Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) got a day’s conference to itself at Small Cells World Summit 2016 this year (9-12 May), but while Wireless was unable to attend that day, we did get an alternative view on MEC from Quortus, which has been developing MEC-style technology since 2009.
‘We’ve been doing MEC for a long time, not for macro networks, but delivering ‘intelligence on the edge’ for businesses,’ Quortus CEO Andy Odgers (pictured) told Wireless. ‘We have a lot of experience of enterprises and what we do is based on what users actually want at the edge. So, we come at MEC from the business model and user case of: what do users actually want?
For Quortus, MEC is about providing a computing platform for sure, but it is also about implementing an app or IT store at the edge as well, to bring service enablement to the network edge. It has pioneered several disruptive new concepts including local VoLTE calling to and from local enterprise PBX, and dis-aggregation of the core network towards the ‘edge’cloud’.
Odgers said that currently there is what he describes as a virtualised app hierarchy. At one end you have consumer end users making use of apps on their smart phones, tablets and other devices. At the other end is the Cloud, based on data centre servers and allied to the mobile operators’ core networks, providing large scale, high throughput apps, storage, media streaming and big data with a global reach.
‘In the middle is a gap between device and the cloud, which we’ve called the enterprise, although it could be an oil rig or whatever,’ said Odgers. Enterprises are looking for MEC applications and services, voice, data, positioning and media. Quortus refers to this as a ‘community-centric (network edge) sector.
AT MWC this year, it announced a partnership with ACS, a large integrator, to do all the essential bits Quortus doesn’t do: virtualisation and orchestration of MEC appliances, security, telemetry and running the app store.
But Odgers said: ‘Quortus comes at MEC slightly differently from how others, including the ETSI MEC Working Group, which is tackling the standardisation work, approach it and the reasons for that comes back to our experience of user points of view.’
The ETSI approach is concentrated in looking at packets on the user plane (UP), but this limits the possible capabilities, services and ultimately, revenue generating opportunities in Quortus’ view.
Among the drawbacks identified by Quortus is the fact that the MNO has no visibility of offloaded traffic. There are security risks as all MEC apps see all the traffic; the MNO is unable to influence the bearer technology quality of service (QoS) to the end user; and it is unable to ‘push’ if the user’s UE goes into idle mode.
The Quortus/ACS approach not only sees the packets on the user plane, but it also looks at the control plane too through the Quortus/ACS MEC controller. Their architecture is characterised by: split S/PGW (serving/packet gateway) – so control resides in the core; it is SDN-aligned (and hence on the road to 5G); it provides secure packet filtering to apps; the Quortus EXC software is in the controller and appliance; and it provides standard interface towards the MNO.
The advantages of this solution, according to Odgers, is that the MNO has visibility of offloaded traffic; it is able to select bearer QoS, e.g. for VoLTE; is is able to re-establish sessions if the user’s UE goes into idle mode; and it provides macro/private LTE mobility options.
‘We have to think about the business model and practical services. How do you maximise the return? If you only focus on the user plane with your MEC solution, you can’t maximise your return on investment,’ Odgers argued.
‘If you want to call our solution pre-standard then fine, but we think it is important for the standards process to have someone out there talking to people and feeding something back in sideways into the ETSI MEC Working Group. We are trying to show thought leadership, suggest alternatives and be practical.’
He emphasised that the solution is radio agnostic. ‘That is important. Our live demos at MWC were run on SpiderCloud small cells, for example. The demo was important, as it showed this was more than just a proof of concept.’ Odgers is also keen to talk up the solution’s ability to support voice – proper VoLTE calls, as he puts it.
He points out that despite LTE’s fine data capabilities, the Small Cell Forum has identified the need for better voice services as the main driver for enterprises seeking to deploy cellular small cells in their buildings.
Looking ahead, Odgers has identified more work that still needs to be done including: mobility between MEC appliances; Wi-Fi integration; combining MEC appliances with enterprise eNodeBs (a single all-in-one ‘smart cell’ for the SME market; and built-in IP-PBX); and a focus on bringing more app partners on board.
One further thought – how do you take this to market? Odgers isn’t too sure trying to sell the Quortus/ACS MEC solution direct to operators is the way forward. ‘Let’s find a middle tier option,’ he suggested.
‘Take a company like HP Enterprise; is it better positioned to do this? Yes, massively I’d say, because they know enterprises really well and in lots of different sectors, while operators are less well connected. They can be feet on the ground.
‘So, what is the money flow then?’ he continued. ‘MVNOs could brand the solution themselves, or an operator could outsource it to someone like HP Enterprise and sell it back branded as an operator. Or third parties do it themselves.
‘We are partly pitching an IT system with apps and there are a massively large number of app developers out there. But maybe it will be the enterprises themselves with the pull through coming from them talking to their systems integrators like HP Enterprise who can say to them: what you need is a MEC solution,’ said Odgers.