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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Why does the Edge Computing sector ignore Wi-Fi?

We should be talking more about Wi-Fi-Edge as well as 5G-edge. Arguably, it is more important (along with fibre-connected edge)

Yes, the 3GPP term MEC has been upgraded from "mobile edge compute" to "multi-access", but there's still little focus on local edge-cloud use-cases that rely on fixed (usually fixed + Wi-Fi) broadband.

Given today's Wi-Fi often has lower latency than current 5G versions (2-5 milliseconds is common), and many devices such as AR/VR headsets don't have 5G radios, this seems odd.

Many of the use-cases for advanced connectivity, especially IoT in smart buildings and smart homes, as well as gaming and content/video display, uses Wi-Fi predominantly. 5G won't replace it.

On enterprise sites, Edge Computing applications will terminate to end-devices connected with a mix of 5G (public and private), 4G, Wi-Fi, fibre, Ethernet, LPWAN & other tech. This isn't just about low-latency, but connections for IoT devices, cameras, screens etc. that require local processing - and local storage ("data sovereignty"). 

They might use cloud-type software stacks, and use hyperscale cloud for deep analytics, but there will be various reasons for on/near-prem edge.

Offices connect all laptops, collaboration/meeting systems and screens with Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi dominates in education. Even in retail settings and #smartcities, there's a lot of Wi-Fi or proprietary industrial WLAN variants.

In homes, the opportunity is almost entirely about #WiFiEdge. TVs, laptops, voice assistants, smartphones, tablets, AR/VR headsests and most other residential devices connect with Wi-Fi (plus some short-range Bluetooth, ZigBee etc). Very few end-devices inside the home connect with 4G/5G, and even in future the low-band 5G connections that penetrate the walls likely won't support the ultra-low latencies that many talk about.

All of these have significant links to #cloud platforms and applications. Indeed, many higher-end Wi-Fi systems are themselves cloud-controlled. 

Outdoors, especially for mobile and vehicular use-cases, #5GEdge (& 4G for years) will be important plus maybe SatelliteEdge & LoRaEdge

In general, I'd expect "fixed edge" of one sort or another to be far more important than "mobile edge" or MEC. In many ways, it already is, given #CDNs largely service fixed broadband use-cases.

Possibly this is just reflecting a lack of marketing - or perhaps the cloud/edge/datacentre sector has been blinded by #5Gwash hype and has forgotten to focus on often more-important technologies for some critical applications - whether that's security-camera analytics or multiplayer games. They may well need low-latency or secure on-premise compute, but won't (often) be using 5G.

This also perhaps reflects the fact that 5G needs some edge-compute for its own operation (especially Open RAN), so the industry is trying to offset the costs by hyping the potential revenues of using that infrastructure for customer applicatins as well. That's less true for other connectivity types, although fixed/cable broadband has a lot of localised compute infrastructure too.

I'm curious to see if this blending of #WiFiEdge has resonance.
At the very least I think the Wi-Fi and fixed-broadband providers should be making much more noise about it. Seems bizarre that 5G-edge gets all the attention when it is, well, a bit of an edge-case.

1 comment:

Fazal Majid said...

Simple. By definition you will only call something "edge" if you have a network-centric view of things, thus if you are a network operator or vendor. That means 5G (or Metro Ethernet/GPON, but those networks don't have the bandwidth and latency limitations of cellular, plus the last thing they want is to reduce dependency on the network which would reduce the pressure to upgrade).

Users and customers don't care about the network except when it breaks, they care about applications, and in the consumer world of WiFi that generally means cloud-hosted, while enterprises are perfectly able to manage their own applications but are also increasingly willing to move to the cloud as well. For home networks, there is a small niche in self-hosted apps like video or music streaming (Plex, Roon), local backups, home automation, security (Pi-Hole) and so on, and the most likely target for deployment will be either a NAS or as an app running on an always-on PC. The lack of any standard for packaging and deploying these self-hosted apps fragments and hinders the market, even if Docker has made things a little bit easier.