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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Edge Computing in the Network, or Network deployed at the Edge datacentre?

Warning: totally speculative “what-if” post…. 

Almost everyone assumes that MEC-type edge-computing will be *inside* 5G or converged fixed-mobile infrastructure. The idea is that telcos will host servers deep in their networks, for low-latency 5G NR radio, coupled to micro-datacentres a millisecond or so from a cell tower, or perhaps at a local fixed line exchange / central office. 

Many telcos and their vendors seem to think this could allow the industry to create quasi-AWS distributed cloud services. I've written and spoken about the landscape of edge computing several times (see blog here and podcast here)

But I wonder if we could also see the exact opposite approach. Imagine a small/mid-size datacentre in an urban area as a hub for a localised mobile network. It could have a 4G or 5G base station on the roof, perhaps with links to relay sites in the surrounding area. 

Using CBRS spectrum in the US, or 3.7-3.8GHz in Germany or various of the new UK shared bands, it could cover perhaps a 3-7km radius. As it will have plenty of fibre acceess, it could also run its own cloud-RAN network for its local region or city. 

This could give local businesses direct, one-hop-to-the-cloud connection for sites or mobile IoT. Say a local firm doing drone-as-a-service for site inspections. Or buses for a smart city. No telcos required. Now there are various challenges, like poor outdoor-to-indoor coverage at 3.5GHz. But low-band MVNO deals, WiFi & neutral hosts could help fix that.

The cloud / DC provider would certainly need additional elements, such as a core network, and perhaps a way to issue SIMs/eSIMs. But that's increasingly possible - Amazon, for instance, already hosts various cloud-based core networks from third party vendors, while Google has its own that it uses for Fi and other purposes.

Unlikely? Yes. Disruptive? Certainly.

(If you really want to push this idea, I also suggested over two years ago in this post that Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods gave it a unique urban footprint for mini-DCs. Many of those also have suitable rooftops, as well as plenty of power)

This post was originally published on my LinkedIn page. It has had over 10,000 views and has created a great stream of comments and interactions. Link here.

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