ETSI lays out the role of MEC in 5G

In a recent white paper, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute outlined the role of multi-access edge computing in 5G. 

“Edge computing is acknowledged as one of the key pillars for meeting the demanding Key Performance Indicators of 5G, especially as far as low latency and bandwidth efficiency are concerned,” the white paper noted. “However, not only is edge computing in telecommunications networks a technical enabler for the demanding KPIs, it also plays an essential role in the transformation of the telecommunications business, where telecommunications networks are turning into versatile service platforms for industry and other specific customer segments.”

ETSI, which develops technical specs for MEC and has already published the first phase of its MEC specs, outlined a number of key points for the implementation of MEC in a 5G context. While Alex Reznik, chair of ETSI’s MEC Industry Standards Group, cautioned that the specifications are not a blueprint for how to build MEC, the white paper lays out a number of key points about 5G MEC deployment. Here are a few of the key points from ETSI on the role MEC in 5G:

  • MEC and 5G are two separate concepts — or as Reznik put it in an interview with RCR Wireless News, “You can do edge computing without 5G, but you can’t do 5G RAN without edge computing.” However, the paper notes, MEC in an LTE context had to be designed as “an add-on to a 4G network in order to offer services in the edge.” With 5G, though, edge computing was considered from the beginning to be “ one of the key technologies required to support low latency together with mission critical and future IoT services.”
  • 5G specifications and its Service Based Architecture option (one of two 5G architecture options offered for communications between core network functions) “leverage the service-based interactions between different network functions, aligning system operations with the network virtualization and Software Defined Networking paradigms. These very same characteristics are shared by MEC specifications.”
  • There are a number of specific 5G system specifications from 3GPP that “[allow]a MEC system and a 5G system to collaboratively interact in traffic routing and policy control related operations. MEC features, together with these complementary technical enablers of the 5G system, allow integration of these systems to create of a powerful environment for edge computing,” ETSI said.
  • Those 5G-specific functionalities include: local routing and traffic steering; session and service continuity (SSC) modes for different user equipment and application mobility scenarios; the ability of an Application Function to influence user Plane Function selection and traffic routing (either directly through the Policy Control Function or indirectly through the Network Exposure Function); and support of a Local Area Data Network by the 5G core, by connecting to the LADN in a certain area where local applications are deployed.
  • ETSI noted that in 5G network slicing, which it describes as “[allowing]the allocation of the required features and resources from the available network functions to different services or to tenants that are using the services,” a MEC application “can belong to one or more network slices that have been configured in the 5G core network.”
  • ETSI lays out four logical areas for MEC infrastructure to be deployed: a base station; co-located with a transmission node; co-located with a network aggregation point; and co-located with core network functions in a data center.

The complete white paper, MEC in 5G Networks, is available on ETSI’s web site.

ETSI held its first MEC hackathon in mid-September at the Edge Computing Congress in Berlin. The event challenged participating teams to develop mobile applications for in-vehicle automotive infotainment, including entertainment and augmented or virtual reality, in MEC-enabled 5G networks.

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