Multi-access edge computing (MEC), known by many by its previous name, mobile edge computing, is a network architecture that gives network operators and service providers cloud computing capabilities as well as an IT service environment at the network edge. The concept of MEC has grown increasingly popular over the past few years, with the curiosity of many interested parties snowballing alongside the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT). In this three-part series of articles on MEC, we’ll look at how multi-access edge computing works, the security challenges it faces and how it can be protected and secured, and how it will be used to improve the networks and services of tomorrow.
Multi-access edge computing is currently one of the most popular topics for discussion when it comes to the technologies that will enable network operators and service providers to realize the potential of both enhanced network architectures and the Internet of Things.
Having had its name changed from mobile edge computing to multi-access edge computing by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to allow for a more heterogeneous approach to be adopted, multi-access edge computing has now opened its avenues up beyond mobile and into Wi-Fi and other access technologies.
In this, the first of three articles looking at multi-access edge computing, we’ll be taking a look at how MEC has come about and how it works as well as taking a look at some examples of how it is being used today. So, let’s start with why MEC?
Why Multi-Access Edge Computing?
While initially showing great promise in mobile technologies, edge computing has since gone on to demonstrate how it could also be applied to other access technologies such as Wi-Fi with at least similar, if not greater levels of success.
For example, much of the data created by IoT and smart devices needs to be collected and responded to in a close to real-time. Data generating processes such as network services, connected manufacturing equipment, automated critical infrastructure, or automated vehicles could all have significant impacts on network operators and service providers, manufacturing and utility operations and even people’s lives if data processing delays impede their ability to function appropriately.
In order to combat network latency and enable enhanced performance and next-gen network services and functions, operators and service providers are looking to multi-access edge computing to transform the current landscape.
The logic behind MEC is simple enough. The further away from the source data processing, analysis and storage takes place, the higher the levels of latency experienced.
By processing, analyzing and storing the data generated at the very edge of the network, operators and providers can deliver enhanced response times and improved services while also laying the groundwork for more advanced concepts such as driverless vehicles and enhanced automation.
The Benefits of MEC
The benefits of multi-access edge computing can be found in various places and applications. The most obvious are the way in which it allows network operators and service providers to reduce latency in the services in order to enhance overall customer experiences alongside the ability to introduce new, high-bandwidth services without the previously mentioned latency issues.
Both of these are great ways to apply MEC in order to enhance businesses and industrial operations, however, there are other benefits to multi-access edge computing, too.
Security is also one of the advantages of multi-access edge computing as many MEC systems will utilize local, private connections to ensure data security. As well as security, multi-access edge computing systems can also be integrated in any wireless network infrastructure including wireless, cellular, or a combination of the two.
The increased availability of IT resources and applications alongside the ability to run higher-bandwidth network process looks set to further increase technological innovations in the field and help produce the MEC networks of the future.
Emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles will rely on real-time data analytics in order to function safely, something that multi-access edge computing, it is suspected, will help to enable.
While MEC is still in its infancy, there are several use cases we can draw upon to further improve our understanding our how multi-access edge computing works in real-world scenarios. The following three use cases showcase how network operators and service providers hope MEC architectures will be used in the future.
In industrial use cases, the distributed cloud environment that multi-access edge computing is able to provide would become invaluable for the various applications it then enabled. In the case of critical infrastructure, real-time data analytics could potentially stave off malfunctions and unnecessary repairs by informing engineers of any anomalies as they occur.
Much like its industrial use cases, MEC brings many of the same benefits to enterprise environments. Security and surveillance, for example, could be greatly enhanced if data was processed, stored and analysed closer to the source, improving overall security. The same is true for behavioral analytics of customers in the retail industry, for example.
In the entertainment industry, multi-access edge computing could be utilized to provide even greater customer experiences as is happening in areas such as stadium and venue sports, events and performances. Multi-player or action cams and other such services could be provided without the typically associated bandwidth and latency issues that have plagued these ideas for so long.
In part two of this three-part series on MEC, we’ll be taking a look at the security challenges faced by multi-access edge computing and trying to understand how best MEC might potentially be protected from them.