Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) is an architectural approach which is likely to play a fundamental role in future networks, including 5G. Like any significant technology shift, it touches on many areas of the ecosystem, and is open to many interpretations. For this reason, it is vital that industry bodies work towards a common agenda, or risk damaging fragmentation.
The Small Cell Forum will take a vital role in that process. It recently took part in the first conference dedicated to MEC, highlighting the significant contribution it can make to this important technology.
MEC posits a cloud-based IT services environment at the edge of the mobile network, which provides benefits such as ultra-low latency, precise positional awareness and agile applications. It is seen as a building block for 5G, for instance by the European Commission’s ‘Net Futures’ Directorate.
The Forum is ideally placed to contribute, because many areas of its work in defining small cell architectures prefigure the issues which will face 5G in general, and MEC in particular – for instance, in its work on services APIs and virtualization.
This will also be an opportunity to build on its existing close relationship with ETSI, which includes a joint workstream focused on small cell virtualization. ETSI is spearheading MEC via an Industry Specification Group (ISG) and last month, it published a white paper on the subject, ‘Mobile Edge Computing: a key technology towards 5G’, launched at the London conference.
There, Alan Law, the Forum’s Chair participated in a panel discussion moderated by the Chair of the ETSI ISG, Yun Chao Hu, entitled ‘What more needs to be done?’
This may seem a premature question when so little has even been started, but Small Cell Forum believes this is exactly the time to get actively involved. It can contribute real world experience and technology in the earliest stages, as it is doing with its 3GPP partnership, moving the discussion quickly on from concept to reality.
Small cells are inherently edge-oriented. For instance, the Forum’s Services Working Group has led the definition of APIs (application programming interfaces) to expose network capabilities, such as offload or SON, to enable new services. Many of these use cases align with those being addressed by ETSI MEC and there is an opportunity for the two organizations to collaborate to define a coherent approach to API exposure.
It is important for the Forum to support such efforts because, while not a standards body itself, it is driven by the requirements of operators, and so can help standards efforts stay anchored in real world needs – which in turn accelerates their uptake. As Law told the conference, the initial deployments are likely to be around “the remote/enterprise use case that enables operators to use small cell and edge computing deployments to engage more closely with their enterprise customers”.