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To See the Future of Wireless, Keep an Eye on the Edge

By Ernest Worthman, AWT Exec. Editor, IEEE Sr. Member

Ern’s Perspective


NEWS FLASH — AUSTIN, TEXAS – 2019…the Edge Global Conference 2019 has just concluded with a healthy dose of both reality and optimism. Organized by BroadGroup, this gathering follows the trend for dispersing compute processing power across enterprise and cloud resources closer to the user. Massive amounts of computing power are moving away from the core to the edge of the network, which could be a cell site.

As usual, the conference had a diverse smattering of topics and sessions. But the news about the edge is mixed. Let me explain.

The edge is still nascent. We are in the middle of developing a variety of standards to give the segment some direction. The committee that I sit on, the TIA Edge Data Center Standards Development Committee, is still working on a lot of stuff. That means it will be a while before a decent set of standards is available. How long, one might ask? I would say about a year before there are enough standards to say we have a clear vision of where the edge is heading.

That does not mean the edge will not progress and there will not be deployments. But because the edge is nascent, the definition is loose. In reality, edge data centers (EDCs) are whatever one presently wants them to be. Peeled back, they are nothing but a structure (from a rack to a self-contained, fully redundant building, sporting a 200 KW power system that supports multiple data systems and networks). The bottom line is that this segment is looking for clarity and permanence.

But that did not stop Edge Micro from setting up an edge data center a few blocks from the venue. It was a great, first implementation of how an edge data center might appear.

All of this was evident at this conference. However, the fluidity of the edge takes nothing away from this conference. The attendees and speakers were right there at the edge (no pun intended).

The edge industry is full of bright, talented, motivated people and that was evident from the program. If one is interested in what all was discussed, go here: https://www.edgecongress.com/america.

Of all the panels and speakers what is closest to my heart (and the wireless industry) is smart cities and the visionary sessions. I wanted to do autonomous vehicles but could not find the time. But know that the edge will be part of every existing and emerging technology going forward.

Most noteworthy, IMHO, was the visionary speech by Rob Hirschfeld, founder and CEO of RackN. This year’s talk took a bit of a different track. Rather than tout the promise of the edge, he went the other direction. His talk discussed the myths and pitfalls of the edge. I do not have space to detail what he presented, except to say that sometimes the truth hurts. However, stay tuned, he has committed to writing a piece that discusses his talking points. It is an eye-opener.

Like 5G and autonomous vehicles, the edge suffers from a bit of hype. One particular myth is that the edge and the cloud are similar. They are not. That is one of the points address by Hirschfeld. The edge is not a mini cloud as many think. The edge and the cloud are complementary but quite different in both functions and features. More on this in a future missive. Another point brought up by Hirschfeld, and this is somewhat of a shocker that departs from much of the hype, is that the edge will not be predominantly 5G. His take is that edge technology will be Wi-Fi and private networks, at that.

As much as I respect his knowledge and expertise. I have to question that. I would also be interested in hearing from readers on what their take is on edge platforms.

Extrapolating on the Wi-Fi angle, that dispels the belief that the edge will create 5G, and vice versa, 5G alone is insufficient to develop edge networks. That was something that caught me by surprise, but when one thinks about it, it does make some sense. This because as much as we want 5G to be the panacea for all that ails wireless networks, it will not be, and the emerging Wi-Fi 6 is going to rock some worlds.

Another presentation I attended, Smart Cities, was one of those future discussions. But we know a lot more about segments like smart cities and autonomous vehicles now than we did a year ago so it is a bit easier to see where these segments are heading.

This presentation highlighted the fact that digitization and the Internet of Everything and Everyone (IoX) will be the technologies that smart cities will be built upon. That makes a lot of sense, especially when one factors in 5G, AI, evolving wireless platforms and more. The smart city will make extensive use of edge networks and the IoX, perhaps be the most prolific deployment platform for each.

Other sessions addressed the mobile edge; gaming (that sounded like an interesting session); streaming apps; robotics, and even finance and business cases.

In closing, I want to note that this is one of those conferences that, on the surface, seems a bit distant from wireless. That could not be further from the truth. While neither 5G nor the edge will create each other, both will be codependent upon each other and as each evolves it will benefit the other. The edge will also be critical to other segments in wireless, such as enhanced mobile broadband.

