Edge computing in the telco sector opens up many opportunities for efficiency, sustainability, and environmental impact. For this reason, it represents a considerable but indispensable challenge for all companies in the sector that want to be competitive in the coming years.
Digital transformation has provided and is continuing to provide solutions that are capable of changing every business and provide so many opportunities for growth and development that must be seized on the fly, without wasting time.
The telco sector is no exception to this. In recent years, it has undergone considerable change, not least because of its core business, and indeed it needs to renew and update itself constantly.
This affects not only the ability to compete, but also the very quality of the services and products that it offers to customers.
It’s also true that many of these technology solutions are important to make the company’s operations more efficient and ensure better organization from the point of view of its ability to adapt to different situations and the context where it does business.
Edge computing is a promising solution that is imposing itself in the telco world. Edge computing is literally “processing at the edge” and it promises to change the way businesses are structured, but also to open new perspectives on how to manage and deliver services to customers.
What is edge computing?
To really understand the impact of edge computing and the opportunities it could open up for companies in the telecommunications industry, it’s good to start with a definition.
Edge computing is “part of a distributed computing tipology where information processing is located close to the edge, where things and people produce or consume that information” (source: Gartner).
In other words, it is a distributed computing model where data processing takes place as close as possible to where the data itself is generated.
This type of setup is in contrast to the centralized processing that is typical of more traditional organizations.
The difference between edge computing and cloud computing
In particular, centralized processing is typical of services that are offered on demand by a provider that works with the network through the use of several servers, organized in high reliability architectures and physically located at the data center of the service provider, therefore all more or less collected in the same point.
However, this type of organization is not always efficient and convenient for operators, especially when large amounts of data have to be processed simultaneously and for long periods of time.
In these cases, centralized data centers turn out to be very expensive, energy-intensive, and sometimes unmanageable solutions.
To overcome these problems of centralized management, the cloud was first introduced, which brings some obvious advantages, since the migration of workloads on the cloud greatly reduces the costs of the data center and at the same time allows you to have access to storage resources and virtually unlimited computing power, all that are available at any time at the user’s request.
Despite this, cloud computing does not completely solve the critical issues of a centralized architecture for a number of reasons.
First, not all applications can be ported to the cloud.
Second, the cloud doesn’t always ensure stable and reliable connections that allow data from different sources to be managed in continuous streams.
Finally, even the cloud fails to address the issue of latency, which is “the time between initiating a network request and receiving a response” (source: Gartner).
Precisely because of these obvious technical limitations, the edge computing architecture has rapidly made its way into more sectors, which thanks to its characteristics, enables improvements in the telecommunications business (and many others).
How does an edge computing architecture work?
From the brief definition given above, the best word to describe how edge computing works is “decentralization.”
But what does this mean?
It means that unlike a centralized organization, this type of network distributes “micro data centers” throughout its extension. These data centers are capable of processing the relevant data locally and then, once they have been processed, to send them to a central data center at each occurrence.
In this way, devices and SFF electronic systems can work autonomously for managing and collecting part of the information, and at least partially substituting the central data center, which is involved only in a second moment according to the needs required.
An example of how such an architecture works is provided by the IoT especially when it is used in the context of production. In this case, IoT sensors are placed along the entire production chain so that large volumes of data can be collected and processed continuously and rapidly, which can then be used on site to reduce or prevent failures and malfunctions.
In this way, there is no need to spend time and resources (both financial and energy) to transfer all of this data to a more distant central data center, since the monitoring and management of the data is already guaranteed locally and therefore the transition can take place later.
A further example of deployment that can explain how an edge computing architecture works is connected vehicles.
Thanks to this type of technology, bus and train drivers can monitor the influx of passengers, or truck drivers can identify the fastest route, since each vehicle moves within a standardized connection platform, sharing a large amount of information with other vehicles, thus creating a reliable and secure network.
The same principle also underlies self-driving vehicles, which must necessarily process real-time data on board in order to arrive at their destination quickly and safely, and which connects to a central server at certain times for updates.
These are just a few examples, but the applications and sectors where this architecture can be implemented are numerous and many still have wide margins of evolution, such as the telecommunications sector.
