When it comes to edge computing implementation, the business case for communications service providers (CSPs) to take early action is strong. With the ability to handle demanding requirements on scalability, security, availability, low latency and bandwidth, edge computing unlocks enormous new opportunities in terms of optimal placement, quality of service, data protection and more.
According to the Linux Foundation’s State of the Edge Report 2021, the global aggregate IT power footprint for edge computing infrastructure is forecasted to increase at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of between 40 and 70 percent between 2019 and 2028, reaching an estimated value of USD 800 billion. So what is holding so many CSPs back from the edge? What do they need to do to take those next steps to edge computing implementation? And how can they build a winning business strategy to maximise their opportunities for success? Let’s find out, with some key step-by-step strategic advice for CSPs looking to come out on top with this exciting and transformative technology.
Where are you now? Closer to the edge than you think
Many in the industry would have you believe that edge computing is a standalone offering – a new technology which requires a large up-front investment to access these capabilities. But that’s simply not the case. Edge computing is really an extension of existing capabilities – many of which CSPs already have.
Like in any new adventure or navigation exercise, the first thing you must work out is where you are now. Many CSPs are already sitting on resources that form a central part of the requirements for edge computing implementation. The true value of edge – lower latency and data sovereignty – is only really brought into play when it’s combined with connectivity. Even if you have an edge compute server sitting outside your house, if the network still has to take all your data to somewhere centralized – in another country, for example, then back, you won’t see any increase in capabilities.
This is where CSPs have a great advantage – they already have a significant number of distributed assets. They have the three most important elements when it comes to edge computing – location, location, location. The industry and network transformation we’ve seen since 4G has already brought with it significant advances. Established networks are already running applications which no longer require dedicated hardware and dedicated appliances. And distributed sites and locations can already run cloud compute and storage resources capable of running these applications. Ultimately, many of the required capabilities are already there, and those are capabilities which can take years to build.
Knowledge is power in edge computing implementation
The next advantage CSPs already have is information. They have access to who is generating and consuming data and where – information which is crucial when it comes to exposure and making 5G and edge use cases a reality. If an application requires that data be located in a certain place, or needs a certain bandwidth or latency, it will need to be deployed within the operator’s network. The operator has all the necessary information right at their fingertips.
The question is, will they participate in the value chain and become part of the opportunity? Or will they just provide the connectivity, like a virtual cable? At the end of the day, if operators don’t take action and utilize these capabilities, or make the necessary assets available, then a competitor or other player will surely find a solution that makes it happen – with or without them.
A great place for any CSP to start when considering edge computing implementation is to map out their existing assets and capabilities. What resources do you already have, and where? You might already be closer than you realize.
A business strategy for edge success
Despite CSPs having considerable advantages with their current assets and capabilities, there are still some vital considerations they need to make in their journey if they want to use the capabilities of edge to get ahead of the competition. While edge may be an extension of existing capabilities, it will also require a transformative shift in the way CSPs approach it and their choices – in terms of business, technology and the ecosystem.
Step 1 – Making the shift to a new business approach
In the past, mobile business has operated in a way that’s quite opposite to many business areas. You build the infrastructure, then there are a vast number of mobile devices out there and you focus on getting more and more subscriptions. But when it comes to 5G and edge computing, the mobile business is changing. There are no real quick wins identified, or a killer use case or application just waiting to be realized. Building use cases from a demand perspective, and having to gain a deep understanding of your market before deciding where and how to develop an offering will be an entirely new aspect for many CSPs, and will require a structured, strategic approach – or the guidance of a strong business partner.
Leading operators are starting in a few strategic areas where they see opportunities emerging, and are already engaging with those industries, to understand the use cases that can be materialised and how those use cases can be brought about. According to Analysys Mason Edge Cloud Tracker, the top three markets where operators are already active are manufacturing, gaming and entertainment, and healthcare. The leading use cases are real-time analytics, autonomous and connected vehicles, and video optimization.
While these areas are seen as those with the greatest potential, it’s important to note that edge computing is still in the early phases of development. In addition, some of the most exciting and scalable use cases – such as in manufacturing and healthcare – are also in industries which have a notoriously long time to market for new technology, which is why entertainment and gaming use cases are experiencing much quicker advancement. So it’s vitally important to take the business elements into account when identifying and starting to build use cases, and to work closely with the industries themselves, to meet specific needs and demands.
Horizontal scaling at the edge
Another important aspect to take into consideration is the opportunity to scale use cases or applications horizontally to other vertical industries, once they are developed and validated. For example, let’s consider an augmented reality (AR) use case where information is provided in overlay via a set of AR glasses. You might be developing this use case to be used by field engineers reading electricity or gas meters, to understand and record readings at a glance, or for electrical engineers who can view wiring configurations and get instructions straight from the glasses.
