If some operators are frustrated that Open RAN has not been moving more quickly, others are equally impatient to see faster progress in edge compute. There has been a lot of discussion, including in Wireless Watch, of how a telco-grade edge, managed by operators and integrated with advanced connectivity, could expand the 5G-era business model.
A handful of operators have built out extensive edge compute, both to support their own network functions and to deliver enterprise services, including Rakuten and SK Telekom. Some are working closely with hyperscalers through initiatives such as AWS Wavelengths.
But in general, there have been limited measurable impacts from operator 5G edge so far. Consultancy STL Partners has slashed its forecast for operator edge deployments by 2025 to less than 25% of its previous estimate (from over 4,000 to 950).
Many operators believe hyperscaler alliances will be essential to an at-scale edge strategy, helping to share the costs while forging links to the cloud giants’ enviable developer bases. And they also believe a more mature ecosystem is required, than currently exists.
On a webinar recently hosted by STL Partners, Joanna Newman, Vodafone’s global edge computing and 5G principal manager, said operators need to learn the art of working with hyperscalers. “You can partner with hyperscalers for some capability, at which point of time you’re looking at maturity and commercial fit,” she said. “”The wider ecosystem needs to mature and different hyperscalers bring different capabilities.”
So, the AWS console enables many different ideas to be tried with limited risk as it “can be used by anybody at any time”, while Microsoft Azure has more specialist capabilities that are “targeting very specific use cases as opposed to general ones”.
Newman acknowledged that it is early days for the Vodafone edge strategy but said it is partnering effectively with both AWS and Azure, and claimed the operator’s own edge cloud stack has been “hugely successful in the specific segments that we’re exploring it for”.
Vodafone recently announced an edge innovation lab in Manchester, UK (see item in Worth Noting), and Vodafone Business works with Microsoft to offer end-to-end cloud-based services for enterprises, that leverage 5G, edge and IoT.
STL predicts that the value of the overall edge market will top $500bn by 2030 even though, so far, edge deployment has been slower than anticipated. An earlier forecast from the consultancy predicted that operators would have over 4,000 network edge sites by 2025, but it has now pulled this down to about 950 in the same timeframe.
The firm believes hyperscaler co-investment will be important to improve on that forecast and make the business case attractive, and already, it estimates that about 40% of the capacity at telco network edge sites will be deployed with support from hyperscalers over the next two years.