Applications & Use Cases for MEC / Edge Cloud - Tech | 5G, SDN/NFV & Edge Compute


Monday, April 22, 2019

Applications & Use Cases for MEC / Edge Cloud

Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) is one of the several pillars that is holding the 5G monument, together. MEC is now synonymous with Edge Computing and Edge Cloud. Edge Computing infrastructure is not a new concept to Service Providers. Even in the past, Service Providers did have some foot print of compute infrastructure at the edge, providing services such as caching, video processing and WAN optimization. However, that infrastructure was a black box to many - allowing only a handful of partners to deploy their servers and run their applications. With the introduction of 5G, MEC opens up that infrastructure for any thirdparty to run their applications, closer to the edge and closer to the users. MEC makes that infrastructure more dynamic and programmable by exposing APIs. MEC helps 5G to keep up the promise of latency, which is one of the 8 currencies of 5G. MEC supports a wide variety of applications and use-cases - some are specific to 5G usecases and many of them are generic use-cases. In this article, we'll look at the top MEC applications / use-cases, that are getting traction in the industry.  (Also read: Differences between Cloud, Fog and MEC - Removing the Mist)

Video Streaming & Entertainment Services from the Edge - Video streaming is going to be one of the biggest use cases supported by MEC. According to Cisco's Visual Networking Index 2019 report, IP video traffic will be 82 percent of all IP traffic (both business and consumer) by 2022, up from 75 percent in 2017.  In addition, Internet Video will grow by 33% year-over-year. For example, in a stadium, audience can record and share high quality video streams from the event to their friends in social media. Passengers traveling by flight or train will be watching HD video shows or movies from their mobile devices. When an MEC infrastructure is used for hosting applications that accelerate video steaming and entertainment services, it reduces the latency for users and improves user experience.

Video analytics applications - With more and more people watching online video, mobile devices are continuously generating lots and lots of data about user's viewing patterns, user's geographic location, user's interests etc., Today, such video analytics data get transferred from the user equipment (such as laptops, mobile phones, Set Top Boxes) to a centralized cloud infrastructure, for processing to derive meaningful insights. This increases the overhead on the network links and also increases the latency of services. For example, based on video analytics data, a video streaming solutions provider can locally process the data and customize the playlist based on the interests of the local community. By hosting video analytics applications at the MEC, such processing of large volumes of data can be done at the edge, versus processing them at a centralized cloud infrastructure. This saves a lot of time as well as costs for the streaming service provider.

AR/VR Applications - Enteprises such as an airport could use MEC for hosting applications that serve advertisements and provide location based and augmented reality services.  For example, a AR enabled mobile application can guide a user to the boarding gate within a terminal or to a dining area, by showing the path/directions using the live map. These applications can be locally hosted and managed by the airport services provider. An industrial plant could use MEC for hosting applications that are used for training the workforce using Augmented or Virtual Reality. 

Surveillance applications - Today, it's tougher to spot a water dispenser, but easier to spot a surveillance camera. Many enterprises and communities are installing surveillance cameras in several locations to improve their monitoring ability and to reduce crime. A crowded street fitted with multiple high resolution surveillance cameras are continuously capturing and streaming live video feeds to the centralized cloud. If the security team wants to upload a team of known criminals into the system and find their whereabouts, they can use the MEC infrastructure to host such security services. Instead of having to process the live feed at a centralized location, it can be locally captured/processed at the MEC infrastructure. This would help the security personnel to respond to any security needs in the community, in a timely fashion.

IOT Edge Gateway - Internet of Things (IOT) is enabling a new set of use cases for MEC. IOT Edge Gateway is one such function in an IOT architecture, which typically hosts applications that gather lots of data coming from the various sensors and devices in the IOT network. Such data gathering applications can be hosted on MEC. In addition, applications that process the data to generate IOT analytics and insights can also be hosted in MEC.

Network Probes - Today, network probes are initiated from several 100s of edge locations to monitor / measure the performance of a network. These services are hosted in special purpose built applications. Instead, such network monitoring and probing applications can be run on 1000s of MEC locations. This helps service providers to monitor not only the availability and health of the network, but also the quality of service offered to the various applications and services.

WLAN Controller - In an Enterprise deployment, MEC can help in hosting enterprise network management applications such as a WLAN controller application. Today, WLAN Controller is a dedicated appliance within the Enterprise network. MEC can help Enterprises to migrate that functionality to the edge cloud instance. MEC infrastructure in an Enterprise can also be used for hosting policy management services. 

Enabling Autonomous Cars - Autonomous cars would need real time information about traffic congestion, weather, road blocks, traffic diversions etc., Such information can be served from applications that are running on the Edge Cloud in the MEC infrastructure. An autonomous car has only a fraction of a millisecond to think and make realtime decisions. Applications hosted in MEC infrastructure can help autonomous cars to have real time access to important data. 

Edge Caching - Edge caching is one of the traditional services that was hosted and run in a service provider network. Mostly, such services were hosted in purpose built appliances supplied by vendors such as Google and Facebook to improve their application performance. Also, CDN service providers such as Akamai install their appliances in the service provider network to reduce the latency of services delivered by the CDN. Now, with the advent of MEC, such caching services can be hosted in the local MEC infrastructure to improve the performance of web/mobile applications, video/music streaming applications and services such as social media, online gaming and AR/VR. (Also read: Components of a Content Delivery Network (CDN))

Traffic Optimization - MEC can host applications that are used for traffic optimization. For example, services such as WAN acceleration, video compression, video transcoding can be done at the MEC edge. This would reduce the volume of data that gets transferred over the network, and hence improves the speed of services.

Security Applications - There are different types of security applications that can be hosted in a MEC infrastructure. For example, in an IOT environment, MEC can host IOT security applications, that provide a layer of separation between the IOT devices/sensors/controllers and the cloud. In an Enterprise environment, MEC can host Enterprise security and policy management applications. For example, traditionally Enterprises did not have any control over the traffic going over the mobile wireless network (especially, on the mobile devices issued by the company to the employees). With 5G's service based architecture and the support for APIs, Enterprises can get access and control over the traffic going over the mobile wireless network. That enables the Enterprises to have consistent policies between the mobile wireless network and the local WLAN infrastructure. (Also read: Will WiFi get killed by 5G?)

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