Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) is quickly gaining traction as a disruptive technology that promises to bring applications and content closer to the network edge, a move that will reduce latency and make new services possible.
According to analyst Iain Gillott, president and founder of iGR Research, several companies are currently testing MEC despite the fact there is no MEC standard. “It is a work in progress,” he said.
However, Gillott believes that once a MEC standard is determined, the technology will ramp quickly. “It’s similar to moving from Class 5 switches to the packet core to the evolved packet core,” he said. In fact, he’s so bullish on MEC that he believes it will be as disruptive to the network as 5G, software-defined networking (SDN), or network functions virtualization (NFV). “By putting content and applications at the edge, the network owner and the enterprise can realize operational and cost efficiencies,” said Gillott. iGR recently released a report: MEC: U.S. Enterprise Spending on the New Small Cell Market.
Gillott also noted that many of his clients that are involved in densifying mobile operator networks with small cells are looking closely at MEC because they see those two trends coming together. “Re-architecting the network with small cells lends itself to edge computing,” he said.
ETSI has formed the MEC Industry Specification Group (MEC ISG) and released its first application programming interfaces (APIs) that will support MEC interoperability. ETSI also is working with the OpenFog Consortium to jointly develop fog-enabled MEC technologies for 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other data-intensive applications.
Gillott also said that MEC touches on CORD (central office re-architected as a data center), an initiative that is targeted at evolving data centers toward greater software control in support of advanced services like 5G. “MEC marries a radio with a data center,” Gillott said.
Gillott said that when an operator houses a baseband unit in a building and then has fiber running to remote radio heads, and the baseband unit is powered and secure, it’s not very difficult to then add edge computing and storage to that baseband unit. “It’s a data center at that point,” he said, adding that it’s then possible to host applications at that site.
What Gillott is describing is similar to the business model for data center startup Vapor IO and its Project Volutus, which promises to offer micro-data centers at the base of cell towers. By positioning the micro-data centers at towers, Vapor IO can take advantage of the existing rack space, power supply, metro fiber connectivity, and other shared infrastructure that towers currently offer to their wireless operator customers.