In the network transformation we are going through and as 5G deployment continues to expand, edge computing is definitely a must have – putting processing and storage close to where it’s needed, rather than having to send everything back to the cloud. As data volumes generated by end devices grow, and there is more demand for real-time processing, edge computing is becoming more and more attractive.
More specifically, multi-access edge computing (MEC) is creating new opportunities for mobile operators, who can open up certain aspects of their radio network to authorized third parties in a controlled manner. This allows applications to access local content, and real-time contextual information from the local network. The use cases for this technology are many; they include the internet of things (IoT), augmented reality, and content caching and distribution – a survey from ResearchAndMarkets predicts that MEC as a service market will reach $73M by 2024, driven by enterprise hosted deployments.
MEC can deliver very low latency, enhanced security, and reduced data corruption. It can help cut operating costs and mobile network congestion, due to reduced backhaul requirements and data duplication.
Since MEC involves multiple providers (both the traditional mobile network operators and new edge computing service provider entrants, typically from the cloud domain, such as the hyperscalers), application developers and other participants, MEC requires a standard, open environment – which will make it efficient to integrate and deploy applications from multiple vendors across multiple and diverse MEC hosting environments. To achieve this standardization, we need to bring together the traditional IT and telecoms worlds, as well as to create specifications that developers find attractive to adopt.
Standards help MEC developers
Within ETSI, we have created an industry specification group (ISG) to create industry standards for MEC, to provide tools to enable effective usage of these standards, and to promote their uptake within the developer community. Although we already produced some key specifications, the work is ongoing and the ISG keeps growing – recently welcoming its 100th member.
To facilitate the development of new and innovative applications for MEC, ETSI MEC provides a range of support for developers, as part of an outreach programme run by its MEC DECODE (Deployment and ECOsystem DEvelopment) working group. Within the group it was recognized that publishing a great set of specifications is not enough on its own – to increase the uptake of MEC and remove any barriers to its adoption, we need to tell end users about the specifications, and help them use them.
Formed in 2018, DECODE has three key objectives:
- Increase application developer engagement
- Enable operator adoption and interoperability
- Showcase and promote MEC
The success of a MEC platform depends on the applications that are offered on it. For mobile network operators, who wouldn’t necessarily normally create these apps, this means they need the assistance of third-party developers.
To help these developers create new and innovative services and application the ISG has created a set of service APIs. These have been made available for free download on ETSI’s own Forge repository, which is also mirrored on GitHub. For example, there is an API that enables information relating to the radio access network (RAN) to be discoverable, another API provides WLAN (i.e. Wi-Fi) information and there is also the location API that can provide insights into user location. It should be noted that any such information is only exposed to authenticated and authorized end users.
Crucially, these APIs are provided as OpenAPI Specification (OAS) compliant, machine-readable description files, so developers don’t have to read lengthy specification documents to use the APIs. The ETSI Forge repository hosts third party tools that provide automated OpenAPI compliance checking, interactive documentation of the APIs and auto-generation of client and server stub. Here stub generation is supported in multiple languages, including Node.js, Java and Go.
ETSI MEC is also creating a publicly-accessible ‘sandbox’, which will be available later this year. This is an online edge emulation environment, hosted by ETSI, which will help application developers learn and experiment with the MEC service APIs. Developers can interact and engage with this emulator to see what kind of results they could get through the APIs in configurable emulated city and indoor network environments.
To reassure developers that the OpenAPI descriptions are usable in practice, we have ensured that the descriptions clearly state their licensing terms, and that redistribution and use is widely permitted.
Interoperability and testing
It’s all very well building applications, but what about test?
ETSI MEC has created a general test framework for MEC APIs, and has defined API conformance requirements, which are provided as open source test suites. The test suites are already freely available for download, once again through the ETSI Forge site in both TTCN-3 and the Robot Framework.
In fact, ETSI MEC has gone through almost the entire lifecycle: from the ISG defining the specifications, to defining the APIs, to providing descriptions of the APIs and an emulator. It offers as well a test environment which can be used to validate the APIs and test that applications and MEC implementations are conformant with the ETSI MEC specifications.
Finally, ETSI is organizing and promoting MEC-specific events, including hackathons and Plugtests. This helps increase operator and application developer engagement, as shown by the involvement of Tier 1 operators in past and upcoming MEC hackathons – such as the next event in Turin, co-located with Droidcon in November 2020. Just as importantly, Plugtests give solution providers and developers an opportunity to meet up and assess the level of interoperability of their projects.
The hackathons also promote knowledge and adoption of the ETSI MEC specifications, and give us valuable feedback from end users, helping ETSI MEC to understand their ease of adoption, applicability and flexibility in different application sectors.
These events focus on application developers, and helping them to come up with new and innovative applications that will run at the edge. They can be a little different from how other hackathons are run, by providing the required information ahead of the 24- or 48-hour hackathon, so attendees can start developing in advance, rather than at the event itself. We appreciate indeed that there is a learning curve when adopting a new set of specifications and associated APIs.
A global, open standard
While mobile communications has in the past sometimes had local or regional differences, ETSI is focussed on creating global standards, which are widely adopted throughout the industry. Here it’s worth highlighting the multi-access aspect of MEC, where the ISG’s specifications aren’t limited to just 3GPP-compliant wireless/cellular communications – rather they are designed to be access network agnostic and applicable to other technologies, such as Wi-Fi and fixed wireless.
MEC is a technology that is growing in popularity. It gives application developers and content providers access to IT capabilities at the edge of the network, which enables flexible and rapid deployment of new applications and services, thus reducing time-to-revenue.
ETSI MEC is a leading voice in standardization and industry alignment around MEC. We have created a complete set of specifications on MEC, complemented by simple to use, well-documented APIs.
To help drive the adoption of MEC, and to maintain interoperability, ETSI MEC’s DECODE working group and other activities are making sure that developers and operators are aware of MEC’s advantages, and are encouraged to adopt ETSI MEC specifications. With an open, global standard, we can all benefit from innovation based on MEC – delivering the security, cost-effectiveness and reliability of edge computing to a whole new class of applications.
Walter Featherstone is a senior standards engineer at Samsung R&D Institute UK, with over 20 years’ experience in the mobile telecommunications industry. Prior to joining Samsung, he worked for VIAVI Solutions and before that Motorola Mobility during Google’s ownership, Nokia Networks and Motorola Solutions. He gained his PhD in electronic and electrical Engineering from the University of Leeds, specialising in super resolution direction finding. Walter is an active participant in ETSI ISG MEC, where he chairs the deployment and ecosystem development working group (WG DECODE).