ALL ORIGINAL DESIGNS

What is MEC?

The Radio Access Network is only one of multiple pieces that will enable 5G. Virtualization is another, as is multi-access edge computing: MEC.

MEC is entwined with 5G, but it’s not exclusive to 5G. MEC can be implemented in LTE networks as well, and industry players have been exploring how MEC can be used in a number of contexts to support the internet of things and enterprise applications, and how their networks need to evolve to support MEC.

Multi-access edge computing concepts have picked up a variety of names as they have begun to emerge: edge cloud; fog computing; mobile edge computing. So what is MEC? MEC essentially comes down to this: placing compute and storage resources closer to the consumer or enterprise end user. As ETSI describes it, MEC is “an evolution of cloud computing [that]brings application hosting from centralized data centers down to the network edge, closer to consumers and the data generated by applications.” MEC aims to improve content delivery and application user experience by cutting out the often-long and imperfect network path between the end user’s device and the location where the data they are accessing is hosted, in order to lower latency, increase reliability and improve overall network efficiency.

MEC comes into play in a number of industry efforts, from ETSI’s MEC Industry Standards Group; to the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center, or CORD, initiative, which is supported by operators including AT&T, Verizon, China Unicom, NTT Communications and SK Telecom; and the O-RAN Alliance, formed earlier this year by the union of the xRAN and C-RAN alliances, which focuses on the standardization and architectural definitions for an open-source, cloud-native Radio Access Network utilizing edge computing.

“There’s a lot of work going on in edge,” said Iain Gillott, president of analyst firm iGR. “It doesn’t get the attention that 5G does, because 5G kind of sucks all the oxygen out of the room. But people have been working diligently on it.”

MEC is seen, on one hand, as a way for mobile network operators to improve the operations of their own networks in terms of latency, reliability and efficiency.

But according to Kishen Mangat, VP/GM of service provider mobility at Cisco, the more significant driver for edge computing, particularly when it comes to 5G, is the opportunity for network operators to create a more seamless service creation environment.

“The way that mobile networks are built today is very much a monolithic, centralized, hub-and-spoke, hardware-based network which is quite inflexible, especially as you look at segmenting or slicing the network,” Mangat said. “Although a lot of the talk about 5G has been about a new radio for 5G, we actually think it’s more about the architecture, and driving that transition from hardware to software, toward programmability — and really, a big shift in the architecture in terms of centralized to more distributed.”

MEC gives network operators the chance to become cloud providers, taking a page from the success of companies like AWS and Google and leveraging their networks in a new way. Distributed sites, from central offices to C-RAN aggregation points to cell towers themselves, become potential locations for compute, storage and analytics resources as part of a virtualized, automated, flexible service environment that lets third parties take advantage of geographic closeness to the user — and, when 5G enters the picture, to a wireless network environment with unprecedented speed, capacity and ultra-low latency on which to create.

By becoming edge cloud providers, network operators are hoping to leverage their wireless and wired infrastructure to shift their relationships with application developers and the users who consume those services, and ideally, become more like the agile, cloud-providing tech companies that have driven so much innovation and revenue that operators have struggled to monetize.

In particular, MEC is seen as key to massive IoT deployments and as crucial for analyzing large amounts of data coming from increasingly connected things.

Operators are testing MEC in a variety of ways. Read about eight edge computing trials and projects here, and four market predictions for edge computing here. 

For more information on multi-access edge computing? Download the free editorial special report from RCR Wireless News, and check out our MEC webinar. 

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What the future holds for SMS texting

By Larry Alton, freelance writer on MARCH 27, 2018Fundamentals

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How many text messages have you sent so far today? SMS texting has been around for 25 years, and it remains an important foundational service for most TSPs. We’ve grown to accept it as an integrated part of our daily communications — but where does it go from here?

Key challenges

For SMS to continue to be relevant, it needs to overcome these challenges, at a minimum:

OTT apps. Critics of SMS texting are quick to point out the rise of over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps like WhatsApp. These apps rely on transmission through the internet (with a Wi-Fi connection or 4G connection, for example), and can be encrypted to keep user data better protected. However, these apps also come with downsides—because they rely on an internet connection, they may not be available all the time, and connection speeds may be unreliable. Because these accounts can be created and swapped relatively easily, user identity and authenticity become more ambiguous; in other words, you can’t verify someone’s identity using an OTT platform with the same reliability as SMS-based verification.
SMS texting is more than two decades old, and with a general population hungry for constant technological innovation, it’s starting to seem dated. Granted, traditional phone calls haven’t changed much in the past few decades (despite being more mobile), yet they remain a primary mode of communication.
Little room for innovation. There isn’t much room for innovation or growth in the SMS space. The infrastructure has already been built, and the basic mode of text-based communication can’t get much more advanced. Accordingly, if SMS is going to change significantly, it’s probably going to be replaced by an entirely new method of communication (and one that hasn’t yet been invented).

