ETSI MEC Phase 2 promises closer alignment with NFV

Two of ETSI’s most important projects, at least as far as advanced MNOs are concerned, are MEC (Multi-access Edge Computing) and NFV (Network Functions Virtualization). Now the two efforts are coming closer together as the standards body releases its first tranche of specifications for MEC Phase 2, including a MEC-over-NFV reference architecture.

The focus of MEC has shifted considerably since it was originally established under the name of Mobile Edge Computing. Since then, ETSI has recognized that edge computing connectivity will not be confined to cellular, but that many edge cloud applications will rely on harnessing the best available compute resource and connection for a given location.

There has also been a more reluctant recognition that the operators’ locations – central offices, cell sites and so on – will not necessarily be the basis of the edge computing grid, as the original MEC vision assumed. Telco locations will be very valuable, for enhancing their own services, such as video, by moving data processing closer to the end user; and to support third party applications such as content delivery, gaming or intelligent transport. But there are many other edge-focused developments that will need a very different set of locations – often indoors, where MNOs have been poor in delivering high quality connectivity; and with a far more dispersed edge than cell sites support (though convergence with small cell deployment will provide a new opportunity for MNOs to enhance their place in the value chain).

In recent times, ETSI MEC has shifted to providing APIs (application programming interfaces) rather than the whole architecture, and to acknowledging that many edge deployments will be delivered by enterprise players rather than operators. The standards body says that the first specs in Phase 2 reflect MEC’s wider scope and greatly expand the addressable use cases by integrating with NFV.

The new specs come in three packages:

  • ETSI GS MEC 002 summarizes the new requirements for the rest of Phase 2, to encourage the industry to support interoperability and focus on the same issues. It is centered on alignment with NFV so that edge applications can run in a standards-based virtualized environment to maximize flexibility and integration with the cloud. This spec also offers sample use cases and benefits.
  • ETSI GS MEC 003 focuses on the architecture and framework. It lays down a template for implementing MEC applications on top of a virtualized infrastructure near the edge. It includes the MEC-on-NFV reference architecture, which defines how MEC-compliant edge nodes can work as part of an overall NFV cloud architecture.
  • ETSI GS MEC 009 outlines general principles for service APIs.

Jason Hoffman, CEO of MobiledgeX, the Deutsche Telekom spin-off which is creating a MEC-based ecosystem, told TelecomTV that the first wave of edge applications will often be based on augmented reality, mixed reality, computer vision and machine learning – all of which “need an edge between all the devices and a cloud”.