In a previous post, we discussed the near-term deployment drivers for virtualizing at the network edge. Although scalability and cost savings are a near universal goal with all networking technology developments, virtualizing at the edge will be about supporting a range of networking and service delivery use cases. In other words, in order to fulfill the necessary ROI requirements to justify adoption, investments in edge virtualization will need to result in the ability to support new revenue streams as much as conserve network operating costs.

In terms of supporing new revenue streams, many point to 5G as holding the key to unlocking the new business models that will enable operators to create new revenue streams. However, some 5G skeptics will point out that there is little that 5G enables that 4G cannot support today. One primary reason why 4G will ultimately prove inadequate to support a myriad of IoT-driven enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-low latency (ULL) use cases is a matter of scale.  Simply put, 4G cannot scale economically enough to handle all of the requirements related to eMBB, ULL and IoT.

eMBB, ULL and massive IoT is the root of 5G service enablement

Two of the most discussed enablers of eMBB, ULL and the associated IoT-driven use cases are Multi-Access Edge Compute (MEC) and network slicing.   Briefly, MEC refers to the ability to perform a number of critical core network functions at the edge of the network for the dual purpose of reducing the amount processing that must be done in the network core, and to reduce the latency that is introduced when transporting traffic from access to the core and back again. At its most basic level, network slicing refers to the ability to create multiple logical networks on top of a common physical infrastructure.  This involves using orchestration techniques to “carve out” compute and storage resources along with networking resources to run a service with unique quality of service parameters inside a network slice.

From a use case point of view, eMBB can be thought of within the context of video content proliferation. In short, gigabit data rates will be needed to handle traffic related to the combination of AR/VR, remote gaming, UHD video conferencing, and a host of other services that will run across a service provider’s network. Similarly, many of these same applications will also require very low latency performance in order to deliver an acceptable quality of experience for the end-user. Taking things a step further, autonomous driving and many sophisticated factory automation use cases will require latency in the sub-millisecond range in order to adequately ensure the safety of people in the vehicles or on the factory floors.

Beyond eMBB and ULL, the introduction of potentially thousands of IoT devices in any give square meter of physical space will create another vector of networking demands that can only be met through the ability to support a massive number of network connections that are orders of magnitude larger than what networks must be able to support today.

All in all, each of these requirements will hinge on the capabilities that MEC and network slicing can enable. In turn, these concepts will depend heavily on giving network operators the ability to innovate rapidly through open-source, agile software development cycles, scale-in/scale-out networking capabilities, and COTS-based cost models that network virtualization can bring.

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