New boost for MEC from Huawei group and first standard APIs

The Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) initiative from ETSI has stalled a bit lately. Operators remain interested in edge computing – a way to support low latency services, control video traffic and distributed cloud platforms close to the users. But some are concerned that an ETSI approach may be slow and cumbersome compared to one driven by an open source effort or by the IT-oriented OpenFog Consortium.

Two new developments come at a good time to inject new momentum into MEC then. Huawei is spearheading a MEC initiative with the potential to have considerable market impact, while the ETSI MEC Industry Specification Group (ISG) has published its first package of standardized APIs (application programming interfaces), which will support a more attractive range of value added services and enhance the business case for operators.

Huawei announced a collaboration which will see 13 organizations establish a “collaborative circle” to drive the MEC ecosystem. This is heavily driven by Chinese companies, showing the leadership position that China is taking on the road to 5G architectures, and in devising new service models which it can deploy at home and export round the world.

All three Chinese operators are in the group, as well as the China Communications Standards Association and China Computer Federation. Also joining are ETSI itself, the GSMA, 3GPP, Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), Intel, ARM, Trend Micro and iQiyi.

This may prove to be a welcome counterweight to the OpenFog Alliance, focusing – like that Cisco-driven group – on real world use cases rather than technical standards.

“Currently, there is no industry alliance to promote development of the MEC industry, which is a key challenge for us,” said Long Jiping, VP of Huawei’s cloud core network product line. “All industry players should work together to drive the MEC industry forward and explore edge network capabilities to commercialize MEC and achieve business success.”

Tang Xiongyan, CTO of China Unicom’s Network Technology Research Institute, added: “It is time that MEC applications be developed and used. We need to speed the development of an MEC ecosystem alliance and related standards, while also considering new business models. The goal in all of this is to enable the communications industry to support more industrial internet applications.”

The greatest potential for commercial MEC in the short term may lie in the close ties between some of its early movers, including Nokia, and Amazon’s Greengrass edge compute platform (see separate item). Indeed, were Amazon more like Google or Cisco, it might well have driven a new alliance itself. But the Chinese operators and Huawei have the market weight to accelerate MEC’s progress too.

“The next step for MEC networks should focus on building a unified network architecture through standards organizations,” said Yang Zhiqiang, deputy GM of China Mobile Research Institute. “The architecture needs to enable unified scheduling and management, and flexible control and loading of edge nodes, thus creating an array of applications.”

Meanwhile, the ETSI MEC ISG has released its first package of standardized APIs to enable interoperable services at the mobile edge. These include a radio network information API and a location API. The group has also set out general principles for MEC APIs, and for application lifecycle management, while offering an application enablement framework.

Compliance with the design principles should ensure consistency across APIs, ETSI said, flagging that this work was inspired by projects in the TM Forum and Open Mobile Alliance.

The app enablement framework is designed to be applicable to every scenario, opening up the network and exposing information for authorized third party applications. The aim is to impose common practices and interoperability on developers which want to interface with operators’ systems, such as location awareness.

As for the APIs themselves, the RNIS provides RAN-related information to MEC applications and platforms, to optimize existing services and help support new ones which use real time access to radio conditions and related events. The location API leverages the Zonal Presence service developed by the Small Cell Forum and is built upon the OMA specification ‘RESTful Network API for Zonal Presence’.
Additional service APIs, including an API for bandwidth management, are expected to be released later this year.

ZTE applies MEC to smart parking for venues:

Also in China, ZTE may not be involved in its rival’s MEC party, but it has recently been busy expanding the use of the technology in new use cases, especially those linked to the Internet of Things and to positioning. It has announced a solution to help venues provide smart parking and indoor navigation services for cars. The Indoor Intelligent Navigation, Smart Car Seeking solution combines connectivity, IoT sensors and MEC to allow navigation, smart car finding and other services to be extended into underground and indoor parking garages.

The service is powered by ZTE’s QCell small cell slution, and it also provides other services such as analytics. It has already been deployed in the Zhangjiang ZTE Intelligent Park.

The QCell detects and reports approaching cars to the MEC system, which then triggers the indoor navigation system and provides drivers with parking space reservation services and route planning.
The solution can also record a vehicle’s specific location through the magnetic IoT sensors in the parking spaces. A driver can then use an app to find their vehicle within the car park.

ZTE said it hopes to open the solution to third party developers and content providers to encourage further location-based services powered by MEC. In February, it announced an NB-IoT smart parking system.