Where do you watch your videos? 69% of the UAE prefers using its smartphone, which is considerably higher than in most developed markets in the world. But, unsurprisingly, it also considers grainy videos a real turn-off: 49% of the UAE lays emphasis on a buffer-free experience and 47% reports high-definition video quality as being key.
So what’s to blame for the choppy, stilted videos on your smartphone?
Simply put, congested mobile networks. Just think about your daily data consumption. If you’re the average smartphone user, we’re talking a few social media and web page visits, a few video and audio streams, and some light to heavy app usage. Now imagine a nation with a higher-than-average number of users whose daily consumption is that of the average smartphone user. Congested networks? You bet.
Incidentally, at 78%, the UAE’s smartphone penetration is not just the highest in the entire Middle East and North Africa region, but it is also 10% higher than that in the US. Further research indicates the value of the UAE’s smartphone market will climb to USD 9.32 billion by 2019. And the larger the number of smartphones being used in the country, the more burdened its networks will become.
With the growing popularity of cloud computing, most smartphone applications are now hosted in the cloud. But a centralised cloud data or centre or platform comes stitched on with latency issues – distance is, after all, the antithesis of low latency. It is, therefore, also the antithesis of applications requiring an agile response.
So how exactly do you resolve these latency issues? Well, this is where the concept of Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) enters the picture. By moving some of the application code and data to the fringes of the network – or rather to the edge of the network – proximity to users can be scaled up and latency can be scaled down.
An environment for value creation
With its potential to offer ultra-low latency, high bandwidth, traffic offloading capabilities, data analysis, aggregation and augmentation at the edge, MEC will open new frontiers for network operators.
MEC’s key value proposition is that it allows an operator to provide new services by opening up their Radio Access Network (RAN) edge. It does this by placing smart nodes at the edge of a mobile network, for example, right where small cells would likely be placed.
Essentially, MEC equals better customer service – lower latency, higher throughput and services that are more diverse, localised and personalised. Application-aware cell performance optimisation for each device in real time can improve network efficiency and customer experience. Physically closer servers and tight RAN integration can help reduce video stalling and increase browsing throughput.
On a side note, the Internet of Things (IoT) is predicted to further congest networks: the centralised cellular network architecture in use today was designed to handle millions of smartphones, but not billions of IoT endpoints using a wide variety of network protocols. It is likely not up to the job of handling the looming mobile network traffic overload problem expected to arise from the projected massive influx of IoT devices.
MEC will have an important role to play in the evolution of core networks for the IoT era. By taking the existing core network architecture to the edge of the network, operators will be able to provide a resilient, cost-effective wireless infrastructure for the foreseeable future.
MEC: A Crucial Step Towards 5G
Traditionally, the radio access network (RAN) has been the ‘dumb pipe’ for voice calls and data. In the 5G network, the operators would be able to make these pipes ‘intelligent’ by overlaying distributed edge cloud computing onto the RAN. With virtualisation at the edge of the RAN, the mobile network operators can allow multiple third party tenants at the base station.
The application providers have two main incentives to host their applications, or a suitable sub-division of it, on the edge – first, they get ultra-low latency and high-bandwidth. Secondly, the Radio Network Information Service module of the MEC server gives them real time network information about the cell load, subscriber specific bandwidth, and subscriber location. This way the mobile operator can take load off the core network, reduce congestion and make more money out of the edge network.
As telecom operators are facing new challenges with ever growing mobile traffic and continued cost pressure, there is a clear need to improve the end user quality of experience, generate revenue, and optimise network operations. Mobile Edge Computing can bring solutions to many of these issues.