While Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) is not dependent on 5G, and 5G is not dependent on MEC, there are clear synergies between the 5G architecture enabling decentralized deployment and MEC enabling new services and experiences. MEC will be a key enabler of future growth for telecoms operators as they roll out 5G services in the next few years.
Although the discussion on edge computing is clouded by hype and at times misinformation, we are starting to see real examples of edge computing being used across industries. Mobile operators globally are building MEC sites – both in their own facilities and on customer premises – launching new services to enterprise customers. Service providers (SPs) like AT&T, SK Telecom (SKT), SingTel, KDDI, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom are some of the early providers of edge solutions.
Dell Technologies is working with SK Telecom to help the operator build and deploy its own MEC platform in 2020, accelerating the industry leader’s 5G MEC strategy.
SK Telecom: a 5G and MEC pioneer
SK Telecom is the largest mobile operator in Korea and an industry leader in many respects: it has both a strong core offering with over 41% market share (as of July 2019) and significant revenues outside telecoms, primarily from security and commerce. (USD $7.9Bn revenues in FY 2018). It was the first to launch 5G in April 2019 and managed to accumulate over 1 Million 5G subscribers 8 months later, 10 times the total number of 5G subscribers in the U.S. across all operators in the same period. They have achieved the widest 5G coverage in South Korea rolling out its 5G network to data traffic-concentrated areas, including the main areas of 85 cities nationwide. Their ambition is to continue the growth of 5G services in the B2B and B2B2X sectors, offering low latency solutions to enterprises (e.g. security), industry (e.g. smart factory) and developers (e.g. cloud gaming).
However, 5G alone is not enough. MEC is a critical enabler for delivering low latency services at guaranteed levels, data-centric services (such as IoT), differentiated customer experiences, improved security and reduced TCO to the end-customer. In traditional networks, round-trip latency to the cloud generally averages between 30 to over 100 milliseconds. With MEC, this could potentially drop to under 10 milliseconds.
SKT is offering two types of MEC: distributed MEC leveraging its own facilities and on-premises MEC, where edge compute infrastructure and services are deployed for a customer on their selected sites. The target applications across these MEC domains include:
- Distributed MEC:
- Cloud VR
- Virtual mobile interface
- Traffic management
- Cloud gaming
- On-site MEC:
- Smart factory (machine vision)
- Smart hospital
- Smart robot
With MEC, collaboration is key
SKT has an open approach to developing its MEC offering, emphasising the need to work closely with different partners in the ecosystem:
- Infrastructure vendors, including Dell Technologies and Intel
- Software vendors
- Public cloud providers
- Global SPs
SKT has already announced its partnership with AWS for Wavelength, its 5G MEC offering that will launch in 2020. The mobile operator views cooperation with public cloud providers as a critical component to seed the market and allow developers to add workloads to MEC or move them from the public cloud.
A recent announcement on SKT’s initiative with the Bridge Alliance demonstrates the need to collaborate within the telecoms industry. The Global MEC Task Force includes other Bridge Alliance members (e.g. Singtel, Globe, Taiwan Mobile and PCCW Global) and seeks to accelerate progress of 5G and MEC across SPs globally. The Bridge Alliance alone encompasses 34 operators serving more than 800 million customers across the Asia Pacific region.
Dell Technologies provides the foundation for the MEC architecture
In addition to working with cloud providers, SKT has built its own MEC architecture to provide a platform with diverse environments for MEC application workloads to run on bare metal, virtual machines and containers. Using the platform, developers can manage and orchestrate workloads on SKT’s MEC infrastructure.
Underpinning this is Dell Technologies’ infrastructure, offering both best-in-class network switches to manage the real-time traffic flows to and from the MEC nodes and edge servers, hosting the MEC workloads. The Dell Technologies infrastructure also offers the management framework to integrate into SKT’s existing Operational Support Systems (OSS) environment, easing the deployment and day-to-day operations of this network at scale.
If you would like to learn more about the motivation and implementation of SK Telecom’s MEC Strategy, STL Partners just published a new case study entitled, “SK Telecom: The Road to the World’s First 5G MEC Platform” that is worth reading. As other telecoms operators start to build MEC platforms, selecting the right partners will be essential. Another STL Partners article, ‘What’s in an edge computing platform?’, provides insights on the challenge of creating comprehensive platforms to meet new requirements that edge computing brings.
MEC will be a key enabler of future growth for telecoms operators as they roll out 5G services. Understanding the challenges and how leaders like SK Telecom are developing and rolling out next generation networks will help operators as they look to implement MEC and 5G to fuel their own growth strategies.