As well, edge data centers will be important in private networks. From a global perspective, there are very few wireless segments that will not be integrated with edge data centers.

Progress is ramping up in the development of this industry segment. Next year, this conference is moving to California to better serve the attendees with a larger venue and a wider distribution of industry representation. I think it is a worthwhile to attend as I feel 2020 will be a pivotal year for edge technology development. It would not be in a wireless player’s best interests to not have a working understanding of what the edge is all about.

Report Analyzes Edge Computing in 5G Networks

By 5G Americas

5G Americas has published ‘5G at the Edge,’ a white paper that explores new groundbreaking possibilities emerging from the combination of Edge Computing with 5G technologies. Edge Computing refers to locating applications, general-purpose compute, storage, and associated switching and control functions that are required to run them – relatively close to end users and/or IoT endpoints.

Chris Pearson, president, 5G Americas said, “Edge Computing locates processing power closer to where data collection actually takes place – nearer to the radio access network than the core, but it’s not one size fits all. As operators deploy edge computing, they will need to consider their architecture to address specific services, applications and use cases.”

This 5G Americas’ white paper explores Edge Computing’s role in the evolution of 5G architecture, the application of Cloud-native principles such as software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV), and identifies various methodologies currently being adopted for 5G applications. It covers detailed emerging use cases and outlines the stringent requirements needed to facilitate advanced mobility, compute, storage capabilities for emerging 5G wireless networks.

Additionally, this paper supplies an in-depth view of the various industry and open source initiatives defining emerging EDGE architectures. Overall, it defines the next generation Edge reference architecture and explores future directions in networking.

According to Pearson, “As 5G networks become more distributed, they will get more complex and need data processing that takes advantage of cloud-native principles like containerization and micro-services. Edge computing and network transformation will lead operators to enable new low-latency scenarios in Augmented Reality, V2X transportation, manufacturing, health, education and beyond.”

“A new reference architecture based on data centric technologies like analytics, networking and storage for edge computing-enabled 5G systems is being shaped that will have broad implications for how wireless networks operate in the future,” explained Rao Yallapragada, Director of Advanced Technologies for Intel and a co-leader of the paper’s working group.

“5G At The Edge” covers some pertinent topics:

  • Edge computing is critical for 5G networks to enable new applications that need reduced network latency for real-time operations, such as augmented and virtual reality for events, video & speech analytics, remote monitoring for video security, and others.
  • Edge computing allows for augmented reality applications. It also paves way for video and speech analytics. It accelarates the web by improving the management of local content. 5G networks can bring ultra reliable low-latency communications (uRLLC) based healthcare, security, and manufacturing to remote locations enabled via Edge Computing.
  • 5G incorporates edge computing into wireless networks with emerging open source initiatives and standards to manage data across the network, from radio access, transport, to the core – enabling powerful new capabilities like network slicing.
  • Edge computing uses innovative artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to improve the management of data workloads across networks.

According to Rao, “5G and Edge Computing are mutually reinforcing. Edge architecture’s need for low latency drives demand for 5G, and 5G’s growing availability increases the pull of workloads from the core to the Edge.”

Edge Computing Manufacturer Seeking Tower Partners at WIA Show

By Don Bishop, Exec. Editor, Assoc. Publisher, AGL Magazine

EdgePresence CEO Doug Recker is on the prowl at this year’s Connectivity Expo in Orlando. His company is looking for partners as it pursues a creative strategy for edge computing that leads to the placement of edge points of presence (PoP) at tower sites.

A PoP is an artificial demarcation point or interface point between communicating entities. EdgePresence owns and operates PoPs that provide space, power, bandwidth and interconnection on a leased basis either in multi-tenant or in single-tenant build-to-suit facilities.

The company places its PoPs, called EdgePods, at telecommunications tower sites to take advantage of such sites’ available electrical power and fiber-optic cable route connections. These locations place the PoPs closer to EdgePresence customers. According to Recker, the customers for the PoPs are the same as what he calls standard customers that would otherwise use a brick-and-mortar data center.

“A customer is someone who goes inside data centers for power, cooling and network redundancy or for connectivity and fast connections, transport and low latency,” Recker said. “These include cloud providers and retail customers, anywhere from local banks to credit unions — anyone who needs quick access, low latency and a presence in that region.”

