For Telco’s the Stakes are High in the Battle for the Edge

John D. Rockefeller famously claimed that large-scale business goes by ‘survival of the fittest.’

As Telcos and webscalers square up before the onset of Edge Computing, Rockefeller’s statement has never seemed more relevant. Google, Microsoft, Amazon — apex predators of international business — are setting sights on the telecommunications ecosystem.

Established telcos are bracing for the oncoming impact. Alliances have been forged overnight to safeguard Edge computing: The Bridge Alliance’s global MEC Task Force, 5G Future Forum, and Telco Edge Platform, have entered the scene in recent months. This is a clear indication that longstanding brand names could be facing extinction if drastic action isn’t taken quickly.

As the internet continues to swell in size, Gartner estimates that by 2022, more than 50% of enterprise-generated data will be located at the Edge.

You read that right. 50% of enterprise data over the next two years.

This isn’t just everyday competition; it’s a struggle to determine the future shape of telecommunications.

But when the showdown gets tense, one side reveals its Edge. Traditional telecom providers have the advantage of owning superior infrastructure and technological facilities. In the fight for survival, telcos have a convenient lifeline.

Why Edge Matters

Whilst Cloud computing won’t go away, time-sensitive computing will be overwhelmingly serviced by Edge computing, which is a model of distributed computing infrastructure that deploys closer to the sources of data, and the end user devices through which they operate.

The Edge starts and stops where different user devices interconnect. This includes Mobile, Broadband, and Satellite, among others. The importance of this space is simple: as the Internet of Things grows, a greater amount of information processing will happen at the Edge. It’s totally fair to think of this shift as an evolutionary transition within IT at large.

So far, so good.

Except, from a business perspective, things won’t be so easy-going. The prominence of the Edge will confer great power on those who grasp it first. It will become an online kingmaker: seize the Edge, and you will own the future of connectivity.

Enter the Webscalers

If contending with telecom rivals wasn’t bad enough, webscalers have thrown their hats in the ring.

Eager to expand and capture a new part of the market, tech behemoths have implemented their own projects in anticipation of the Edge. Google, Microsoft and Amazon have actioned telecom initiatives such as Google Global Mobile Edge Cloud, Amazon Wavelength, and Microsoft Azure Edge Zones. Across the pacific, Japan’s Rakuten is knocking the eastern telecom sector off-balance through its endeavours. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is launching “Starlink”, a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite service to compete with 5G. Amazon is also launching a LEO initiative called Project Kuiper to compete with 5G.

This would be cause for concern at any usual stage of business. But with Edge computing predicted to be worth $54B by 2024, the situation has gone critical. Make no mistake, these aggressively competitive newcomers could spell an endgame apocalypse for established telecom operators.

When they go high, go higher

But telcos shouldn’t despair just yet.

They have the know-how, technical capabilities, and material infrastructure that is essential for the correct functioning of Edge computing and 5G.

The fact is, Edge computing systems will have to successfully cope with the mass expansion of data brought on by 5G. In simple terms, an increasingly massive amount of data will be produced at the Edge. Low latency and high bandwidth capabilities are what’s needed to make this work. Sluggish, low-capacity systems won’t be up to the cut.

Telecom operators have an advantage in providing deterministic low latency. Real-time applications will rely on a communication path without jitter (delay variance), packet loss, and congestion. Telecom operators have the unique ability to engineer and control the end to end communication path to deliver the deterministic connectivity/communication. It is practically impossible to provide deterministic connectivity with less than 20ms latency from a data center outside of the telecom operator’s core. When the application traffic leaves the telecom operator’s core network, it loses integrity, manageability and control.

As they stand, Content Delivery Networks (CDN) are not optimized for processing large amounts of data received from the end devices. Hence, there is a need for a new type of inverted Edge CDN solution that can receive large amounts of data from the end devices whilst retaining the processing power to perform computations at the Edge.

From what I can see, Telecom operators are best placed to implement this required Edge solution. By having the right infrastructure and expertise, telcos can fend off the webscaler menace in the clash for the Edge.

Fighting for Breath

Good business strategy dictates that a company should never take its advantages for granted.

Telcos have what it takes to stay ahead, but they will rely on the AI and computing means to hold their ground. Updated technology will be needed to complement telco’s existing advantages.

The struggle for survival does two things: it scoops out losers from the game; simultaneously, it elevates the victors’ place in the hierarchy. Edge computing is an opportunity for telcos to become guardians of the internet gateway. If telcos are prepared to make the right choices, move quickly, and build on what they have, the Edge is theirs to claim.

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