Technologies continue to evolve to cater to diversified market needs. With the advent of 5G for instance, the Telco industry digitalization now stands at the threshold of a new transformation phase. Telcos are fast evolving from being purely voice and data providers to new-age enhanced experience providers. And, Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) has been the core enabler for same.
Edge has fostered digital mobilization for other industries as well. Edge computing is not a new approach. However, the inclusion of containerized functions, related distributed cloud radio access network (RAN) architecture and control and user plane function separation is new to 5G. The changes in 5G architecture has the potential to drive variety of latency requirement use cases.
The MEC implementation requirement can be defined in three buckets. One is to support use case diversification, the second is to focus on coverage and the third is the kind of application migration support required.
Variety of use case support: MEC use cases are diversified in nature. For instance, connected vehicle use case requires ultra-low latency and higher reliability, video-on-demand requires high throughput, IoT use cases require a mix of protocol support and customized edge application to be deployed, AR/VR use cases also needs to support real-time video streaming and intensive compute requires better battery performance.
Diversified coverage: These use cases need to be supported in a different environment. Connected vehicle use case requires city-level public coverage, video-on-demand requires locality level public coverage, however other use cases require enterprise level private coverage. All of these use cases require indoor & outdoor coverage as well.
Application Migration support: Consider a scenario where a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) or Process control network migration is required over private networks in an enterprise environment. This kind of migration requires old application migrations as well as new application design & development. This means the solution needs to be designed and engineered to support both edge processing as well as cloud support for central application hosting. When old or new devices need to send data to the edge then the local breakout procedure needs to be changed as well compute support is required for edge application processing.
MEC Implementation Challenges
For the implementation requirements mentioned above, we see following challenges in MEC implementation by Telcos: -
- Heterogeneity in Deployment Environment: Mobile edge cloud includes several types of mobile and stationary nodes such as sensors, actuators, home appliances, smart phones, and personal computers. As edge devices leverage different access technologies including 3G, 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi and private networks, so the aspect of heterogeneity needs to be addressed in order to ensure smooth functioning of MEC operations.
- Lack of Standards to Support Integration with Network: MEC being a recent technology is evolving through the phases of implementation and requires standardization through industry collaboration. Telco’s have the notion that sourcing open software, hardware, and standard-compliant MEC solutions from partners and the failure to implement them will not only introduce formidable implementation challenges, it will also negatively impact their ability to transform the edge network.
- Diversified Access & Compute Requirements Leading to High Costs – Implementing MEC will increase the cost of networks, with the actual costs depending on how it is implemented. The most expensive option will be if MEC is implemented at every tower location, with thousands of sites per MNO (Level 1). Deploying at RAN aggregation points or other points of presence would reduce the number of MEC sites from thousands to hundreds per MNO and the deployment costs would be significantly less. The most cost-effective solution, however, would be deployment at a few tens of EPC sites and large central office facilities (Levels 3/4).
- Service Orchestration software – With MEC there is a separation happening with different roles performed by physical infrastructure provider, virtual infrastructure provider, and digital service provider. Telcos need a service orchestration software that is able to deal with both physical and virtual infrastructures in an integrated manner to control the complete life-cycle of service deployments at each layer.
- Future Proof OSS BSS Infrastructure - The transitioning MEC business model of telecommunication providers requires OSS and BSS infrastructure to be future-proofed. OSS and BSS needs to offer multi-play digital services, personalized pricing, new offers and promotions.
- Vertical Industry expertise - A transformation from a supply-side to demand-side vision of the business – i.e. moving away from “technology-centric” to “customer-centric”. The diversified use case need to work as per MEC Platform requirement. Vertical industry expertise required to customize and modify the use case coming from different verticals
- Zero-touch Network and Service Management – The new use case deployment comes with extreme range of requirements. AI/ML based end-to-end automation solution is thus the need of the hour. The environment may have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of locations to configure, deploy, turn up, monitor, and maintain. Manual processes that might have worked before will now require automation for all these processes with end to end SLA management.
HCL Drives Cross Ecosystem Collaboration at Edge
It is clear that MEC is a must-have for enterprises looking to unleash new business opportunities with 5G. It can unlock the full potential of emerging applications such as connected vehicle, AR/VR, drones and many others with real time intelligence and improved QOS performance. To address the MEC implementation challenges, Telco’s need to work closely with its key ecosystem partners such as hyperscalers, infrastructure providers, silicon providers and enterprise segments as described above.
Telco’s have concerns about partnerships especially with hyperscalers as they worry that by roping in hyperscalers as partners, they’ll eventually be relegated to only providing connectivity, significantly reducing their ability to monetize. However, MEC partnership opportunity with System Integrators like HCL can provide breakthrough innovation to Telcos.
HCL can help Telcos in mitigating some of the MEC challenges in following ways: -
Some of our key 5G MEC Solution offerings include the following: -
- MEC Platform Strategy: - HCL provides end to digital platform development capabilities which includes development of MEC platform. This includes end to end offering from design to deployment of MEC functions. We also have an enhanced partner ecosystem which includes one of the leading semi chip players to provide their Smart Edge solution.
- Use Case Applications: - HCL can help Telcos in new use case development for network performance and QoE improvements. We also provide customization of consumer oriented and third party use cases to adapt to MEC platform requirements. HCL can help in providing partner based App marketplace.
- Post Deployment Managed Services: - HCL can help Telco’s in NOC set up and end-to-end site management, maintenance and assurance of marketplace platform which includes 24*7 L1, L2, L3 and L4 support. HCL brings in AI/ML based service assurance solution and takes ownership of upgrades, change and end-to-end SLA management
- Orchestration and Automation: - HCL can build federated orchestrators because of its expertise in ONAP and OSM Orchestrators. Our investment in an in-house solution accelerator BluGenie also helps us accelerate life cycle management.
- Pre Deployment Services: - HCL can manage and run pre deployment services and some of them includes pre-fabricated stack integration and validation, design, deployment and capacity modeling, private, public and hybrid cloud integration and Telco workloads and RAN Integrations
Vertical Industry expertise: - HCL has been working with 12+ global industry verticals - Energy utilities, Healthcare, Automotive, Manufacturing, Mining and others for more than 40 years and have more than 11+ enterprise use cases which are ready and are deployed successfully. These use cases have helped our customers in accelerating time to market and increase cost saving.
Investment in next gen state of art products: - HCL as part of its product strategy have been investing in next gen products to enhance Telcos journey. Some of our products in 5G MEC space are: -
Edge analytics solution that can help in optimizing data volume from edge to cloud. The solution has the intelligence to decide as per use case requirement.
HCL has invested in 5G network acceleration solution in partnership with a leading semi chip vendor.
HCL has invested in cloud ready, carrier grade intelligent remote device management solution that can manage millions of diverse devices on a single platform.
Telcos are yet to develop clear strategies on how to leverage partnerships with MEC players which can help them establish a stronger proposition in the edge market, move up the value chain and play a role beyond hosting infrastructure and delivering connectivity. However, partnering with HCL for its edge compute solution which includes end to end system integration capabilities from concept to application, state of art products for acceleration, an enhanced partner ecosystem from 5G MEC Lab, 12+ vertical industry expertise and ready to use 11+ use cases, can help Telcos drive cross ecosystem collaboration at edge and evolve from Digital Service Providers to Experience Service Providers.