In completing the first end-to-end fully virtualized 5G data session in the U.S. recently, Verizon said this paves the way for widescale mobile edge computing and network slicing. The network operator enabled the 5G data session in a live network ‘end-to-end’, or in other words from the core of the network to the far edge of the network.
Verizon coordinated with many partners in this demonstration of successful virtualization in the radio access network (RAN). Samsung provided its commercial 5G virtualized RAN solution, consisting of a virtualized central unit (vCU), a virtualized distributed unit (vDU), and radio units. This provides mobile operators with improved efficiency, flexibility, and management benefits through the deployment of a software-based 5G radio infrastructure. Samsung announced commercial availability of its fully virtualized 5G RAN solution last month.
Intel provided its Xeon scalable processor, FPGA programmable acceleration card N3000, Ethernet network adapter XXV710 to deliver the processing, acceleration and connectivity requirements, and its FlexRAN software reference architecture.
Wind River is providing Verizon with a cloud-native, Kubernetes- and container-based software infrastructure, which delivers ultra-low latency and high availability for national deployment of virtualized 5G RAN. Wind River’s solution is integrated with best-in-class vRAN applications, providing single-pane-of-glass and zero-touch automated management, and network analytics.
Virtualizing the RAN decouples software and hardware functionality enabling the network to be built on general purpose hardware. Using common off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware leads to greater flexibility and agility in the introduction of new products and services. Instead of adding or upgrading single-purpose hardware, the move to a cloud native, container-based virtualized architecture with standardized interfaces leads to greater flexibility, faster delivery of services, greater scalability, and improved cost efficiency in networks.
“Virtualizing the entire network from the core to the edge has been a massive, multi-year redesign effort of our network architecture that simplifies and modernizes our entire network,” said Adam Koeppe, senior vice president of technology and planning for Verizon. “Verizon has been on the leading edge of virtualizing the core over the past few years and has been bullish in the design and development of open RAN technology, as well as in the testing of that technology with great success.”
This virtualization will also lower the barrier to entry for new vendors in the ecosystem. New entrants will accelerate innovation, reduce operating costs, and lay the groundwork for flexible network and cloud infrastructure closer to the customer, eventually leading to single digit latency. Key 5G use cases focused on providing the best, most efficient network for customers, will heavily rely on the programmability of virtualized networks.
“Massive scale IOT solutions, more robust consumer devices and solutions, AR/VR, remote healthcare, autonomous robotics in manufacturing environments, and ubiquitous smart city solutions are only some of the ways we will be able to deliver the promise of the digital world. Advancements in virtualization technology are critical steps towards that realization,” said Koeppe.
MEC market to reach $7.23 billion by 2024
Multi-access edge computing or mobile edge computing (MEC) is an essential part of enabling 5G networks, as well as industry. Without this computing capability at the edge, 5G networks would have to constantly depend on the back-haul network to connect to the cloud to enable computing and storage; likewise, in industrial and enterprise applications, edge computing can help reduce latency by localizing compute capabilities. In IoT networks, low power network devices and sensors can be more easily deployed as MEC can take the responsibility of a lot of the local computation tasks.
Edge computing is a foundational technology for industrial enterprises as it offers shorter latencies, robust security, responsive data collection, and lower costs. In the hyper-connected industrial environment, edge computing, with its solution-agnostic attribute, can be used across various applications, such as autonomous assets, remote asset monitoring, data extraction from stranded assets, autonomous robotics, autonomous vehicles, and smart factories.
According to a recent report from Frost & Sullivan, despite being in a nascent stage, the multi-access edge computing (MEC) market—an edge computing commercial offering from operators in wireless networks—is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 157.4%, garnering a revenue of $7.23 billion by 2024 from $64.1 million in 2019.
The research analyst firm predicts that approximately 90% of industrial enterprises will utilize edge computing by 2022, presenting immense growth prospects for MEC market participants, including:
- Telecom operators working on solutions and services to meet the requirements for connected and autonomous cars.
- System integrators providing end-to-end solutions which would be a significant value addition for enterprises because 5G requires specific skillsets.
- The combination of 5G and the new specialized hardware-based mobile edge compute technologies can meet the market’s streaming media needs now and in the future.
- Telecom operators who partner with cloud providers and companies with abilities related to artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and computer vision to design solutions for autonomous cars, drone delivery, and others.
- Companies in the MEC space who capitalize on the opportunity for innovation and new developments that utilize 5G and MEC, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), which can also be applied to games.
“The recent launch of the 5G technology coupled with MEC brings computing power close to customers and also allows the emergence of new applications and experiences for them,” said Renato Pasquini, information & communication technologies research director at Frost & Sullivan. “Going forward, 5G and MEC are an opportunity for telecom operators to launch innovative offerings and also enable an ecosystem to flourish in the business-to-business (B2B) segment of telecom service providers using the platform.”
Pasquini added, “From the perspective of the MEC ecosystem, software—edge application and solutions—promises the highest CAGR followed by services—telecom operators’ services, cloud providers’ infrastructure-as-a-service, and edge data center colocation services.”