Close to the Edge

From AI-based facial recognition, to driver monitoring to high level cloud gaming – the edge demos at MWC2018.

One discussion that took place this year within the “other” MWC – the one that takes place amongst those who attend to find out about new phones and devices, rather than network technology – was about how little innovation we have seen in device form factor and function.

Well, there’s one possible source of innovation that they missed – the network itself. The dumb client isn’t new, but what if mobile devices accessed applications running as cloud instances in the network. These would be sited at the edge, providing for low latency and avoiding a heavy transmission link to the centralised core. You could free up device power and space, or use existing onboard processors and power for other uses. Could that bring about disruption in the device space – new form factors and capabilities?

InterDigital’s Alan Carlton made this argument, perhaps more as a theory than a deeply held conviction, at a panel session that rather artificially pitted core network versus edge investments.

But even if Carlton’s proposition is as yet far-off, there’s no doubt that edge deployments are closer. This is a result of several investment drivers, some interconnected.

First – the need to relieve cell and backhaul congestion by dealing with traffic locally, and/or caching content. Second, the thinking about vRAN splits meaning that a certain number of points of presence will be required in the network to host vBBU instances – providing more affordable real estate for edge compute platforms. Third, the potential for edge platforms to host apps that can benefit from cell level intelligence and/or local breakout – providing new revenue streams. Fourth, IoT capacity and low latency requirements driving the disaggregation of control and user planes, and the distribution of core network functions through the network – again this presents an opportunity to integrate edge compute. Fifth – 5G low latency and high capacity use cases that could benefit from edge infrastructure, such as connected (not necessarily autonomous) cars, VR and AR. Sixth – competitive pressures to roll out as enterprises ponder private networks and the use of unlicensed spectrum technologies.

There was enough buzz about edge before the event for TMN to make it the focus of one of its preview articles. Indeed HP made the Intelligent Edge the over-arching tagline on its booth, which for a company that has been involved in cloudification projects and NFV since the start, is a sign either of the current direction of the telco cloud, or of HP’s own current market status. Either way – worth noting.

The ability to use an edge cloud location to host high speed, processor intensive activity, was being displayed on a number of booths.


Vasona was showing high speed multi user gaming, working with LiquidSky as the cloud gaming partner. The point of the demo was to show the sort of responsiveness and excellent graphics rendering you would expect of a console-based game – but being delivered to your phone over a mobile network connection.

The processing and rendering was being carried out not on the device, but in a gaming server located at Vasona’s SmartAir edge platform.

CTO Rui Frazao  said that the company is working on a potential commercial deployment with one operator that has a natural fit between its customer base and gaming. Interestingly much of the push has come from the operator marketing department.

Frazao said that operators are still making initial edge investment cases around capacity relief and traffic optimisation, but that they are also looking to future proof those investments by looking for new business cases. For Frazao, the “sweet spot” for the edge is the Central Office, which although it sounds very central is in fact the “one step back” location in the network that can give visibility to hundreds of site sectors at a time.

Read more at The Mobile Network.