Will 2022 Be the Year that Edge Computing Comes of Age?
March 21, 2022

Sergio Bea

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Communications Service Providers (CSPs) have reached a clear inflection point in their industry. Behind them are the days of providing commoditized network services, and ahead lies a future where they become strategic partners to their customers and help deploy a new generation of ground-breaking applications and services.

One of the main drivers for this change is technology evolution. 5G possibly gets most of the press in this regard, but in many ways, edge computing is no less important and will certainly be fundamental to helping CSPs create new revenue streams and business models in the future.

Multi-access edge computing (MEC) is where compute processing is pushed out from centralized databases to the network edge, lowering latency and opening the door to a whole raft of new use cases (see below). Working with Heavy Reading, we recently surveyed 82 CSPs that have either deployed MEC solutions, or which plan to do so soon. Here are some of the key findings.

Edge is Coming Soon

Perhaps the most encouraging finding is that MEC solutions are not a hype technology, or even something for long-term product roadmaps — CSPs are actively deploying it today. A plurality of respondents (39%) have in fact already deployed MEC solutions, around a third plan to do so in the next year (32%) and the remainder in the next two years (29%). That’s big news. It means that very soon enterprises will be able to leverage a new range of applications to drive business value.

What will these applications look like?

For the most part, they will be low latency, with CSPs seeing a range of opportunities across all industries including healthcare (remote diagnostics, remote surgery, and emergency response), entertainment (immersive entertainment and online gaming), and manufacturing (motion control, VR/AR apps, and remote control) among others. Outside of low latency applications, CSPs are eyeing up opportunities in private 5G, vRAN/open RAN, distributed 5G core functions, and others.

Quality Means Success

The opportunity for CSPs is clear, but how will they ensure that they deliver against customer expectations and provide services that stand out from others. Given that the CSPs we spoke to believe that the benefits of edge start with the customer experience (a plurality of 32% say that maintaining/improving QoE to subscribers with edge processing is the key benefit of the MEC) performance assurance could not be more important. Indeed, this is common sense — if customers want to use the edge for low-latency applications, then edge networks need to be able to deliver the latency required, every time.

Assuring edge performance is not without its challenges. For CSPs, the key challenges include 4G/5G network interoperability, security at the edge, and virtual service layers. It is interesting to see that CSPs that have already deployed MEC solutions are more likely than those in the planning stages to select these barriers, highlighting that the actuality of assuring edge performance can be more challenging than the theory.

Differentiating Through GTM

One crucial element factoring into the ability of CSPs to ensure the highest levels of performance for their edge propositions will be the go-to-market approach they choose to adopt. CSPs can either go it alone, work with an integrator or system vendor, or work with a mix of all three.

The latter approach arguably makes the most sense as it allows CSPs to draw on third-party expertise and insights and leverage best-in-class technologies. This approach will likely be much faster than building in-house and it is encouraging that most CSPs (59%) say this is the route they plan to take. A cause for concern, however, is that a sizeable 22% say they will go it alone.

In my view, these organizations risk falling behind when it comes to getting MEC propositions to market in a timely manner and in a state to meet the high expectations customers will have of the overall experience.

Buckle Up for the Age of the Edge

Recent research makes it clear that the age of edge computing is nearing. This will be transformational for CSPs, providing a foundation for new applications and services that they can co-create with customers. It is great news for end-users too, who will be able to leverage edge computing applications to get ahead of their competitors.

At the heart of this dynamic are QoE and performance assurance. CSPs that nail the customer experience with high-quality edge networks will make the most of the opportunities on offer. The rest may struggle to keep up.

Sergio Bea is VP Global Enterprise and Channels at Accedian
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