Recker said that EdgePresence announced its project at last year’s Connectivity Expo. Since then, a tower company has agreed to make space available for PoP placement at relevant antenna sites. He said that EdgePresence has enclosures for the EdgePod PoPs, which he calls micro data centers, in production. “We have four built,” he said. “Two more are being deployed in the next two weeks.”

EdgePresence has completed its proof of concept, Recker said, and it is ready to launch in 20 markets by December. “We have customers that are installed and billing,” he said. “We have the product deployed and working in Jacksonville, Florida. We have customers and potential customers on a national scale.”

The company is deploying with tower operators now so its micro data centers will already be installed at tower sites when mobile operators need them for edge computing associated with 5G wireless communications.

“We are trying to get the product out there, but we have to have revenue on the product now, because it could take two to three years before true edge requirements develop,” Recker said. “We are at Connectivity Expo this year for the same reason we were here last year: We are looking for partners to deploy a greater number of edge micro data centers.  Tower partners are talking with people about the edge, because that is where the mobile operators are. Everyone is rushing to get there, but no one has a plan. We want to get boxes out there for customers who are deployed right now.”


Vapor IO, Crown Castle Bring Amazon Web Services to the Kinetic Edge

Vapor IO and Crown Castle International have jointly developed a service that seamlessly interconnects Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge with Amazon Web Services (AWS) via Crown Castle’s high-speed Cloud Connect. This product enables a new class of mobile and wireless edge applications that span the continuum from edge to core. Starting today, customers at Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge can build edge applications that interconnect with AWS over an operator-grade fiber optic network. Built atop AWS Direct Connect, this collaborative offering unlocks a powerful class of edge applications that split workloads and data between the mobile edge and centralized locations, delivering a seamless end-to-end experience.

“By directly connecting AWS services to applications at the Kinetic Edge, we’re bringing the full power of the cloud to the last mile wireless network, delivering the foundation of a true edge-to-core architecture for developers,” said Cole Crawford, founder and CEO of Vapor IO. “We are aggressively rolling out the Kinetic Edge across a national footprint that will reach over 20 markets by the end of 2020 with a planned deployment of over 80 additional markets. By incorporating AWS Direct Connect into our last mile network, we enable seamless cloud integration for edge applications.”

Customers of Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge can build applications on AWS that directly interact with Vapor IO’s tower-connected data centers at the edge of the cellular wireless network, via Crown Castle’s dedicated high-speed fiber link. This will allow developers to build wireless and mobile edge applications that can reduce network costs, increase bandwidth throughput, and rely on a more consistent network experience than Internet-based connections.

AT&T Lays Out Its Strategy for 5G in Business

Three pillars of 5G bring the business experience into the future

Businesses are leading the 5G revolution, and AT&T is going to give its business customers a full 5G toolbox. We’re the first carrier to publicly lay out what we’re making available to help businesses get the most out of this technology.

America’s 15 million businesses increasingly look to technology to drive outcomes, but their needs range drastically – from connecting a single location, to using networking to connect smart facilities with the latest technologies like artificial intelligence and mixed reality.

This is why our approach to 5G in business isn’t focused on just one solution, but instead brings multiple pillars that reflect our customers’ diversity and needs. Real solutions that we’re bringing to the market today.  We’re building our networks to allow fiber-based connectivity and LTE to work efficiently in parallel with 5G solutions, maximizing the impact of a business’s transformation.

Our standards-based approach comes to life via 3 main service pillars:

  • Mobile 5G
  • Fixed Wireless
  • Edge Computing

“The 5G services we’re rolling out and combining with our advanced network capabilities will help businesses fundamentally change for the better,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO, AT&T Business. “It will open up opportunities to increase revenue, reduce operational costs, and ultimately create amazing new experiences for employees and customers. Whether it’s a local startup, a growing regional company, or national enterprise, these 3 pillars are going to be groundbreaking.”

Mobile 5G

LTE ushered in the age of mobilization for the American worker. Almost every business has employees that use mobile devices. Whether it’s for employee communication, or for point-of-sale devices, mobile technology is more important than ever.

It is critical that any mobile 5G experience for business allows seamless transitions between Wi-Fi, LTE and 5G.

This is why we will deploy a standards-based nationwide mobile 5G network in early 2020. That network will allow for seamless handoffs between Wi-Fi, LTE and 5G, virtually anywhere a business customer may go.

