms—Intel, ARM, white-box switches, hyperconverged platforms—and create unique software ecosystems for the various MEC applications.

MEC has a clear business case

Except for 5G, many MEC applications lack a clear business case. The cost and complexity of MEC deployments is a clear economic inhibitor. The lack of standards and the need to create a robust software ecosystem cause further barriers to entry. Leading communications service providers (CSPs) have the real estate to deploy MEC—in the form of numerous points of presence and central offices—but so far have not announced plans for significant MEC deployments. IT organizations will have to “run the numbers” around each IoT use case for potential MEC deployments.

MEC is a huge market opportunity

MEC is clearly in the very early stages of technological development. Its overall market size in 2018, including hardware, software and services, is quite small. Doyle Research believes that the expected large deployments of next-generation RAN for 5G are a distinct market dynamic and one that should not be counted as part of the MEC total addressable market.

So the key questions become which of the application candidates will drive large MEC deployments, and which segment of the IT industry (large enterprise, cloud or CSP) will make the large investments necessary to drive widespread MEC adoption.

Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research, providing client-focused targeted analysis on the evolution of intelligent networks. He has over 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network, and telecom markets. Lee has written extensively on such topics as SDN, NFV, enterprise adoption of networking technologies, and IT-Telecom convergence. Before founding Doyle Research, Lee was group VP for network, telecom, and security research at IDC. Lee holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him @leedoyle_dc.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.