Telco Edge: The Next Big Battleground in Cloud Computing

M. Rogers

Summary Bullets:

• The IBM Satellite Cloud on AT&T MEC announcement is the latest indicating the mobile edge compute market is heating up.

• Telco edge offers advantages for speed, latency, and security and operators should look to build out both use cases and partners to add most value for enterprises.

Earlier this week IBM and AT&T announced a new partnership that will see IBM develop a new set of computing use cases leveraging its newest product for on premises or edge cloud environments, the IBM Satellite Cloud, which will run on AT&T’s Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) network. IBM environments will run on AT&T edge servers with private 5G connectivity to customer sites. The partnership will also involve Red Hat, acquired by IBM in 2019, which will focus on developing containers for the 5G MEC applications, enabling them to be readily moved from cloud to edge to on premises. Red Hat has a long history of developing open software for telcos across use cases like OSS/BSS and network virtualization, and is a strength for IBM when working in the telco edge. Initially the project will launch at IBM’s James T. Watson research center. Here IBM and AT&T hope to collaborate to build a set of 5G edge compute use cases aligned to key vertical industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, construction, energy, and utilities. The aim is to develop solutions that leverage technologies like AI and analytics towards mission critical applications like worker health and safety, industrial automation, or remote control of machines and networks. This IBM partnership is one of many for AT&T’s MEC solution. The carrier is also working with HPE, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure to develop a set of cloud computing solutions that run on the telco edge. Further, AT&T is far from the only carrier in the race to develop enterprise edge use cases alongside the big cloud players. SKT, Verizon, Orange, Telefonica, and more all have partnerships with cloud providers like AWS, Azure, IBM, Google, and HPE with the aim of developing a new market for telco edge compute.

This is part of a wider trend that is seeing the hybrid cloud battleground shift from public cloud verse on-premises to now also include edge deployments, but specifically using the telco edge. Digital transformation is driving increased use of IoT, AI, and analytics across most industries, as organizations want to become more data driven and agile. This includes supporting mission critical operations with data and analytics that require low latency and higher levels of data security. Carriers have a wide array of network endpoints, from central offices to base stations, where they can deploy edge compute services, a much broader reach than the data centers run by the largest cloud providers; by moving applications like real-time video analytics closer to a customer site, lower latency can be achieved. Further, when using a private 5G connection from site to edge, data never travels via the open internet, increasing privacy and security for sensitive data, so with an operator edge deployment sensitive workloads stay at the local edge while other workloads and data can be carried to the cloud or other sites. For example, GlobalData recently spoke with a construction company in Australia implementing an IoT analytics platform. Initially the platform was run on a public cloud deployment, but to improve performance and security the company is now exploring options to bring the platform on-premises. However, if telco edge deployment option were available, the company would be able to take advantage of the enhanced security and performance without having to invest into on premise resources.

Cloud providers and forward thinking carriers have recognized the potential for this market, but mobile edge compute is still nascent. For example the IBM Satellite Cloud for AT&T is currently in a beta phase and won’t be commercially available until 2021. Operators should look to build a catalog of cloud provider partners to develop environments and use cases that will be readily deployable at edge locations. The ability to seamlessly move workloads across on premise, edge, and public cloud will help win enterprise customers, and offering the most diverse range of computing environments will be critical. In Asia-Pacific today, leading operators like SK Telecom and Telstra are actively exploring edge use cases, but other regional players like Globe, AIS, Maxis, and Telkomsel, who have begun working with the large cloud providers should also explore the potential of 5G edge for enterprise.


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