Network Technologies RAN

ETSI MEC widens its remit to fixed links and WiFi

Changes name to Multi-access Edge Computing, but its converged focus may create tensions with other edge-focused initiatives

Last week’s Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) Congress in Munich showcased the significant progress the ETSI-driven platform has made since work on its specifications started in March 2015. And the group driving MEC has even changed its name to reflect its widening remit – it will now be called the ‘Multi-Access Edge Computing’ industry specification group (ISG) as its work extends from cellular to WiFi and fixed access links.

The name change was announced at the Munich event and will take effect early next year, when the work on MEC specs moves into its second phase. The ISG was due to finish its work in March 2017 – all ETSI initiatives have a two-year life – but like ETSI’s other critical platform for operators, NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) it has received an extension to pursue a follow-up set of specs.

This second stage will focus on edge computing in converged networks rather than mobile-only environments.

“We asked for an extension and modified our terms of reference with the objectives of the next phase and this was all agreed last week,” ISG chair Nurit Sprecher from Nokia told the Congress. “We’re going to extend beyond 3GPP access technologies to cover WiFi and fixed.” According to LightReading ( Sprecher also said that ETSI has been trying to coordinate activities with some of the other groups which are addressing edge computing, but is keen to remain the “center of gravity”.

This hints at the kind of fragmentation that also faces NFV, which did a remarkable job of unifying the industry’s virtualization efforts in its first phase, but is now fighting to remain the driver of second-stage efforts such as management and orchestration (MANO), where alternative platforms have emerged focused on OpenStack.

In edge computing, there are also several industry and open source efforts, such as the Open Fog Alliance, which supports Cisco’s concepts of fog and mist computing. The further ETSI MEC extends beyond cellular, the more it is likely to overlap with these other activities.

Sprecher revealed that ETSI has signed an agreement with Open Edge Computing, and is working on one with the Open Fog Alliance.

There will also be potential confusion in the mobile-only area because the 3GPP will be working on some aspects of edge computing as part of its 5G efforts.

“Some activities, such as MEC integration with 5G architecture, will need to go beyond ETSI,” said Sprecher. “It is natural that the 3GPP will work on that and we need to work with them rather than reinventing.”

There were plenty of interesting demonstrations at the Congress, especially in the ETSI MEC PoF (proof of concept) zone, which showcased some of the applications which have been sanctioned by the ISG. Two that stood out were led by Saguna and by Quortus, which were both pioneering mobile edge computing before ETSI started its work and MEC became an official acronym.

The Saguna PoC was entitled ‘Multi-Service MEC Platform for Advanced Service Delivery’, and was run in conjunction with Advantech, Brocade, Gigaspaces and Vasona. The proposal has been accepted by the ETSI MEC ISG. It showed off the ability to support multiple MEC platforms and applications on shared computing infrastructure, with each one adding value to passing traffic in a different way. This is a pointer towards network slicing, which will allocate virtualized, dedicated slices of capacity, on-demand, to different services, with the optimal functions for that service, harnessing independent localization and scaling of the control and user planes.

“As MEC gets standardized, it is important to demonstrate a viable MEC platform architecture, including how applications and services can utilize the platform,” said Kevin Shatzkamer, mobile CTO at Brocade, one of the enterprise networking firms, like Cisco, which could take advantage of the NFV/MEC boom.

Quortus’s PoC, demonstrated with Argela and Turk Telekom, also looked ahead to the 5G idea of slicing, with a focus on healthcare. Entitled ‘Healthcare – Dynamic Hospital User, IoT and Alert Status Management’, it featured control/user plane separation (CUPS), a hallmark of the Quortus approach to edge processing, the PoC illustrated how highly differentiated services could be defined and deployed on the fly.

“We’ve been deploying edge intelligence in real world networks for years now,” said CEO Andy Odgers in a statement. “At MEC Congress we are continuing that approach, focusing not just on mobile edge computing technology, but on the ability of that technology to transform service delivery, enhance quality of experience and diversify the communications ecosystem.”

The PoC demonstration deployed edge intelligence and dynamic network configuration to optimize communication services in a hospital environment. It showed how a hospital could prioritize users of local systems depending on managed access rights, based on hospital ‘alert’ status, dynamic upgrading of users between categories, and dynamic response to critical incidents with modifications to radio resource allocations.

VPS hosting