Edge computing trials are testing entertainment, industrial use cases and more

Edge computing puts compute resources closer to the end user, enabling lower latency, more predictable quality of service and the ability to offer a more flexible, cloud-based service enablement environment at the network edge. Multi-access edge computing is expected to be a significant foundational technology for 5G networks, but it is also being explored in an LTE context.

As telecom operators and vendors figure out how multi-access edge computing fits into their strategic roadmaps for both LTE and 5G, here are some of the tests, projects and MEC initiatives that have been made public:

AT&T offers insights from its Edge Computing test zone in California. AT&T said recently that it has completed the first project at its Edge Computing test zone in Palo Alto, California, opened earlier this year. The carrier worked with augmented/virtual reality company GridRaster and said that the focus of the project was to “quantitatively understand how improved network performance metrics, such as delay and packet jitter, would translate to improvements in application performance metrics, such as motion-to-photon-latency and frame loss – yielding a better experience for the end user,” Alisha Seam, senior engineer with AT&T Foundry, wrote in a recent blog entry.

“As anticipated, the edge configuration presented the most favorable outcomes for application performance,” Seam wrote. “However, our experimentation uncovered additional nuances. We believe that network optimization is critical to enable mobile, cloud-based immersive media. But that’s not enough. First, we believe companies in this ecosystem need to streamline functions throughout the entire capture and rendering pipeline and devise new techniques to distribute functions between the cloud and mobile devices. Second, we discovered that the most notable benefits of edge computing come from delay predictability, rather than the amount of delay itself. We therefore believe that cloud-based immersive media applications will likely benefit from network functions and applications working more synergistically in real-time.”

AT&T is now expanding its edge test zone footprint to cover the full Bay Area, the carrier said, to enable “increased application mobility and broader collaboration potential.

“We will continue to evaluate potential use cases from prospective ecosystem partners that could benefit from edge computing.  This includes continuing to find ways of enhancing mobile immersive media experiences, as well as testing future 5G applications such as self-driving cars.”

China Unicom’s edge deployments are underway. China Unicom says that it has already begun large-scale edge cloud pilot projects and pre-commercial network construction in 15 Chinese provinces and cities on thousands of edge data centers. It has established a strategic partnership with BAT for MEC and is working with Baidu, Tencent, ZTE and Intel on this initiative, in part to gear up for its role as the official communication service provider for the 2022 Winter Olympics. China Unicom said that it is “committed to building an open and open-source Edge-Cloud Service PaaS Platform to [flexibly]allocate computation, storage, network, and accelerator resources, carry out orchestration management for varied edge services, and provide rich platform service capabilities and unified APIs for application developers, aiming to accelerate the incubation and promotion of edge services” and added that is plans to explore smart campuses, smart venues, IoT V2X and industrial IoT in an edge computing context. China Unicom highlighted on pilot project in particular, in Jingjin University Town, Tianjin, for deployment tests of edge virtual CDNs. China Unicom said compared to traditional CDNs, the deployment of applications to the network edge showed significant benefits: website download rates were increased by 43% and round-trip time latency was cut by 50%.

An internet treasure hunt in Bristol. In August of last year, InterDigital conducted a three-week trial of MEC in collaboration with the Bristol is Open smart city testbed and product company CTVC. The ETSI MEC proof-of-concept was described as an “internet-enabled treasure hunt” around the city that required participants to download an Android application. According to InterDigital, video delivered as part of the game showed latency reduced from “several tens of milliseconds to link local latency of several milliseconds” and video distribution was six times more efficient than standard IP technology. The solution was implemented as a pure software solution on standard computing hardware and commercial SDN-based switches “without requiring a fully-fledged IP network in place,” InterDigital said.

Video entertainment at a university ice rink. Nokia and the University of Notre Dame tested MEC in mid-2017 at the university’s Compton Ice Arena, which has two rinks and about 5,000 seats. The tests relied on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks to provide high-capacity, low-latency wireless coverage: Nokia small cells and Wi-Fi access points, with Nokia’s MEC platform and its AirFrame server hosting the applications. In the Nokia test, the company was exploring how MEC could enable value-added services within the ice arena. One feature that Nokia tested was video with Edge Video Orchestration: four streams, two high-definition and two standard-definition, which were shown with less than 500 milliseconds of delay — fast enough that fans at one end of the arena could get video shots of the other end in real-time and not notice a delay compared to the live action. The proof-of-concept also included augmented reality with images were overlaid on devices via streamed video.

MEC, 5G and V2X for automotive. Vodafone is working with automotive supplier Continental to test 5G, cellular vehicle-to-everything and MEC to improve automotive-related safety for passengers, pedestrians and cyclists, including a “digital shield for pedestrians” and a traffic jam warning system.

MEC testing by Vodafone and Saguna Networks. Vodafone Group’s research and development unit last year tested the impact of MEC on improving video streaming quality-of-experience, in lab experiments with edge computing company Saguna Networks and data from Teragence. The tests involved comparing video streaming from an edge virtual video server, compared to a virtual video server using AWS, in an emulated mobile network environment, with data modeling the typical latency and congestion experienced by users on mobile networks in the U.K. That work concluded that in current mobile networks, one out of every five people have a bad experience streaming video, and that using MEC within RAN aggregation networks significantly improved the user experience: faster start times, less wait time for re-buffering and no video stalling.

“By leveraging [MEC], mobile operators’ 4G networks can be transformed into powerful video delivery networks, while simultaneously preparing the network to support the needs of 5G low-latency applications,” Saguna wrote in a blog entry on the research conclusions.

A 5Tonic collaboration focused on large factories. Saguna also collaborated with 5Tonic, the 5G R&D lab in Madrid initiated by Telefonica and IMDEA Networks Institute, on a project to drive autonomously guided vehicles around a large factory using 5G and MEC. 5Tonic members Ericsson, CommScope, and Intel worked with Saguna and ASTI Mobile Robotics on the demo, which was aimed at eliminating the need for pre-set routes or tracks for robots in a factory setting.

Blade Runner proof-of-concept. Eight operators participated in a proof-of-concept project called the Blade Runner Catalyst at TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World that utilized 5G, AR and MEC and was aimed at “[enabling]a diverse ecosystem of partners that includes multiple operators to seamlessly provide a composite set of cloud services. Vodafone led the POC, with participants including AT&T, BT, du, NTT Docomo, Orange, TIM, and Verizon on the carrier side, as well as BearingPoint, CENX, EXFO, Infosys, RIFT.io and Riverbed Technology. The demo focused on using AR to help an engineer at a mine in Dubai repair heavy equipment with help from an expert located at a facility in Germany. The demo used AWS instantiations to simulate a Vodafone data center in Germany and MEC in a du base station in Dubai and assumed 5G connectivity.


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