But the same capabilities could also be used for entertainment, such as watching a sports game live and seeing relevant statistics and player information in real-time action. It’s a very similar technology – or even the same technology – just scaled horizontally, with different content provided by the customer. And this opportunity might be quicker and easier to realize. Successful edge implementation isn’t about deploying 200 sites and waiting for that one killer application to appear – it’s about building based on business technology and use cases, then using that technology to scale and expand.
Step 2 – Making informed, use case driven technology choices
As we discussed in our last post edge computing infrastructure and beyond: the 5 key factors for better edge choices, there are a lot of important decisions to be made when it comes to edge computing technology and products. And this is another area where the game is changing drastically. The previous approaches to vendor selection and procurement – issuing a request for information (RFI), identifying a product, and then deploying it – are not likely to be as effective as they were.
These decisions now need to be taken in a multi-vendor, multi-technology, multi-standard and multi-cloud environment, so CSPs will need to take a use case driven approach, at a strategic level. Map out the requirements for your use case, and from there identify the capabilities that need to be built. Keep in mind, the products and technologies needed may require a range of vendors and partners to provide the best solutions. There are a lot of choices available, and it can be confusing to decide where to invest yourself, where to rely on partners and assess the costs and benefits involved. As it will all depend on the use case you are building, it’s imperative to find a strategic and reliable partner (or partners) to work with – ideally a vendor with full-stack experience including a multi-cloud and ecosystem strategy.
Step 3 – Partnering for success in the edge ecosystem
The third step to consider for edge computing success is the ecosystem. As mentioned in the previous step, edge use cases will require all new levels of partnership, openness and collaboration. Again this is an area which has seen drastic changes. With 4G, things were very straightforward. There was a device, a network, a server somewhere – that was the ecosystem. With 5G, distributed cloud and edge, this ecosystem takes on a whole new dimension.
Take the example we looked at earlier, of the AR glasses. The operator will only be responsible for certain elements such as network connectivity and distribution. But successful realization will take a tribe – perhaps a company building the device, one doing AR rendering, creating the technology for augmented reality, someone providing the relevant content for the use case, running the applications on a certain infrastructure – CSPs simply cannot take this on alone, so strong partnerships will be crucial.
As well as the horizontal scaling mentioned earlier, vertical system integrators will also be a key factor when building and scaling use cases and increasing monetization. And with a huge range of players from ICT vendors to hyperscale cloud providers (HCPs) who have invested in different areas, understanding the ecosystem and its players will be critical in determining who to partner with for a specific use case. They really need to take a holistic, end-to-end view of the requirements and the ecosystem. Just because one player or cloud provider is the best choice for one use case that is relatively centralized, it doesn’t mean they are the right choice for another deployment that will be more distributed out in the network.
Finally, due to the highly fragmented nature of the edge computing ecosystem, and with so many solutions launched by independent vendors, it’s important to ensure that your partners and their products have a good, open approach when it comes to exposure at the edge which aligns and integrates with your needs, use case and markets. With a lack of global consensus when it comes to standards or regulations, you want to be certain that data are being generated and shared is in a useful, consumable format to meet current – and future – needs.
CSPs need to believe in the ecosystem and look for strategic partners who are building or active in the ecosystem on a global scale. For example, at Ericsson, having worked with one CSP and an application or device provider in one market, we can then use key takeaways and experience from that collaboration to help introduce the use-case for other CSPs in other markets, reducing the time to market considerably.
So, where is edge headed next?
In the short term, we can expect to see an increase in the horizontal scaling we mentioned earlier, as operators establish relationships with enterprises and partners, and move to a more collaborative approach. They will open up use of, and access to, their assets and resources, letting go of some of their former control over data in return for access to new capabilities and services. We will see low latency, high bandwidth, distributed security and resilience in networks become the new normal.
Thinking longer-term, like in most other technologies, we’ll see an increase in automation and the emergence of edge intelligence. This won’t be in the distant future either – it’s likely to evolve with commercial deployments, as demands from consumers and enterprises grow. But we will also see an evolution toward the device becoming edge.
Most of the solutions in the market today use devices at the edge, but the device is not aware of the edge. Soon, we will see solutions where the device is a smart and becomes edge aware, working with the data and intelligence from the network to make decisions like which services it can offer based on the workload offload capabilities where at what time, or how resources can best be allocated, bringing a different dynamic to the network altogether. So CSPs should keep this in mind – how do we play wisely in this ecosystem, taking into account where the technology is heading?
Edge computing can seem like a complex and daunting technology to implement – but building a strong edge strategy should be one of the top five agendas for CSPs. The foundations have already been built, and with strong, knowledgeable partners to help you navigate and find your place in this new ecosystem, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.
Read our previous blog post, edge computing infrastructure and beyond: the 5 key factors for better edge choices.
Learn more about edge computing, strategies and Ericsson’s related offerings.
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