What’s New at The Telco Edge?

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

I described Telco edge (see my previous blog) as, “…an emerging, consumer-driven space with content providers standing to be the first to benefit.” Is that still true today or is there something new at the telco edge?

Content Will Not Be King

18 months later, much of what we talked about then is still on point, with an exception or two. At the same time, momentum is building. To start, content providers (Netflix, Amazon, etc) will not be flocking to the telco edge first. In theory, the telco edge — i.e. the cell tower — matches its needs to cache content and offer better user experiences. In practice, however, the model doesn’t quite work.

This is primarily because, on average US cell towers have two of eight providers on them. So, content providers would have limited market presence given they’re carrier neutral and need to reach all end users. Even if all eight providers were at one cell tower, you can’t cross-connect at the base because it’s a wireless network, not a core network.

Cloud is Losing Weight

Another way of looking at telco edge is that it’s a transition from a fat cloud/thin client to thin cloud/fat client model. Let me explain.

Take for instance airplane mode on the smartphone in your pocket – it untethers from the cloud and pretty much turns it into a fancy calculator. The majority of its functionality went away the minute you disconnected. Thus, to this point, we’ve been “fat” — built on cloud and hyperscale, giant data centers — and dependent on the core. We have to “thin” out in the future world.  Or take the autonomous car. As a thin client, an untethered car would stop. For it to keep going, the car is the computer — a fat client.

What about the cell tower edge? Let’s for a moment forget the edge part of the cell tower and just affirm: Cell towers will have a mission-critical component at the base of them in the future. Rather than content, as we originally thought, enterprise will be the driver.

Right now, companies are still investing in cloud and hyperscale data centers. Over the next decade, those dollars will go downstream to the edge. Downstream from mainstream edge is the telco edge at the cell tower.
Telco Edge - cell phone towers

What’s Here – and What’s Coming – for the Telco Edge

Edge data centers will eventually be components at the base of cell towers. The market is young, but a few pilot deployments are beginning; we’re seeing a handful of companies moving beyond the proof-of-concept stage. More so, experimentation with business model and use case is increasing. The towers will become more populated as companies further define the possibilities.

Notably, however, the telco edge — and edge in general — will play an important role in the expansion of 5G. We have 250,000 cell towers, but in reality, we need 2.5 million bases for 5G to become prolific. This new network will leverage distributed IT platforms to provide lower latency, increased bandwidth and expand the IoT — connecting to more than 2.5 million sensors per deployment.

In the meantime, telco providers’ venture into edge is via central office transformation. They’re also creating new revenue streams with services. So clearly, there’s more to come with telco edge in the industry – hear more about it in my next blog coming soon!

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