Cell tower operator Vertical Bridge Holdings and data center specialists DataBank are planning to collaborate on building micro data centers at the former’s towers. Doing so will enable edge computing in general, and specifically low-latency cloud-based applications of the type associated with the Internet of Things (IoT).
The industry knows that wireless networks are going to need mobile edge computing (MEC), and has formed support organizations. ETSI, for example, calls it Multi-access Edge Computing (it’s the same acronym).
AT&T earlier this summer talked about its MEC plans, including colocating small data centers at cell towers. “Instead of sending commands hundreds of miles to a handful of data centers scattered around the country, we’ll send them to the tens of thousands of central offices, macro towers, and small cells usually never farther than a few miles from our customers,” the company explained.
One of the results from implementing MEC will be reducing network latency, which will be critical for autonomous vehicles and other applications such as augmented reality (AR).
Vendors and cell tower operators are figuring out how to make mobile edge computing happen.
One example is Vapor IO, which recently formed to provide data center capabilities to cell towers. Earlier this summer, the startup said it is working with Crown Castle, one of the largest cell tower operators in the U.S., to set up tower/data center colocation. The companies are calling their collaboration Project Volutus. Crown Castle took a minority stake in Vapor IO to seal the deal.
Investment firm Digital Bridge was formed in 2013 in part to target this opportunity. The principals first built Vertical Bridge, now the largest private operator of cell towers in the U.S. Vertical Bridge controls about 40,000 towers and rooftop antennas. Toss in its billboards and other land assets, and Vertical Bridge has roughly 55,000 locations across the U.S. Digital Bridge also bought companies that control cell tower networks in Mexico, Colombia, and Peru.
Digital Bridge bought DataBank in 2016. The purchase was made deliberately to bring its two subsidiaries together to enter the most recent collaboration.
“In addition to improving distribution for content providers and carriers, edge computing can also create an important distribution point for the cloud at a lower cost,” said Raul Martynek, CEO of DataBank, in a statement. “There’s just one jump to the micro data center at the base of the towers, so not only is the latency for accessing the cloud reduced, but it opens the possibility for real-time applications and a richer more immersive experience for end users.”