The company said today that it is adding intelligence to its towers, central offices, and small cells that are at the “edge” of the cloud by outfitting them with high-end graphics processing chips and other general purpose computers. By doing so, it will reduce the distance that data has to travel to get processed, thereby reducing latency and boosting the network performance.
“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 CTO in a statement. “The capabilities of tomorrow’s 5G are the missing link that will make edge computing possible.”
Fuetsch added that edge computing will be a critical element to 5G, which will provide faster network speeds and the lower latency.
AT&T said it will begin deploying edge computing out over the next few years starting with urban areas and expanding those over time. The company also said that MEC is an important element to the company’s network virtualization program. The company’s goal is to have 55 percent of its network virtualized by year-end with a longer term goal of having 75 percent of its network virtualized by 2020.
The company said it is already deploying MEC-capable services to its enterprise customers through its FlexWare service. FlexWare is the name of the company’s virtual network function (VNF) management platform that uses AT&T’s Integrated Cloud (AIC) platform for service orchestration. Customers can manage Flexware using a standard table device.
AT&T also said it expects to see more applications using MEC in areas like public safety that will be enabled by the FirstNet first responder wireless broadband network.
AT&T could be considering what Telefónica España is doing. The Spanish operator said in March that it is working with Quortus on private LTE technology, based on MEC, that is essentially a 4G network in a box.
MEC as Part of 5G
AT&T isn’t the first to talk about MEC in conjunction with 5G. Late last year, 5G Americas, a trade group representing several operators in North and South America, including AT&T, put out a white paper that talked about the growing interest in MEC and said that standards bodies like the 3GPP and ETSI are considering including MEC in the 5G standards development.
Indeed, ETSI has formed the Multi-access Edge Computing Industry Specification Group (MEC ISG), and earlier this month it released its first package of standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) that will support MEC interoperability.