MobiledgeX’s telco heritage is clear in its MNO-centric view of 5G edge

MobiledgeX, the independent group into which Deutsche Telekom (DT) placed its edge activities, has announced some significant milestones, including the first release of its Edge-Cloud developer solution, which is also powering a public mobile edge deployment by DT.

The Edge-Cloud R1.0 solution connects mobile users to containerized cloud applications, which execute close to the user in order to boost performance and responsiveness. Developers can deploy their application back end on the edge in the same way they would on the public cloud.

Coming from the telco heritage, DT and MobiledgeX see 5G as an essential part of this highly distributed cloud environment – and the edge cloud as a driver for 5G success.

While many players in the edge landscape are sidelining operators in the heart of the platform, MobiledgeX wants to help them to reassert themselves in the value chain, and build the kind of platforms which will enable them to monetize a wide range of edge applications, not just use the edge to improve their own established services such as video streaming (see leading article).

“Everyone is excited about edge,” but not many people are building the ecosystem for the operators, MobiledgeX CTO Sunay Tripathi told FierceWireless. By contrast, MobiledgeX is highly trusted by operators, several of whom have signed up to support the initiative. It was set up partly to have the independence to pursue opportunities regardless of the agenda of DT, but like most such arm’s-length units, it retains its parent’s DNA, and knows that its main source of funds and custom will come from DT and its allies.

So the pieces that MobiledgeX plans to put in place could help any kind of organization to operate in an edge cloud environment, but its likeliest targets will be telcos. It makes the MNO-centric argument persuasively, saying that cellular infrastructure is becoming a key element of cloud computing, but “few people understand how different the cellular infrastructure is from wired Internet infrastructure”, according to Tripathi. In other words, the specific expertise of the cellular industry cannot be ignored by all those data center and webscale companies jostling at the edge.

“As those differences become better understood, the value of having cloud resources in the cellular edge will become clearer,” Tripathi wrote in a blog post. “To begin with, use of the cellular infrastructure solves some of the fundamental problems with the existing Internet—you know a lot about a cellular user (they have a contractual relationship with an operator); you know a lot about where they are independently of where a smartphone thinks it is using radio location data that can’t be spoofed. And compared to the Internet, the cellular infrastructure is much more secure and private (there are no third parties lurking and looking at your traffic).”

He betrays his assumptions even more clearly later in the post, where he argues that cellular networks support a simple way to build an edge cloud because MNOs already have appropriate locations where computing and storage are present already, or can be easily deployed. This is over-simplified – while operators’ central offices and even cell sites align well with applications targeted at their own user bases, such as high quality streaming, our research found that even telcos themselves believe their locations are poorly mapped to IoT requirements. In a survey, a sample of operators said they would be able to support an estimated 40% to 50% of sites needed for an IoT-focused edge; a parallel enterprise study said the figure was less than 10%, especially when the indoor industrial IoT is considered.

However, some of Tripathi’s comments are interesting and will certainly help MNOs to put together their strategies to monetize the edge. He wrote that MNOs “are used to resource sharing and compensation (that’s how telephony roaming works). A successful edge has to be global and multi-tenant (public). It’s not at all clear how you do that with the wired Internet because those network service providers don’t necessarily do a lot of computing or have hosting business models.”

This brings us back to the natural alignment between the cloud giants and the MNOs in scaling up the edge platform (see previous article on HPE), though additional partners will be required – particularly to aggregate and orchestrate locations and virtual infrastructure from hundreds of sources in the future.

For now, though, MobiledgeX’s first demonstrations play firmly to the traditional telco use cases rather than the future mass-scale industrial IoT. Enhancing experiences for video, gaming and navigation are among the projects that relate to the existing MNO model, and several MobiledgeX activities relate to this.

For instance, the organization has partnered with Niantic, creator of the Pokémon Go game, on technology to bridge the physical and digital worlds and create new entertainment experiences built on augmented reality. These require low latency and high bandwidth so that many players can share the experiences, and MobiledgeX Edge-Cloud R1.0 is being used to support those capabilities.

Among the operators which have publicly announced support for MobiledgeX are two digital frontrunners, SK Telecom and Telefonica. The former is also working on augmented reality with the DT edge group and will run a demo on the SK Telecom booth in Barcelona. This aims to show how the mobile edge supports performance-intensive computer vision algorithms for AR-supported mapping and positioning applications.  The demo centers on an application for industrial smart glasses, developed by AR start-up 1000 Realities. The app is running on the DT network edge using MobilededgeX’s platform and seamlessly integrated into SK Telecom’s network.

“Access to edge is ‘make or break’ for our business to work and scale, without the need for an on-premise local data center,” said Piotr Wojcik, CEO of 1000 Realities, in a statement. “Access to existing mobile operator infrastructure and edge services via MobiledgeX allows us to seamlessly scale our business faster and without the need for additional effort.”

Meanwhile, DT has opened the MobiledgeX Edge-Cloud R1.0 up to developers via its network in Germany, allowing them to deploy their application back ends close to the users, based on their Verified Location and Identity. The process is as simple as deploying in the public cloud, and they can now conduct live trials. The first efforts are particularly focused on AR, mixed reality and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) use cases.

Walter Goldenits, CTO of Telekom Deutschland, said: “For operators, Edge-Cloud R1.0’s ability to quickly aggregate existing 4G and 5G resources and make them available anywhere they are needed across the network means an extremely low barrier to entry for scalable edge deployments that can be immediately monetized.”

At runtime, Edge-Cloud R1.0 spins up the containers on-demand in the best edge cloud location for the targeted quality of experience. It instantiates application containers to support streaming workloads similar to Lambda functions, suitable for scaling up to increasingly immersive and massively multiuser workloads like multiplayer gaming; as well as applications which must rely on trusted identity and location, like robotics and AR maintenance. The built-in verified location service automatically correlates GPS-reported location from the device using telemetry extracted from the mobile service provider’s infrastructure and directs mobile client to appropriate edge location.

Another use case is to support video and image processing while meeting local privacy conditions. The platform guarantees in- country containment and privacy of user data, offering country-specific control planes that ensure country-specific applications and data remain in the country to satisfy GDPR and other privacy regulations.