Vodafone preps 5G-MEC to complement on-prem Industry 4.0 play in Europe
Vodafone has put-live its multi-access edge computing (MEC) offer on its LTE and 5G infrastructure in the UK, with data storage and processing functionality from AWS. The 5G-MEC combo is being used in a number of industrial-IoT style pilots in the UK; further MEC deployments will be completed in Germany shortly, and parallel pilots will follow.
It noted the importance of the AWS mobile-edge setup to complement the company’s private edge-and-network push, as twin elements in its Industry 4.0 strategy. It commented: “This is a milestone… to provide enterprise customers with both dedicated MEC – edge computing combined with mobile private networks – and distributed MEC that is embedded at the edge of the 4G/5G network.”
It said its multi-cloud approach supports “customers of all sizes to succeed in a digital world”. The UK-based operator was the first to announce a deal to embed AWS in its 5G network in Europe, starting in the UK and Germany and rolling out to other European territories, to enable IoT devices and developers to take advantage of single-digit millisecond networking latencies.
Verizon, SK Telecom, and KDDI have announced similar deployments, as well, each signing with AWS for the cloud giant’s new Wavelength-branded MEC service, which integrates compute and storage at the edge of 5G networks. US carrier Verizon has in recent weeks announced Wavelength deployments in Las Vegas, Dallas, and Miami; it has set a target of 10 US cities to support 5G-based MEC before the year is out – out of 60-odd US cities where it has activated 5G.
Vodafone said, again, it is the first operator in Europe to enable organisations to create pilot applications using distributed 5G-based MEC. In fact, it said the service will be switched on generally in the UK in early 2021, with a new 5G-MEC ‘commercial centre’ in London in the first quarter, providing an “ultra-low latency zone over a wide area”, to give enterprises and developers a “headstart” on new digital services.
More of these commercial centres will follow in the UK and Germany. In the UK, sites are planned in Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol, and Cardiff, plus “many towns” along the M4 motorway ‘tech corridor’ and into parts of Wales and Cornwall.
But Vodafone has announced a number of pilot projects are already using 5G-MEC setup, in two “beta trial sites” in the UK. An additional location will open in Dusseldorf, Germany, early next year, in the “economic heart of Germany”, also covering Cologne. General availability will be extended to Dortmund later in 2021. The London and Dusseldorf venues will also be used to support innovation hubs for business customers and software vendors.
Vodafone said a number of companies have already built and tested applications deployed in Vodafone’s test facilities. In the UK, these include drone company Dedrone (for airspace security), surveillance firm Digital Barriers (body-worn machine-vision cameras), 5G ‘social viewing platform’ provider Groopview (“synchronised viewing experience”), and smart transport company Unleash (video analytics).
Mapping company HERE Technologies will start trials of “real-time hazard warning services” for traffic management in Germany shortly. Vodafone said 5G-MEC is a foundation for remote surgery, connected industrial robots, and autonomous cars, plus gaming, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), and critical IoT. Vodafone claims to have achieved round-trip latencies from base station to MEC application server of less than 10 milliseconds, between Newbury and Birmingham.
Johan Wibergh, chief technology officer at Vodafone, said: “Every millisecond matters in digitalising manufacturing, safeguarding citizens and workers, transporting medical supplies by drone or eliminating motion sickness when wearing a VR headset. Putting these services much closer to the customer with Vodafone’s edge computing service will significantly reduce any delay in transmitting critical services.’
He added: “By opening up new innovation hubs within our 5G network, which currently spans 127 cities and nine markets in Europe, we can help turn new business ideas into commercial successes.”
Vinod Kumar, chief executive of Vodafone’s business division, commented: “We are making it simpler for both independent software vendors and our customers to experiment with this emerging technology. We’re doing this by offering an incubation space to create and test applications that we can then industrialise and scale. And we’re already seeing some innovative applications that provide positive business outcomes.”