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What is mobile edge computing?

Mobile Edge Computing, or Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), moves cloud computing out of the data center and onto the network

Mobile Edge Computing and Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) are the same. The concept of edge computing brings computational functionality closer to the user of the data, with the goal of providing more scalable performance, reducing network load and hastening data transmission. 

Edge computing distributes compute resources across networks, rather than centralized in data centers. By physically moving those resources closer to the user, MEC reduces congestion on host networks, decreases latency and offers carriers and enterprises new 5G business opportunities. MEC helps operators provide low-latency and high-bandwidth 5G applications. 

MEC uses an architecture dependent on Virtual Network Functions handled by a Virtualization Infrastructure Manager (VIM). The three core components of MEC architecture comprise the Host, Platform Manager and Orchestrator. 

The MEC Host includes MEC applications, platform dependencies, and related services. The Platform Manager handles lifecycle management of instances, apps, services and elements needed for MEC to operator. The MEC Orchestrator selects the most appropriate hosts for instantiation, based on available resources and optimal performance for the required services.

Mobile vs. Multi-Access Edge Computing

Originally defined as Mobile Edge Computing, MEC emerged from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in 2016. Later that year, the term was changed to Multi-Access Edge Computing. 

Multi-Access Edge Computing is a more inclusive concept that embodies the same principles, but isn’t limited specifically to mobile networks — it also includes fixed wireless, Wi-Fi, and hard-wired access as well. Many of the emerging examples of MEC deployments in the real world comprise some form of hybrid cloud access dependent on multiple networking topologies.

MEC uses cases

MEC has been cited in a number of emerging 5G use cases including autonomous vehicle functionality, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)-enhanced industries including shipping and logistics, manufacturing, and heavy industry; Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) in medicine, manufacturing, and other markets. 

American carrier Verizon and AWS have partnered to provide 5G mobile edge computing services in several US cities. Aetho is using MEC to enable safe tours of Morehouse College during the pandemic, for example. The company has created a 3D, fully interactive, online version of the Morehouse College campus so prospective students can tour the campus without having to travel.

Google in 2020 introduced its Global Mobile Edge Cloud (GMEC) strategy to deliver a “portfolio and marketplace of 5G solutions built jointly with telecommunications companies” using its Anthos multi-cloud platform to developing those solutions. Using its distributed edge computing infrastructure as the means. Since then, Google has partnered with telcos like Spain’s Telefonica, France’s Orange, Canada’s Telus and others to develop MEC solutions.

MEC also has applications in entertainment and especially in cloud gaming, as players demand high performance, low-latency communication that puts strain on cloud computing and network resources alike. Verizon courted game developers in 2021 at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles, to create cloud gaming solutions using Verizon 5G MEC technology.

MEC standards management

Technical standards for MEC are managed by ETSI. ETSI oversees MEC standardization efforts as an Industry Working Group (ISG). The MEC ISG’s goal is to create a “standardized, open environment which allows the efficient and seamless integration of applications from vendors, service providers and third-parties across multi-vendor Multi-access Edge Computing platform.”

“MEC is a natural development in the evolution of mobile base stations and the convergence of IT and telecommunications networking,” explains ETSI. “It uniquely allows software applications to tap into local content and real-time information about local-access network conditions. By deploying various services and caching content at the network edge, Mobile core networks are alleviated of further congestion and can efficiently serve local purposes.”

ABOUT AUTHOR

Peter Cohen
Peter Cohen
Peter is Technology Editor for RCR Wireless News. His coverage areas include telco cloud and the convergence of 5G and cloud computing. Peter's background includes IT management and a decade as a senior editor at Macworld. He and his family live in Massachusetts.

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