Are telcos ready for edge computing, and how to balance tech with business (Part 2)

Editor’s note: Part 1 of this piece, based on a discussion at the Mobile Edge Forum, is available here.

5G and MEC go ‘hand-in-hand’ but where are they going?

In a recent panel discussion at the Mobile Edge Forum—available on demand here—industry experts agreed there are opportunities for both public and private mobile edge computing implementations, augmented by 5G, to deliver on consumer and enterprise use cases, and create new service revenues for operators and others in the value chain. But this opportunity is not without challenges, including the move to a Standalone 5G network and 5G as part of a larger “multi-access” edge continuum. Despite the issues that need to be sorted, the panel agreed that aligning technology investments with use cases and clear business outcomes is key to the development of a mobile edge computing ecosystem.

In a recent panel discussion at the Mobile Edge Forum—available on demand here—industry experts agreed there are opportunities for both public and private mobile edge computing implementations, augmented by 5G, to deliver on consumer and enterprise use cases, and create new service revenues for operators and others in the value chain. But this opportunity is not without challenges, including the move to a Standalone 5G network and 5G as part of a larger “multi-access” edge continuum. Despite the issues that need to be sorted, the panel agreed that aligning technology investments with use cases and clear business outcomes is key to the development of a mobile edge computing ecosystem.

“For me, MEC is…about the use case,” Nitu Kaushal, managing director of intelligent edge for Europe at Accenture said. She noted apparent use cases related to V2X and other automotive facing services. “I see MEC playing really strong there… The use case is really, really relevant. The technology is there, but I think the integration of it is still at the early stages.”

Verizon’s Babatunde Akindele, director of technology strategy, further examined the distinction between the technology and the business pieces of MEC. “Technology, in and of itself, is not a solution…This has to be a digital transformation story and we need to be able to help the enterprise understand how you take this journey, what you do first, and how you start to derive ROI versus just a use case approach that may not help you justify deployment of infrastructure that may be expensive.”

That means, he said, that large enterprise customers have to consider not just one use case but multiple aligned use cases when mapping out ROI from mobile edge computing investments. “We’re not just talking about one use case. So if I’m an enterprise and I’m going to spend millions on deploying an infrastructure, I’m not looking for one use case. I need to see a critical mass around the couple of processes that I can then transform to start to derive these values.”

In terms of use case development, NTT Data’s Sharad Sharma, vice president and head of network and B2B business, cautioned that “the industry is dying with” proofs of concept, and it’s time for operators to include not just customers’ business cases, but also the operators own ROI. “The caution comes out in the operators’ conversations is, ‘If I deploy this MEC infrastructure…and create that availability of MEC, what does it bring?’ How much business does it bring to the operator? So that’s very important…It’s not just about the infrastructure..”

This echoes Akindele’s comment on technology not being a solution. As Sharma put it, “You have to transform, you have to address your problems, or you have to identify the opportunity enabled by MEC or 5G or whatever new infrastructure technology you’re talking about.”

Fragmentation, data sovereignty, and transitioning from communications service provider to digital service provider

More problems with scaling out MEC and delivering positive returns to sellers as identified by the panel. “In Europe, it’s still very fragmented,” Kaushal said. “We have different operators, we have different policies…around security, reliability and also with latency. And we see this also as not just a latency topic but just end-to-end data management for our customers. So when you start to think about that, then providing something that’s a seamless solution feels really hard.”

A lack of industrial-grade devices—”They’re not there today,” Akindele said. “All these devices need to have the ability to utilize this. And then, in terms of technology itself, Release 16 of 3GPP, ultra reliable low latency, time-sensitive networking. These are all capabilities that need to be available…The device ecosystem and the network vendor ecosystem needs to also be able to deploy some things.”

Back to that whole how do operators make money off of mobile edge computing points. Akindele cited Verizon’s early investment. “You build it, they will come…You provide the infrastructure because until people can experiment, until they can start using it, they don’t really know exactly how they will derive value. We can help them do that. And then it’s the same thing for 5G…Now what needs to happen is for each and every one of us, MNOs and stakeholders, to create the ecosystem that is required to help drive broader use cases.”

We did it first. You build it, they will come. I mean, do you go to the moon and do everything out there? You provide the infrastructure because until people can experiment, until they can start using it, they don’t really know exactly how they will derive value. We can help them do that. And then it’s the same thing for 5G.

So on the one hand, the larger infrastructure has been put in place. Now what then needs to happen is for each and every one of us, MMOs and stakeholders, to create the ecosystem that is required to help drive broader use cases.