SK Telecom looks to the edge to monetize 5G

SK Telecom has announced the launch of its ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Open Platform’ in an effort to marry two of the industry’s hottest topics.

While 5G has dominated industry discussions for years, this years Mobile World Congress saw edge computing steal at least some of the limelight. This may well be evidence of a more pragmatic approach to connectivity ROI, with telcos removing some of the buzz surrounding 5G and creating a more realistic story about how to commercialise the connectivity bonanza; 5G is only one step forward, but the edge is another.

“By opening up the ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Platform’, SK Telecom will secure the basis for expanding the MEC-related ecosystem and accelerating the release of 5G services,” said Park Jin-hyo, CTO of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will join hands with diverse companies throughout the globe to boost the adoption of MEC-based services.”

As part of the initiative, SK Telecom will offer enterprise customers the opportunity to improve customers Quality of Experience (QoE) by connecting their service server or data-centre to SK Telecom’s MEC platform. SK Telecom will also provide open Application Programming Interfaces to enable customers to easily develop MEC-based 5G services.

By enabling the edge, ideas such as the smart factory become more of a reality. SK Telecom claims that latency can be reduced by up to 60% by using the edge.

Although the traditional means of generating revenue in the telco space has been through very simplistic and consumer orientated marketing strategies, this cannot be the case for 5G. Such is the expense of deploying a network which meets the connectivity expectations of tomorrow, leaning on traditional business models will likely not work. To realise the promise of 5G, initiatives such as this one, which encourages more creative projects with enterprise customers, are an excellent step forward.

This was perhaps one of the most satisfying outcomes from Mobile World Congress this year, as while some might have viewed the switching on of 5G networks as somewhat of an anti-climax, for us it was a very palatable outcome.

The focus on the edge, and the dampening of 5G hype, set the stage for progress. Yes, the industry has spent a lot of the futureproof networks, and yes, investors are craving the promised profits, but conversations felt much more realistic, pointing towards the work which still needs to be done. Afterall, 5G should be viewed as a catalyst to secure new revenues, not as the silver bullet.

Edge takes centre stage at MWC 2019

For all the hype and buzz which was generated ahead of Mobile World Congress 2019, the edge stole some of the attention away from 5G.

Perhaps this is more of a realisation that 5G is not all its cracked up to, at least for the moment anyway. After handing out the accolades for ‘5G first’, this now seems to be the time to settle down and take a mature look at what we have in front of us.

Numerous telcos have not crossed the finish line to offer 5G to those who feel they need it, but with the incredibly limited nature of the coverage and a lack of devices to make use of the bonanza, you have to ask what is the point? For all the promise of greatness, this year’s gathering had a much more pragmatic feel.

Yes, 5G is exciting, but its only the beginning. Yes, there is a chance to make more money, but the usecases have to be figured out. Yes, there are some interesting ideas out there, but Release 16 is where the magic will happen. And yes, today’s 5G will bring certain benefits, but there is of course a lot of work to be done.

It might seem like a bit of a negative thing to say but keep the champagne on ice because nothing has been achieved yet. And this seemed to be the mood throughout the halls of the Fira. The industry has been building up this promise of a connected society, built on superfast 5G networks, for years, but the hype seems to have been dissipated by reality.

There was of course a lot of talk around 5G, perhaps most notably because of the devices the manufacturers were showing off, but it would certainly be fair to say the edge stole at least a bit of the limelight.

Although there are some telcos out there who believe they can build a 5G business on the concept of speed, many are building towards the latency angle. This is where the edge will play a critical role, and the rational businesses throughout the world are building partnerships and investing in technology to make these services a reality.

Telefonica is an excellent example, as while it announced a partnership with Microsoft to smarten up its Aura product ahead of taking on the likes of Amazon and Google in the personal assistant space, this tie up will help it drive towards the edge, creating a wealth of new services for a variety of customers. During the press conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed towards the edge as one of the most powerful developments over the next couple of years, and he certainly wasn’t the only one.

On the final day of MWC, Ian Fogg of OpenSignal spoke of how importance low latency will be to enhance the gaming experience for users around, while two halves of the same bad played a set in opposite ends of the hall, one in Vodafone’s stand and the other in Ericsson. While we’re not convinced this is a block-buster usecase, it does demonstrate what can be done.

While the edge plays an important role in content caching and distribution, a more intelligent can help change the industry in numerous other ways due to the idea of ‘dumb devices’. The more processing power, intelligence and storage components which can be moved off these devices, the cheaper they become to manufacture. This could potentially have a scaling effect on certain aspects of the already blossoming IOT segment.

Of course, what is worth taking into account is that there are numerous devices and services which are becoming increasingly complex. Only a segment of the IOT world will become ‘dumb’, and irrelevant of how small it is, it will open the door, encourage growth and adoption, as well as broadening the number of usecases which might be considered commercially unviable currently.

The same argument could be said for smartphones. With more ‘intelligence’, storage and processing power moving off devices, there could be more freedom to evolve the smartphone. Power demands and the necessity of having some components on the devices could be removed. There could be a lot more opportunity to create new concepts.

