Mobile Edge Computing: a building block for 5G

Wednesday 15 July 2015 | 08:10 CET | Background

As cloud computing has become commonplace, mobile edge computing is becoming the new trend in the mobile industry. The major producers of network equipment are working to combine radio networks with nodes for data analysis. Expected to be one of the building blocks of 5G, the new network configuration is already in full development. 

A number of companies started early this year an Industry Specification Group (ISG) at the European standards institute ETSI. Huawei, IBM, Intel, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone have since been joined by several other players on the project.  

Radio network renewal

The upgrade starts in the radio network. Traditionally, telecom equipment is made of separate systems, with hardware designed for a specific task. Radio networks use relatively specialized chipsets, and these systems need to be increasingly powerful, cheaper, more flexible and more scalable.

Legacy systems in core networks are also increasingly being replaced by more generic hardware. At the network edge, functions are being moved to 'smart' nodes with substantial processor capacity and extensive storage capabilities. Three things come together then at the network edge: ultra-low latency, high bandwidth and real-time access to data from the radio network.

These nodes are deployed for already common services or support the quick launch of new commercial services. Part of the network functions in the core can move to the edge, as can consumer services. VoLTE and video caching are some examples of this.
Mobile Edge Computing can ensure better quality for these services. This supports the drive to already start building out Mobile Edge Computing and make this a cornerstone of 5G.

5G roadmap

5G is still several years away, but over the next year and a half the IMT-2020 roadmap will be set. The elements of this still need to be defined and even many of the main starting points are still in flux. This despite many industry watchers saying 5G services should be available commercially within five years.

Something everyone agrees on is that the ‘Internet of Things’ will be a key driver of 5G. The current internet is made for people, sending information around the World Wide Web. The Internet of Things will add a new layer, of millions or even billions of machines independently communicating with each other or in networks.

Configurable networks

A new way of designing networks is needed in order to handle the growing number of connected devices. Existing macro networks will continue to exist, enhanced by a large number of small cells. Services will be delivered not only over the standard frequency licenses but also with license-free spectrum, especially in high frequency ranges, which can be deployed flexibly as needed.

Network deployment becomes more flexible as part of the core network functions runs on nodes. Capacity can be boosted by activating small cells in areas where needed.

Low latency

One of the clear demands of 5G is low latency. Many Internet of Things applications are run by control systems that react in near real-time to sensors and other signals in their environment. Examples include self-driving cars or flying drones.

The reduced latency required for such services is only possible by optimizing every element in the chain - for example, different parameters for the radio interface. This can also be achieved by putting part of the system's intelligence near the network edge.

The network edge also has the task of turning the large flows of data into manageable results. A Big Data analysis may require 'everything' to be collected and sorted, but there are other situations where data needs to be sifted at the gateway. The expected growth in the number of sensors is only manageable if data sent by devices is limited, i.e. first analyzed and only the required results passed on.

Vendor cooperation

Huawei restructured the development of its IT product line earlier this year. Huawei has three Business Groups: Enterprise, Carrier and Devices, as well as the Product Line IT.

The Carrier group makes network equipment, a sector where it no longer makes sense to develop everything separately. Hardware still has specific demands, but is also getting increasingly closer to 'normal' chipsets. The IT Product Line, which includes servers and storage, was closer to Enterprise in the past, but is now becoming more aligned with the Carrier group's development.

Huawei is developing its own telecom cloud. The datacenter runs on its own OS, written on OpenStack. This OS forms the basis of applications for operators or third parties, which can be integrated using APIs. According to Huawei, this helps (mobile) operators act more quickly and become more ‘agile’.

Nokia AirFrame

Nokia has launched AirFrame, its own line of datacenter products for the 'Programmable World'. This includes integrated racks and cabinets with (Intel) servers, storage and switching, running an OS fine-tuned by Nokia for telecom applications, the ‘telco cloud’. Nokia aims to bring the datacenters closer to the network edge and open this up for new applications such as the 'Internet of People' (IP video) as well as the Internet of Things.

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