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Intelligent Edge: making 5G services a reality for the enterprise
Across the world, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) have trialed or started 5G services with their mobile subscribers and are getting ready to roll out 5G services to their enterprise customers. While mobile subscribers will be the first to benefit from this new generation mobile connectivity, it is the latter, Enterprises, who will experience the true potential of 5G – and this is where CSPs have a big opportunity to provide value-added services.
As noted by my HPE colleague Jeff Edlund, CSPs are already one step closer in this direction, as they already have a distributed network footprint that will become more intelligent, meaning it will host compute, storage, and software, effectively taking applications and network resources native to “the core” and pushing them out to the edge of the network, the closest possible to their enterprise clients’ operations. According to Gartner, 75% of enterprise data will be generated in edge environments by the year 2025.
How will Telcos leverage their existing (and growing) network footprint to create and deliver 5G services that help enterprise customers improve business outcomes?
The key: 5G revolution at the edge
For 5G, the telecommunications industry is looking beyond the traditional carrier business models used for previous ‘G’ generations. In this latest generation, the opportunity is to become much more than a connectivity provider. Telcos are investing in their digital transformation to prepare for a 5G-enabled future:
- Leveraging the rapid evolution of IT technologies and broader eco-system to establish their 5G network as a fully virtualized Network Cloud
- Vastly expanding their services footprint by dis-aggregating and de-centralizing their network infrastructure and capabilities, pushing service enabling infrastructure them further out to the Edge.
These investments are necessary for CSPs to deliver on the “5G promises” in a cost-effective and efficient manner. New services will be enabled through ultra-reliable low latency, exponential device density and massive bandwidth capacity. A particularly critical element is the infrastructure buildout at the Edge that will enable CSPs to offer new kinds of value-added services:
- Application hosting and workload processing off-premises, with better or same quality of service
- End-to-end connectivity infrastructure services: LAN and WAN bundle
- Digital content and data delivery, enabling immersive experiences for customers and employees
These and many other kinds of IT services can provide new revenue streams for carriers. Consider a company with dozens of distribution centers located in remote areas across the country. It’s unlikely to have the staff and financial resources to develop and maintain its own edge infrastructure at these locations.
But a CSP could provide edge infrastructure for the distribution centers, as well as connect vehicles and personnel working off-site. Some CSPs already provide coverage in these areas, and have towers, base stations, and ground structures that can support edge hardware.
The applications running on this edge infrastructure will depend on the priorities of this company. They could encompass anything from real-time optimization of the supply chain, to innovative digital services and tools that have yet to be dreamed up but take advantage of 5G’s lower latency, superior density, and massive throughput.
As noted by Christina Cheng, AVP of Enterprise Mobility Solutions for AT&T, providing such resources at the Edge improves the speed of data processing as well as the speed of data transfer. For some of AT&T’s pilot customers, latency dropped to under 6 milliseconds:
As we shall shortly see, AT&T has made these edge services available to its enterprise customers even before 5G is widely available.
Overcoming 5G’s chicken and egg problem with Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) and Wi-Fi 6
CSPs currently face a chicken-and-egg problem with 5G. Customers can't use services that aren’t yet available. But carriers are reluctant to build out 5G services too quickly, until they can be certain demand and ROI will be sufficient.
The 3GPP standards body of 5G and previous mobile technology generations anticipated this market dynamic. As a result, carriers and their enterprise customers can deploy several intermediate and complementary technologies now, even before 5G is widely available.
The first is Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), a software architecture that provides IT and cloud-computing resources at the edge of existing 4G LTE networks. MEC software and applications can be installed on generic telco enabled servers or servers optimized for more challenging physical environments on the Telco edge, such as HPE Edgeline Converged Edge systems powered by Intel Xeon.
The MEC architecture not only improves latency by keeping compute resources and data at the Edge, but also provides a platform for launching new applications and services. MEC applications and services can be migrated to 5G networks in the future via software upgrades.
A second technology that will help smooth the transition to 5G is Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax). This high-speed wireless protocol is designed to serve as a connectivity bridge between enterprise networks located indoors, with seamless handoffs to 5G radio networks located outside. Additional Wi-Fi 6 features include:
- Basic compatibility with devices that use older Wi-Fi standards and other communications protocols like BLE, Zigbee, etc.
- Performance on-par with 5G in terms of device density, bandwidth and lower latency
Wi-Fi 6 can also support services that mimic 5G features. For instance, HPE Aruba access points running the latest version of ArubaOS include a new application assurance solution called Air Slice that replicates network slicing and other QoS features of 5G.
The significance of these technologies is they allow carriers and their business customers to work with the networks they have now, and start developing applications, infrastructure, and business models that will be ready for 5G in the coming years. It’s an opportunity for CSPs to work on use cases with their enterprise clients, and for businesses to get a head-start on leveraging applications and data at the Edge.
In the United States, AT&T is about to launch MEC services for businesses using existing LTE infrastructure as well as emerging 5G networks. MEC services are hosted on HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems, and can work in concert with Wi-Fi 6 to deliver low-latency experiences with QoS and high-speed handoffs. According to AT&T VP of Enterprise Mobility Robert Boyanovsky, MEC services let enterprise customers test use cases at the edge, whether it’s a factory floor or hospital ward:
In conclusion, Service providers and Enterprises don’t have to wait for full 5G implementation. Early investments in MEC services and Wi-Fi 6 will integrate with 5G networks as they are deployed. Keep in mind that HPE can work with carriers to reduce the risk and complexity in transitioning to high-value 5G services at the Edge, and create innovative experiences for their customers.
Learn more about the role of Edge compute and Wi-Fi 6 in the delivery of 5G for Manufacturing by analyst firm Moor Insights & Strategy.
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Hybrid IT Group
Business leader for HPE’s Telco Segment and Network Function Virtualization Solutions in HPE’s Hybrid IT Business group. Responsible for go-to market activities, product development and strategic partnerships enabling HPE’s infrastructure business in the telecommunication segment.