After all, the same experts from the telco sector have underlined it: edge computing is one of the most promising solutions for business growth and development, also in light of its own characteristics and operating system.
A great challenge and a great opportunity
The same thing also emerged from a report on the topic carried out by Vertiv, a critical infrastructure solution provider, which looked at the impact that edge computing could have on telecommunications.
What emerges initially is that telecommunications are moving (and must move) decisively and enthusiastically towards edge computing.
Through this architecture, operators can develop services linked to the 5G network, IoT, or other similar technologies.
After all, it’s difficult to be able to develop and deploy services of this type in a reliable, efficient, and at the same time sustainable way without using a technology that helps lower the energy consumption required and to maintain high stability.
In this sense, there are no alternatives: edge computing is one of the necessary steps to radically transform data center management in telecommunications and to implement a decisive eco-sustainable turnaround, for the benefit of a service that is capable of adapting to the challenges and critical issues that the environment will pose in the coming years.
That’s why many companies are increasingly pushing to leverage 5G cellular towers and small prefabricated data centers or even hardware, such as gateway nodes, to collect and process data as close as possible to the target customer or device, reducing the impact of all these activities.
To do this, of course, all players will need to carefully organize each phase of implementation and identify the right partners that not only provide better coverage, but also have the know-how and a multitude of solutions available to facilitate this ride to the edge.
The benefits of moving to the edge for telcos?
We’ve talked about some of the benefits of edge computing, but of course there are many more to account for.
First and foremost, many of the benefits that telcos can gain by implementing an edge architecture are related to technical improvements.
Decentralizing the collection and processing of data makes it possible, among other things, to reduce latency times and thus gives providers the ability to deliver highly efficient services and applications for real-time data management and monitoring.
Among other things, this efficiency benefits applications that structurally require response times, as times are reduced and customer experience improves and becomes more seamless, such as through augmented reality and virtual reality.
Edge computing also avoids bandwidth constraints and reduces service errors, and ensures safer transfers of sensitive data, since proximity to the source of the information ensures that companies can maintain the same level of power in local processing while avoiding breaches of any kind.
Telcos deploying edge architecture can also count on significant cost savings by no longer having to constantly provide enough bandwidth to ensure a seamless exchange between the central data center and peripheral sites.
In addition, through edge computing, telcos can also build a more resilient network that can maintain operations even under complex conditions or in the event of unexpected events.
This is because, in an edge model, peripheral locations have some management autonomy and are able to maintain a good level of processing power so they can continue to work, even if the central data center has problems or stops working altogether.
Finally, an edge-based platform also facilitates smooth operations for the development of many applications, offering better interoperability, and able to support a wide variety of hardware and software environments.
The benefits for telcos are reflected in the benefits for customers
All of these advantages obviously have an impact on the service that telcos are able to provide to their customers, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of this type of architecture.
Only thanks to edge computing, users can have access almost everywhere to 5G technology, having a stable and constant connection and a good surfing speed everywhere and at any time.
Added to this is the knowledge that their data traffic is protected and monitored more effectively thanks to a significant reduction in transfers from the periphery to the center of the network.
Among other things, in the medium term, this horizontal structure will allow telcos to develop new digital solutions that translate into new connection services to be put on the market and, consequently, new profit flows for all operators in the sector.
Not all that glitters is gold
Despite what has been said above, one aspect cannot be overlooked, namely that edge computing opens up not only many prospects for development, but also some “threats” that telcos must anticipate and prepare for.
The development of the edge, in fact, is not only tempting to telco players, but also to other organizations that can enter the market as direct and indirect competitors.
From this point of view, Amazon, Google, but also Ericsson and Nokia have already shown their willingness to start competing with traditional operators in the edge computing market, potentially taking away profit sources from traditional telecommunication companies.
These are also joined by public cloud providers, contributing to a diverse, complex, and in many ways, challenging environment.
This means that in order to truly reap the benefits that edge computing promises, telco providers need to carefully build their strategy and develop the necessary technologies and skills internally, depending on their objectives and the partners they have to work with.
Either way, you still need to be aware of how edge computing is bridging a gap and that those left out of the race could be ceding very important sources of revenue to competitors.