What Is Mobile Edge Computing?
Mobile edge computing (now called multi-access computing, but we’ll get to that later) is all about putting computing power as close to the end user as possible. Some call it “the edge of the edge.” Sound a little obscure? Basically, the concept of mobile edge computing is getting data processed in near real time by doing it close to where the data is captured, to begin with.
Understanding Mobile Edge Computing
When defining mobile edge computing, it helps to think about the difference between mobile edge computing and edge computing. So let’s start with a refresher on edge computing itself.
Essentially, the goal of edge computing is to bring computational functionality close to the end user. Rather than restricting compute resources to a centralized data center, edge computing distributes these resources across networks to speed up data transmission, reduce network load, and improve overall performance. Mobile edge computing (MEC) takes this principle of edge computing and pushes it out even further to the very edge of the edge, even closer to end users.
So, what puts the “mobile” in mobile edge computing?
Mobile edge computing encompasses mobile devices, applications, and all the data that your mobile devices produce and consume. With MEC, the goal is to extend the edge to put more compute functionality in this realm. Doing so means all the data produced and consumed by mobile devices and applications can be processed as close to the source (and to the end user) as possible in near real time.
Ultimately, MEC shortens the distance data needs to travel. Instead of being sent to a data center for processing, data can be generated, captured, and processed in the mobile edge cloud as close to wireless devices as possible.
Why Is Mobile Edge Computing Important?
By extending computing power to the very edge of the edge, MEC can unlock an entirely new world of both consumer and industry applications. The game-changing ingredient is proximity.
When edge network infrastructure intersects with the wireless edge, the result is higher bandwidth, lower latency, and reduced network congestion. This, in turn, spells faster response times, more efficient decision-making, and overall enhanced performance for users and operators alike.
In an increasingly connected world where mobile devices are ubiquitous, the demand for technologies, services, and experiences that require low latency and/or high bandwidth is ever-growing. By physically moving computing resources closer to mobile devices, MEC can fulfill these mounting requirements for intense low latency and high bandwidth, making possible new ventures across the enterprise, government, and consumer industries.
MEC: The Standards Framework
Importantly, MEC is also a standards framework. It was developed and is currently managed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), a European Standards Organization (ESO), and the recognized regional standards body dealing with telecommunications, broadcasting, and other electronic communications networks and services.
The MEC Industry Specification Group (ISG) within ETSI oversees all MEC standardization efforts. Their goal is to create a standardized, open environment to allow vendors, service providers, and other third parties to integrate applications across multivendor MEC platforms efficiently.
Mobile Edge Computing vs. Multi-Access Computing
Today, you’ll also hear the phrase multi-access computing in any conversation about mobile edge computing. So, what gives?
At a high level, these phrases are often used indiscriminately, but there are pointed differences.
At its inception, the primary focus of mobile edge computing as mobile networks. However, it quickly became apparent that the smartphone is among many other connected devices requiring increasingly high bandwidths and low latencies. The term, thus, needed to change accordingly to reflect better and include the growing numbers of connected devices and applications.
In 2016, ETSI’s MEC ISG changed its name from Mobile Edge Computing to Multi-Access Edge Computing. Fittingly, this new name also expands the MEC concept beyond mobile networks, as many real-world mobile edge computing projects have ended up relying on multiple networking topologies, including fixed wireless, Wi-Fi, and hard-wired access.
Why MEC and 5G Go Hand in Hand
In a world that’s ever becoming more connected, challenges abound. Chief among these challenges is figuring out how to deliver low latency while still delivering high bandwidth. After all, the scores of devices in our connected world continue to collect and process more data than ever before. There is, thus, pressure to keep pace and ensure that all this data-driven information can get to the end user as fast as possible.
5G is often touted as the balm for this particular technological ailment. However, the widespread availability of 5G networks comes with its own challenge. With growing numbers of hardware and software connected to these 5G networks, centralized data centers can all too easily become overwhelmed by the influx.
This is where MEC comes in. MEC reduces congestion on host networks by bringing computing power as close to edge devices as possible.
With consumers and enterprises demanding impossibly-high bandwidth alongside impossibly-low latency, mobile edge computing and 5G are the perfect pair poised to meet those demands.
Mobile Edge Computing Use Cases
Already, MEC deployments are proving valuable across a breadth of industries.
Of course, a big draw for the everyday consumer is enhanced performance for augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) gaming.
While this is certainly a powerful benefit of MEC, the standard also has the potential to deliver profound benefits to industries such as automotive, shipping and logistics, manufacturing, agriculture, energy, etc. Particularly for organizations working in disaster recovery, military, public safety, medicine, rural connectivity, etc., mobile edge computing projects can truly have life-saving applications. Low latency can be the difference between life and death in these high-stakes, mission-critical scenarios (such as autonomous vehicles or remote medical surgeries).
MEC, then, alongside 5G, will be a key component in advancing technologies that have the potential to shape the future of humanity. Let’s see a few examples:
Certainly, autonomous vehicles are one of the most popular subjects when it comes to mobile edge computing examples. This extends beyond the consumer fantasy of owning a self-driving car to include the development of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that can serve enterprise and government needs.
To function well, these vehicles need the ability to quickly make machine learning (ML) decisions. This is where MEC helps. Rather than transmitting data to a distant center and back (and thwarting goals for super low latency along the way), relying on MEC will dramatically hasten decision-making for these autonomous vehicles.
Outside of consumer gaming, AR and VR industry applications can also benefit from MEC.
For example, for remote workers in construction and engineering fields, 3D renderings alongside headsets and mobile devices can dramatically improve their daily workflows. However, these renderings are complex and data-heavy; if they are accessed via centralized data centers, the latency would prove too high for them to be useful in real life. But turning to MEC and cutting out the data center middleman can make these improvements possible.
Agriculture and Wind Energy
Agriculture and wind energy are industries that often get little attention when it comes to tech talk. But in reality, their technology and IoT edge computing needs are growing as businesses increasingly turn to sensors for data collection. Unfortunately, the rural environments that are home to most agriculture and wind energy projects often lack the high-speed connectivity needed to make these tech advancements happen. By helping bring computing power closer to the fields, MEC can be a boon for industries seeking better rural connectivity.
Most simply, mobile edge computing is all about extending the edge — and, with it, our abilities to make new advances across industries and improve the mobile experience.