An interesting counterpoint to this latency usecase for 5G was raised by Bengt Nordstrom, CEO at Northstream, during our MWC podcast. Nordstrom points to the reduction in latency over the last few years, and whether this has encouraged any new (or growth) revenues in the industry. If it is simply improving experience as opposed to adding to the bottom line, is there any reason to believe this wouldn’t be the case moving forward, and does it build a business case for 5G investments?

Looking at the usecases for low latency, there are many, some of which are arguably more important than others. Video chat is one which is mentioned often, especially when one of the parties in a remote location, such as international reporters. Esports is a significant one, and this is a growing industry. Betting and bidding could be another, and while many will think of sports betting first and foremost, the financial sector would certainly benefit as fractions of a seconds could means thousands in trading, especially with automation playing a role. Smart factories, transport systems, air-traffic control, security threat detection, network automation are more. There are numerous examples.

For us, the emphasis on edge computing represents a shift in mentality from the industry. 5G discussions are all about laying the groundwork for the future digital community, but in giving more airtime to topics like the edge, the industry is seemingly more focused on the commercial realities of futuristic connectivity. 5G won’t make the future, it will just enable it.

5G was supposed to steal the show in Barcelona this year, and it certainly was the protagonist, but the edge certainly commanded more than its 15 minutes.

Orange points to privacy benefits through MEC

Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) is back on the buzzword agenda after spending a few years in the wilderness and Orange has pointed to an interesting privacy benefit to the technology.

After getting a technology tour at Roland Garros this week, one of the quick demos offered some insight into the world of video analytics and edge computing. Using several different wireless cameras scattered around the venue and various AI applications, Orange is able to keep track on the number of individuals who are in one particular area. This could be one of the entertainment areas or the courts themselves, but the algorithm is able to give an accurate estimate of how populated these areas are, which can help for crowd control or security purposes.

The idea of using facial recognition through video surveillance has started to create some privacy concerns in recent months, as there is little awareness from the general public who have not consented to being monitored, but this is where it gets interesting. Orange pointed out that the images are not detailed to identify specific individuals, just the number of individuals in an area, but even if it was, it doesn’t matter because of edge computing.

With processing power stored on the edge of the network the data can be processed, insight captured, before being deleted. Useless information can be sifted out on the edge, with only relevant data or the insight sent back to the core. By empowering the edge, privacy concerns are negated as personal information is not actually being stored by Orange, simply the insight which would not be considered sensitive.

This is not a revelation which is going to change the technology world, but it is an interesting little benefit which addresses a growing concern in the wider society.

Unlocking the true potential of Mobile Edge Computing in Mobile Networks

Despite the extensive interest in MEC, widespread deployment faces major hurdles as previously available MEC solutions implement proprietary non-3GPP standard solutions in order to maintain compatibility with security, legal intercept, charging, paging. These solutions require deep changes in operator network architecture, which is challenging for operators and are yet unable to provide highly secure and reliable low latency services (e.g. Industry4.0) that must operate independently of backhaul availability or operator network failures. This has had a blocking impact on deployment cost, complexity, security and scalability.

In response, Athonet has created a novel MEC Gateway (incorporating the innovative SGW-LBO) that addresses all of these needs and finally unlocks the true potential of MEC for mobile operators. The full details can be obtained from this Whitepaper. Unlike other approaches, the MEC Gateway natively supports all the above functionality on standard 3GPP interfaces that allows the gateway to be deployed with no other impacts to mobile operator networks. Uses extend from simple video offload to MEC cases requiring mission or business critical needs.

Athonet’s approach was hosted at MWC 2018 by Orange, Italtel and BT: https://www.lightreading.com/mobile/5g/local-break-out-that-doesnt-break-the-network–and-a-stepping-stone-to-5g!/v/d-id/741379?_mc=RSS_LR_EDT

Please fill in the short form below to receive a copy of this whitepaper.

The potential of Machine Learning to optimize content distribution

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert commentators to share their insights into the most pressing industry issues. In this piece network AI specialists B.Yond explains why we need intelligence at the network edge.

We live in a connected world that is constantly streaming—video, games, music—the demand for content is always on. And, with emerging technologies presenting massive potential, including virtual reality, augmented reality, autonomous transportation, and mobile infotainment, there will be an unprecedented level of demand on the networks. Internet traffic on content delivery networks (CDNs) will more than double from 73 exabytes to 166 exabytes (Cisco VNI 2017) in the next three years.

In addition to the data demand, these applications will require lower latency, higher reliability and better fidelity than current networks deliver. This will require a significant change in network infrastructure from a centralized to a massively distributed architecture. To truly manage the volume and demand on the new network infrastructure and provide an optimized consumer experience with content at the edge, we need software-driven solutions that are focused on significantly reducing operational cost. We need intelligence at the edge.

Bringing Content to the Edge

To meet increasing content volumes, networks must effectively and intelligently manage massive and divergent amounts of data, be available anywhere with the capability to respond instantaneously, and have extensive security capabilities to support privacy concerns. However, the current industry-standard, based on centralized network infrastructure, cannot meet these requirements.

