5G and multi-access edge computing, or MEC, are two technologies that will undoubtedly integrate in enterprise networks in the future.
High bandwidth, limited security and rigid network infrastructure are currently among the biggest difficulties reported by network teams with existing network architectures. 5G is expected to confront these issues, and integrating MEC with 5G technology can further improve network performance.
MEC is an architecture that processes data at the edge of the network where the data source originated. It reduces bandwidth requirements because networks don't need to transmit large data amounts when processing occurs at the data location. MEC is best used in networks with applications that use greater amounts of data, like IoT systems.
Despite the inevitable consolidation of 5G and MEC, many enterprises see 5G and MEC as independent technologies, said Yesmean Luk, senior consultant at STL Partners -- a research and consultancy firm based in London -- in a webinar.
STL Partners conducted a survey in November 2020 in which more than 700 enterprises across various industries were asked about their current networks. Forty percent of respondents reported latency issues. Additionally, enterprises reported security and reliability concerns as one of the biggest motivations for integrating 5G and MEC.
Yesmean LukSenior consultant, STL Partners
"Taking all of this into consideration, there's a key opportunity for 5G-enabled edge computing," Luk said.
Benefits of 5G and MEC
5G and MEC are two technologies that can -- and should -- work in tandem. MEC already achieves much of what 5G aims to accomplish in the future, such as increased speeds, ultralow latency, network flexibility and complex networking capabilities. A fully implemented 5G network will need MEC to deliver on its promises.
Several use cases for MEC already exist and even more emerge when integrating 5G. Virtual desktop infrastructure, remote operations and precision monitoring are some of the benefits of 5G and MEC integration, Luk said.
A 5G and MEC model can improve upon existing challenges network teams currently face and enable flexible deployment of new applications. This ensures networks will stay up to date with modern infrastructure.
According to Luk, combining 5G -- specifically, private 5G -- and MEC results in the following two major benefits:
- Operational simplicity refers to the simplified end-user experiences of enterprise customers. Complete consolidation of 5G and MEC will remove network complexities. Only one standard interface will be necessary for functionality, so networks will become easier to scale and require less support, she said.
- Infrastructure benefits of 5G and MEC will improve TCO, reduce space and even eliminate the need for data center environments.
5G and MEC models
Even though enterprises don't see 5G and MEC as a single technology, operators see them as connected. As a result, operators can offer at least three potential types of deployment, Luk said.
Each 5G MEC model presents varying levels of integration. Enterprises can choose to have operators provide the private 5G and MEC infrastructure, or they can receive management tools to support their existing edge applications.
1. Operators deliver connectivity
Operators provide 5G technology, as well as technology for enterprises to move their on-premises edge infrastructure into public or private clouds. Operators also include cloud computing services, such as IaaS or PaaS, in addition to the MEC infrastructure.
Similar to 5G and MEC, many network pros consider edge computing and cloud computing as competitors when, in practice, the two should -- and likely will -- work along with each other. Cloud computing uses internet servers to process and host copious amounts of data. Edge simplifies this because it moves the data closer to its source location, streamlining cloud processes.
2. Operators deliver services, ISVs provide support
In this model, enterprises receive the same services as the previous model, but they also receive support to integrate products from an ISV.
This model may be ideal for enterprises with cloud computing infrastructure. Cloud computing enables enterprises to deploy different cloud services, like IaaS, PaaS or SaaS. Network teams use the latter to choose ISVs and run their preferred software platforms. An integrated 5G and MEC approach with ISV support facilitates this technique.
3. Operators deliver connectivity, systems integration and customer application support
Enterprises receive both connectivity and systems integration support from the operator, as well as support for customer applications. This model is the only method that offers extensive connectivity support and management tools. The operator primarily acts as a support provider, but these services are useful for companies looking to refresh their existing networks.
"Most enterprises today are deploying edge in a more tactical way as a point solution, as opposed to a single standard infrastructure platform to deploy any and all applications," Luk said. She added that the latter two models are particularly useful for those looking to implement automation and reduce complexities.
These models are only some of the potential approaches that enterprises can take to integrate 5G and MEC. Some providers have already set their sights on the 5G and MEC opportunity, including Microsoft's deployment plan and strategies from Dell, SK Telecom and VMware.
With current network architecture creating challenges for professionals, enterprises may want to look toward 5G and MEC as a safeguard to keep up with evolving networking trends.