Key advantages

However, SMS texting also has some advantages that grant it significant staying power:

Sheer marketing potential. SMS texting remains one of the most versatile marketing channels for modern businesses. Nearly every phone is equipped with basic SMS features, and because most customers have a phone on them at all times, they’ll be instantly notified when receiving a new message. Because it’s useful for recruiting new customers, advertising deals to existing ones, and streamlining things like appointment scheduling, it’s likely to remain in use for the indefinite future.
Open rate. Text messages also have a much higher open rate, on average, than email—another simple form of communication that remains unchanged after decades of use—up to 90 percent in some cases. This makes it an extremely reliable form of peer-to-peer communication, as well as a high-return outlet for marketing and advertising. It’s also a secondary indication of its high user adoption; if consumers weren’t relying on text messages regularly, the open rate wouldn’t be nearly this high.
Low cost. It’s been estimated that it costs carriers about 1/1000th of one cent to send an SMS message, but the true cost may be even lower than that. Because SMS-related data is piggybacked on existing relays, and the infrastructure is already in place, it costs companies (and consumers) practically nothing to send texts back and forth. This low cost means there’s practically no downside to continuing to offer SMS as-is, even if it faces competition from new modes of communication.
Consumer identity and authentication. SMS is also a highly reliable way to verify a user’s identity; each consumer is, for the most part, issued one phone number, and that phone number can’t be copied or assigned to another user. Accordingly, if your app needs a way to verify someone’s identity, or ensure a second account hasn’t been fraudulently created, SMS is ideal. SMS texting is also one of several channels ideal for two-factor authentication, a security standard that’s growing more important in today’s world of vigilance in cybersecurity.

The future

SMS texting has little room for evolution, but it doesn’t really need it. Aside for some subtle optimizations to how messages are sent and received, the medium is likely to continue as is for the next several years. Despite little technological innovation, it remains a powerhouse — both for consumers and businesses — and will remain a backbone in the telecom space for years (if not decades) to come.

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ABOUT AUTHOR[Larry Alton]
LARRY ALTON, FREELANCE WRITER

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Larry is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources including Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com, and Business.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, Larry is also active in his community and spend weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. He is a graduate of Iowa State University.

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November 28, 2018  0

5G spectrum roundup: Asia-Pacific

Centralized basebands connected via fronthaul to remote radios supports network densification

Small cells are a fundamental driver of the ongoing network densification that is enhancing LTE networks and building a foundation for 5G. As demand for mobile data and the number of devices continues to grow, small cells will be essential in delivering the capacity and coverage consumers and businesses demand. And with new small cell deployment models gaining traction, let’s examine the role fronthaul will play in ultra-dense 5G networks.

Backhaul is a widely known term that describes the link between a baseband and the core network. Fronthaul, on the other hand, connects the baseband to a remote radio unit. As it relates to small cells, operators are increasingly centralizing baseband resources and using fronthaul to connect a cluster of radios. This can simplify deployment by decreasing equipment footprint and improve network efficiency by allowing for centralized management of resources.

What does this look like in the real world? Orange Poland is continuing with its 5G strategy most recently by working with network infrastructure vendor Nokia to test out a cloud-based radio access network. The cloud RAN trial, which ran from March to May, saw radio sites fed by a virtualized baseband deployed in a data center 70 kilometers away; Ethernet fronthaul served as the transport mechanism.

This project represents a further evolution of centralizing basebands; once equipment is colocated, then it can be virtualized. Instead of a proprietary box, baseband functions run as virtualized network functions on commercial-off-the-shelf server hardware.

One key part of transport for 5G is significant increases in capacity. With promised user data rates in excess of 1 Gbps, there’s the need for bigger pipes.

Analyst Jason Marcheck of Layne Bridge and Associates noted that discussion of the radio access and core networks sometimes overshadows discussion of the transport network. “As operators prepare to deploy 5G in a meaningful way, they are finding the need to fundamentally rethink their mobile 5G transport strategies. As opposed to previous generations of mobile transport development 5G will add several new vectors of complexity that were not front and center issues as mobile networks developed from 2G to 3G to 4G/LTE.  It would be easy enough to point to IoT as a leading driver in the increase in complexity, but the true reason(s) are both more fundamental and complex.  The heart of the issue is that since 5G is more than a new mobile network generation, the diversity of applications a true 5G network must support go well beyond mobile…As more applications begin to leverage a 5G network, as opposed to just a fixed network, or just a mobile network, or just an enterprise network, the number of applications that will compete for resources will increase dramatically.”

 

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