A network with a massively distributed architecture leveraging cloud, Network Function Virtualization (NFV), and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technologies to employ edge computing, improves operational efficiency, reduces CAPEX, and creates opportunities for new revenue streams. By significantly reducing the distance between the mobile user and content, edge computing enhances network security, improves scalability and responsiveness, and supports low-latency applications.

With enhanced opportunity for content delivery through edge computing, there are further opportunities for growth and revenue. In CDNs, we are seeing a trend as companies build their own private servers on the edge and move away from distributing content through a shared CDN provider. For content providers, this shift to privatization is lowering the cost of handling increasingly high-definition videos, improving the user experience, and enhancing security.

There is a prime opportunity for operators and cable provides to capitalize on this by creating private or shared CDN servers. This can be achieved by repurposing central offices and adding nodes to cell sites and virtual Customer Premise Equipment (vCPE). Operators enable new revenue streams by building private CDNs using their wireless and wireline networks. With 5G and network slicing the costs can be further reduced.

An Intelligent Approach to Managing and Optimizing Content Delivery

As content is pushed to the edge, the automated, intelligent management and optimization of the network becomes essential. By applying Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to a distributed infrastructure, operators can proactively identify network traffic patterns and proactively respond appropriately to communications traffic demand with focus on improved customer experience. This process works by operators gathering real-time performance data from the software-defined core and access networks, then using ML and AI algorithms to provide guidance instantaneously. By applying this to video applications, service providers can optimize the end-to-end Quality-of-Experience (QoE) to reduce start-up delay, eliminate freezes and improve video quality.

Imagine a customer who is watching the latest episode of “Stranger Things” deployed through the closest local server in “central office one”. However, as traffic on the network begins to increase, the ML platform would proactively identify the potential impact to content delivery and automatically respond. In this case, by making a copy of “Stranger Things” in another central office. It may not be as close physically, but with more availability for transport. For customers, it means never again having their Netflix binging disrupted.

Because of the scale and reach of their networks and their ability to access full end-to-end infrastructure data, operators have an advantage over content providers distributing over the top today. To leverage the opportunity, operators need to build a virtualized CDN infrastructure with a next-generation ML- and AI-based management solution.  Though necessary to effectively and dynamically manage an increasingly complex network, an intelligent management solution will also deliver enhanced quality of experience, and new revenue streams.

Intelligence is Necessary for Progress

With the explosion of content, there is no question that a move to the edge is required to support a new wave of increasingly demanding content-based applications. But, the move to a distributed infrastructure is not enough. Without the use of proactive intelligence—the complexity of a massive edge network and the demands of the content become unmanageable and turn into an operational nightmare.

The optimal customer QoE requires the application of ML and AI to network performance data in order to guide the CDN infrastructure and video applications. Operators and content providers must work together to bring intelligence to the edge to progress the capabilities of content delivery.

ETSI give TLC to MEC – aging buzzword to get a facelift

Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) might have been given a bit of attention in months gone, but with the 5G dawn about to break a resurgence for MEC could be on the cards.

While it does not sound like the sexiest part of the mobile industry, MEC is crucially important. If we are to live the 5G dream of 8K videos or instant access to insight, the ability to store and cache data on the edge of the network is critical. This is an old story for the industry, but it is a narrative which has been neglected in recent months. ESTI is one organization which seems to be trying to gather some extra steam for the forgotten buzzword.

“As the first Standards Developing Organization to address the challenges of MEC, ETSI brings the world’s leading experts on MEC to the table,” said Alex Reznik, Chair of ETSI MEC Industry Specification Group. “The ETSI ISG MEC can make a significant impact in the effort to make 5G a reality and we invite the industry to take advantage of everything we have to offer.”

MEC is of course only one piece of the 5G puzzle and a step in the complicated journey of virtualization, but one which is very important. Will virtual assistants be able to perform adequately without it, or will latency be low enough for autonomous vehicles or remote surgery? Not only will we not be able to realise some of these glorious usecases, ignoring MEC could potentially undermine the whole premise of the 5G system architecture, which is supposed to be a distributed network. With the 5G light breaking over the horizon ETSI is shifting the focus back to MEC.

As part of the push, ETSI has released two white papers while also creating a Hackathon framework to accelerate multi-access edge computing adoption and interoperability, and encourage all stakeholders to use the group’s specifications to develop edge applications. Collaboration between the various different parties will be critical here, and considering some of the parties involved there is risk of a few disagreements.

“While MEC is central to enabling the world of 5G applications over both 4G and 5G networks, it is only part of a solution to a bigger puzzle,” Reznik had previously said. “Increasingly, the industry is looking for guidance on how to put the overall solution together. By providing end-to-end solution guidance, encouraging and promoting the market through events like Hackathons and other related activities, our group is stepping up to this challenge.”

ETSI is kicking starting the refocus onto MEC, but we expect this to be a much more prominent talking point (once again) over the next couple of months.