Telco. Edge. And that story about supermarkets…

August 28, 2020 - David Hovey

David Hovey, Executive Director Core Products, discusses why the edge is critical for the successful roll out and implementation of 5G


[ ĕj ]. The border or part adjacent to the line of division; the beginning or early part

Each and every one of us define our own personal worlds in terms of ‘edges’, they delimit the boundaries of our physical geography – where we live, work or go on our [only too seldom] holidays. We also use the term to describe the limits of our knowledge and experiences, our personal capabilities, our patience – even our likes and dislikes.

Telco operators are busy rolling out 5G RAN technologies – let’s call this their ‘RAN edge’ – in order to start or advance their journeys (and therefore ours) into providing the most ubiquitous coverage and highest capacity they can muster.

3GPP 5G standards have offered up to our industry truly transformational ‘on-paper’ capabilities that completely redefine any previous understanding of what the ‘art of the possible’ was on a 4G mobile network. Those neon signs in our minds glow with “20x higher bandwidth than 4G”, “10x increase in device density”, and my favourite … “25x lower latency than 4G”.

Let’s go back to our Telco operators deploying 5G. The RAN stands out – by its very nature – as being ‘at the Edge’. It is devised to serve all of us – as humans using devices like smartphones and connected watches, or as inanimate embedded units that we all know as the ‘IoT’. Is there anything else in the traditional Telco operator that could be also considered as being ‘at the Edge’? The reality is – yes – but only by necessity. All that RAN needs transport – Ethernet, IP, Optical, Microwave – you name it. That all exists in a series of concentric ‘Edges’ that end up bringing all this traffic back into, yes, you guessed it … not the Edge!

If we borrow that dictionary again, the antonym of ‘Edge’ could be ‘Middle’, ‘Center’ or ‘Interior’. In our industry, we call it the ‘Core’ – and it’s very existence and continuity has made perfect sense – we had to drive economies of scale by housing racks upon racks of custom, dedicated hardware drinking hard on the highly resilient -48VDC power in an environment as cool as the cocktails on that holiday we mentioned earlier.

Something new is happening with 5G. It is no longer just about ubiquitously serving the masses, the huge potential human and inanimate markets mentioned above… All those AR/VR examples we keep reading about, the IIoT replete with real-time robotics, and 5G integration into our physical real-time world of autonomous driving and flying. Those applications are all at the Edge.

The only way that the numbers promised within 5G can actually become real, is to shake up our history – our Telco core – and start to push it out selectively to that edge. To where the action is happening, to the Enterprise customers who are making AR/VR real – to the manufacturing facilities wanting to sweat 5G to its fullest potential for their robotic assembly lines.

Truly Cloud Native – and by this, I do not mean just ‘Cloud Ready’ – 5G Core network functions allow this selective distribution of key components to the Edge.

This whole principle is very much proven in the world occupied by the hyperscale cloud vendors, where the notion of ‘Cloud’ is having its architecture and propositions very busily redesigned to also be available at various levels of ‘Cloud Edge’. These are competing to be integrated all the way into the Enterprise customers who have embedded Cloud into the very success of their business.

Executing with exactly the same ‘Edge’ logic is the only way 5G can deliver on being what it is intended to be. Transformational.

Let’s think how the supermarket industry evolved. They realized that – whilst still running a perfectly valid model having their ‘cores’ serving huge customer volumes – there was a widening gap of expectation vs experience. So we see the creation and selective distribution of local ‘Edge’ integrated mini-versions of the same supermarkets into a parallel world that serves the low-latency, high speed needs of their market segments ‘at the Edge’. Think of big-brand local ‘express’ supermarkets, and the very same integrated into local petrol stations – and remember this blog next time you need to nip out as quickly as possible to get that vital missing ingredient or bottle of something to celebrate the end of the week!


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