So far, we’ve confirmed plans for two new 5G devices in 2019. In addition to the NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot we launched in 2018, we’re working with Samsung to offer two Samsung smartphones this year.

In the parts of the 12 cities where our standards-based mobile 5G network is live today, we’re working with businesses to create and innovate new experiences. As we expand the network, these businesses are helping us pave the way for the astounding impact 5G will eventually have nationwide.

We also opened a space within in our AT&T Foundry in Plano, Texas specifically dedicated to prototyping solutions for industry verticals. We’ll soon be bringing 5G to this space, allowing us to co-create 5G solutions with our customers as well as explore the future of enterprise innovation.

Fixed Wireless

Whether it’s for primary connectivity or as a secondary connection to enable reliability, businesses look to fixed wireless solutions to help serve a wide range of needs, like setting up new locations faster.

With a fixed wireless solution, a quick service restaurant could get their point-of-sale devices working the same day they open, and keep their devices connected even if primary connectivity is ever interrupted.

AT&T Business now offers AT&T Wireless Broadband, which has data options and flexibility to help meet each business’s specific needs. In the coming weeks, we will offer multiple speed tiers up to 50Mbps. This solution builds on our leading fiber distribution. Nationwide, over 8 million business customer locations sit within 1,000 feet of our fiber, and we connect nearly 2.2 million locations with fiber today.

This current fixed wireless offering helps lay the groundwork for our customers to upgrade and take advantage of AT&T 5G when its available in their area.

Edge Computing

Edge computing is expected to bring a sea-change in how businesses can use cellular data to massively improve their operations. Edge computing allows businesses to route application-specific traffic to where they need it and where it’s most effective – whether that’s in the cloud, the edge of our network or on their premises.

AT&T Business now offers AT&T Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC). This edge computing solution uses our own software-defined network to enable faster access to data processing, and gives flexibility in how businesses manage their cellular traffic through on-premise hardware and software. With MEC they can process low-latency, high-bandwidth applications closer to where they’re used to help create new outcomes and capabilities.

This could mean new machine learning opportunities and more connected devices. Healthcare facilities could process and transfer data-intensive images between devices in the exam room, and transfer that information to the doctor in near-real time. Or manufacturers could process connected sensor data and robotic operations on a scale they couldn’t before.

Plus, the data that runs through AT&T MEC can be routed to their cloud or stay within an enterprises’ private environment to help increase security.

AT&T MEC can be deployed today using LTE or 5G connectivity, for both mobile and fixed wireless applications. Looking at a smart factory as an example, robotic production lines and autonomous forklifts are just two potential uses.

We’ve recently announced deals with AT&T Stadium, and Rush University Medical Center to set up 5G with a focus on MEC.

“Healthcare systems use a lot of networking power, and 5G is going to be a turning point in how mobile networks are used in caring for patients. Using multi-access edge compute, the possibility of robotics and increased telehealth are two aspects of healthcare that we’re planning to explore,” said Dr. Shafiq Rab, senior vice president and chief information officer, Rush University Medical Center and the Rush System for Health. “Ultimately, it’s about creating better outcomes for our patients. 5G combined with MEC will give us the foundation to provide patients better service, and increase the quality of care we provide.”

As we look to the future, edge computing solutions are expected to become available to serve broader metro environments, and will give things like autonomous vehicles, AR/VR and drones new life.

We’ll be sharing more about our edge computing services this year.

We’re the First to Bring Everything Together for Businesses

AT&T is using these three pillars to help businesses move into the future. It all works together to give them the best tools to operate more efficiently, reach new customers, and increase loyalty. We are bringing the business experience into the future with 5G.

“5G is the gateway to an entirely new world for businesses, but it needs multiple technologies coming together to achieve its true potential,” said Jason Leigh, senior research analyst at IDC. “Leveraging the low latency, increased connection density and high bandwidth power of 5G will allow businesses to deploy integrated solutions that accelerate their own digital transformation, and drive productivity improvements, efficiency gains and enhance customer satisfaction faster than ever before.”

“AT&T Business brings solutions to life that allow businesses to innovate and shape the daily lives of consumers,” said Katibeh. “Our new mobile 5G, fixed wireless, and MEC services can help take businesses to the next generation of connectivity.”