June 22, 2017
Remember when we all thought that 4G LTE technology with its antenna-mounted amplifiers spelled the doom of size-able equipment enclosures at the base of cell towers? Well, think again. Project Volutus was unveiled yesterday by a company called Vapor IO, which wants to build a giant network of distributed edge data centers at the bases of thousands of cell towers, which will be directly connect to wireless networks.
Removing all doubt that this is a big deal for towers, Crown Castle International, the nation’s largest provider of shared wireless infrastructure, has made a minority investment in Vapor IO to accelerate the project’s development and deployment.
Making Towers a key to 5G
Edge computing has always been part of the 5G game plan. No matter the bandwidth or the protocol, if a smart phone or robot or connected car cannot quickly access the Cloud for the needed data it will not perform at the needed latency goals of 5G. But now a company, Vapor IO, has stepped up with technology that pushes access to the cloud to the edge of the network.
“There’s a new class of applications—including IoT, virtual reality, autonomous and connected vehicles, and smart cities—where the existing model of large, centralized datacenters just won’t work,” Vapor IO said. “These applications need compute and storage to be located more closely to the device or application. The round trip back to a centralized data center takes too long and the amount of data that needs to be transferred is too large.”
Project Volutus is a collocation and “data center as a platform” service, which is a fully-managed micro data center at the base of the cell tower, literally at the true edge of the wireless network. It combines Vapor IO’s hardware and software with the network of cell towers and dense metro fiber to build and operate distributed edge data centers in major metropolitan locations.
“Project Volutus combines edge co-location with remote operations, intelligent cross-connects to wireless networks, and direct fiber routes to regional data centers and peering interconnects,” the Vapor IO said. “It provides point-to-point, multi-point and mesh tower-to-tower connections, bypassing the multi-hop high-latency backhaul of the legacy wireless networks and delivering low millisecond round trips.
Project Volutus uses Vapor IO’s “Vapor Chamber,” an energy-efficient rack and enclosure system designed for edge environments. Ecosystem partner Intel is supplying its FlexRAN and Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) software libraries to provide an agile virtualized radio access network (vRAN) foundation platform for Project Volutus.
“By collaborating with wireless carriers and telecom equipment manufacturers running vRAN and MEC in Vapor Edge Computing locations, we can bring the network closer to the mobile user,” Caroline Chan, VP of 5G Infrastructure Division of Intel.
Project Volutus will be available for early access in Q3 and multi-city rollouts are targeted to begin later in the year.
Future Estate Communications Solutions
The next generation of wireless networks will drive the need for all different types of communications assets: from macrocells, small cells and DAS to fiber optics, centralized RAN (C-RAN) and data centers. In a recent interview, officials from Digital Bridge said they are intent on amassing a variety of assets to serve all carriers’ needs, as well as Cloud and content players. Wholly-owned subsidiary Vertical Bridge has accumulated assets in buildings, rooftops, utility attachments and macrocells all as part of a turnkey real estate communications solution.
“I take it personally when people call us a tower company. We are no longer a tower company,” Bernard Borghei, senior VP, operations and co-founder, said. “We are a real estate solution provider. We have all these different types of assets to meet the demands of today’s advanced technology leading into 5G and beyond.”
Even the real estate under suburban towers may come in handy as locations for micro data centers as wireless providers push their data centers closer to the edge of the network, according to Alex Gellman, Vertical Bridge CEO and co-founder. “If C-RAN is to be located at specific sites, we look at marketing the land under our sites for a C-RAN hub,” he said.