Although multi-access edge computing (MEC) is becoming more popular, many companies don’t understand how it differs from conventional edge computing.
MEC is a network architecture designed to bring technology resources closer to client devices and end users by providing computing and cloud-based processes at the network’s edge, says Brandon Leiker, principal solutions architect, security at 11:11 Systems, a managed infrastructure solutions provider.
“This shift reduces latency, provides better performance, improves security, and reduces network congestion,” he says.
Leiker explains that MEC provides edge computing for mobile devices and communication, such as 5G devices, whereas conventional edge computing processes data at the edge terminal itself or a computer near the terminal.
The concept and initial standards for multi-access edge computing, originally called mobile edge computing, were developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in 2014.
In 2017, ETSI renamed mobile edge computing to MEC to better reflect the requirements for non-cellular operators.
According to ETSI, “multi-access edge computing offers application developers and content providers cloud-computing capabilities and an IT service environment at the edge of the network.”
MEC: The Fusion of Edge Computing and Wireless Networks
MEC “stands as a fundamental pillar” to enhanced user experience in wireless communication by reducing network latency and enhancing capacity, says Shehadi Dayekh, a 5G specialist leader at Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory.
He says: “Multi-access edge computing represents the fusion of edge computing and wireless networks, creating an architectural foundation for enhanced data processing for wireless users.”
How Does MEC Differ From Conventional Edge Computing?
MEC is a subset of edge computing, says Ian Ferguson, vice president of marketing at Lynx Software Technologies. Multi-access computing was coined to denote endpoints that are mobile as opposed to fixed. Edge computing, on the other hand, covers endpoints that are fixed in addition to those that are mobile in nature.
Dayekh agrees that while MEC is mainly driven by wireless connectivity at the edge of mobile networks, conventional edge computing remains the broader concept of data processing closer to users and devices – regardless of their connectivity type.
“Another difference is that the endpoint’s location will vary,” says Ferguson.
“The impact of this is that there may need to be different decisions made as to where processing is implemented and to whom it is shared with as the end points change locations.
“We do believe that the widespread availability of 5G networks is a big enabler for MEC, offering higher bandwidth and vastly improved latency metrics over prior wireless network standards.”
Additionally, the network operator would typically own and operate MEC equipment as part of its infrastructure, says Michael Clegg, vice president and general manager of 5G/edge at Supermicro, a provider of high-performance, high-efficiency server technology.
“Operators can open their radio access network and fixed network edge to authorized third parties, enabling them to offer innovative applications and services to mobile subscribers, enterprises, and vertical segments,” according to ETSI.
In that sense, it differs from conventional edge computing, which the end user would typically own, says Clegg.
In contrast to MEC, conventional edge computing may not always be associated with a broad, well-defined network, says Saurabh Mishra, global director of IoT product management at AI and analytics provider SAS.
It could instead be a set of servers residing on a plant floor with local network connectivity only.
“And conventional edge computing often lacks the management capabilities intrinsic to MEC,” Mishra says. “This may require high-touch support.”
Ferguson says Lynx Software Technologies believes that 5G technology is a massive enabler for deploying MEC in the military field.
“The vision of the next generation battlefield requires a diverse set of systems, i.e., soldiers, robots, drones, aircraft, helicopters, armored vehicles, to communicate swathes of data securely to make informed and accurate decisions at the edge.
“I think of a fighter plane as a MEC server with wings, and the plane is where the data is aggregated and processed.”
In this area, Ferguson says there is a need to enhance traditional 5G commercial networks to improve security, resilience, interoperability, and performance specific to Department of Defense needs and requirements. One recent example of this is Lockheed Martin’s 5G.Mil private mesh network.
6 Use Cases for Multi-Access Edge Computing
1. Connected Vehicles or Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X)
Low latency communication is required for V2X applications that enhance autonomous driving and overall driving safety.
2. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
Driven by bandwidth requirements, AR and VR technologies benefit from MEC for intensive tasks like rendering and inferencing at the edge.
3. Public Safety & Mission-critical Applications
For example, push-to-talk services and real-time cameras for first responders benefit from priority access and an enhanced wireless network experience.
4. Delivering Streaming Video
Video streaming commonly uses the HTTP live streaming protocol that will adjust the quality of the video stream based on certain variables, such as network congestion and available bandwidth.
MEC enhances the ability of video servers to make decisions to reduce network congestion and more efficiently utilize network resources.
5. Medical Devices in Healthcare
Leveraging MEC can significantly reduce latency, which can sometimes mean the difference between saving a life and not when the speed of data transfer or execution is critical.
MEC optimizes gaming experiences by locating gaming servers closer to the user, providing lower latency and better performance. Additionally, MEC improves the ability of client devices to maintain connectivity to the gaming applications they’re using, such as when client devices are not stationary.
A subset of conventional edge computing, multi-access edge computing provides cloud computing capabilities at the edge of the network, i.e., near the end-user’s physical location or the data source rather than the data center.
The benefits of MEC include lower latency, better performance, and reduced network congestion.
Still, conventional edge computing and MEC have a place in the market but will satisfy an organization’s business outcomes differently, says Steve Currie, vice president and distinguished engineer of global edge compute at Kyndryl, an IT infrastructure services provider.
“[As such], an organization must clearly define the desired business outcomes and the requirements to achieve those outcomes before selecting the appropriate edge compute approach,” he says.