ETSI expands MEC’s remit as it enters phase two

ETSI has officially changed the name of its MEC ISG from Mobile to Multi-access Edge Computing, as it promised to do last year. As it embarked on phase two of the MEC ISG’s work last week, it significantly broadened the scope of the technology, which is becoming highly strategic to many organizations in the mobile, IoT and cloud worlds.

It also announced a new management team, with Alex Reznik of HPE becoming the new chair, working with vice-chairs Pekka Kuure of Nokia, Sami Kekki of Huawei and Adrian Neal, from Vodafone.

Reznik said: “In phase two, we are expanding our horizons and addressing challenges associated with the multiplicity of hosts and stakeholders. The goal is to enable a complete multi-access edge computing system able to address the wide range of use cases which require edge computing, including IoT.”

The expanded scope reflects a rapid growth in MEC’s relevance to many sectors – and perhaps a desire, by the telecoms industry, to stay ahead of the other major initiative geared to edge computing, the Cisco-originated Open Fog Alliance. While the two organizations are officially complementary, their contrasting roots in telecoms and IT also bring the baggage of political tensions between the two worlds.

To steal a march on fog computing as the dominant approach to edge computing, MEC needed to be less focused on mobile operators. Their initial use cases focused on moving high bandwidth services closer to the subscriber, offering a standard process for techniques like video caching, in order to use capacity more efficiently and reduce latency.

But the remit quickly broadened – not all devices and services requiring low latency are mobile, especially in the Internet of Things; optimally efficient use of network resources can be boosted by supporting seamless access across fixed, cellular and WiFi; operators want MEC to enable new services and revenue streams, not just enhance the performance of old ones. As many telcos try to turn themselves into cloud providers, it becomes increasingly important to know how and where to distribute the cloud resources and services, looking at the network as a whole, not just the cellular element.

So, multi-access edge computing was born and the second phase of MEC ISG’s project will not just address various access mechanisms, but also multiple MEC hosts being deployed in different networks, owned by different operators and running edge applications in a collaborative manner.

ETSI said in a statement: “Future work will take into account heterogeneous networks using LTE, 5G, fixed and WiFi technologies. Additional features of the current work include developer friendly and standard APIs, standards-based interfaces among multi-access hosts and an alignment with NFV architecture.”

It stressed the links to a broader virtualized network and cloud architecture – an area where MEC will be able to draw heavily on another key ETSI ISG, for NFV (Network Functions Virtualization). The statement went on: “The MEC system will provide a standardized and open system able to support different virtualization techniques, with the capability for an application to discover applications and services available on other hosts, and to direct requests and data to one or more hosts. These features among others will lead to a system offering standard APIs, management interfaces with orchestrator and virtualized infrastructure, standardized interfaces between MEC hosts for traffic as well as service routing or application relocation, and standardized interfaces with transport networks.”

One software house which is implementing MEC is Vimmi, an Israeli company which claims to have reinvented the content delivery network (CDN) as we know it by harnessing MEC and machine learning algorithms. Though this is the conventional application of edge computing – reducing bandwidth and backhaul strain for mobile-delivered video – it is employing some interesting techniques.

At the TV Connect show in London last week, Vimmi’s founder and co-CEO, Eitan Koter, explained to Wireless Watch’s sister service, Faultline, that the company has built a system for analyzing multiple parameters within a network, such as congestion, geographical location and type of platform, to learn about the network and decide how and where to serve video chunks.

Although CDN prices are crashing, they are still expensive in the grand scheme of things with the increasing prevalence of high bandwidth formats. Viewing experiences such as augmented and virtual reality will benefit hugely from distributing cloud computing services at the edge, and there are prospects to integrate these with other future technologies including network slicing, software defined networking (SDN), and virtualization.

Vimmi offers a pay-as-you-go model to operators, where its own CDN can sit on an operator’s existing hardware and/or wireless infrastructure. As with CDN industry giant Akamai, Koter noted that Vimmi has also developed UDP multicast technologies which we were told are ready to be deployed at a customer’s request. Koter agreed that there is a trend towards delivering content over the internet using fixed bit rate methods which are more reliable than ABR, and are particularly helpful for cellular network operators.

Vimmi was awarded a $900,000 fund from the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD) earlier this month, in partnership with TechMahindra. Vimmi has combined its mobile video CDN technologies with TechMahindra’s radio network analytics service, which claims to reduce mobile backhaul by between 70% and 90%.

TechMahindra’s SVP for network services, Peeyush Goyal, commented: “MEC is an emerging standard that helps mobile operators to meet the growing consumer demand for economical, high quality video experiences. By integrating Vimmi’s video-aware mobile delivery network with our radio network information service analytics, we are able to deliver a breakthrough service in mobile-video transport performance.”

Vimmi’s customers currently include broadcaster Viasat, Israeli MNO Pelephone, Cellcom TV also in Israel, and MX1, the merged entity of RR Media and SES Platform Services.