ETSI MEC widens its remit to fixed links and WiFi

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Changes name to Multi-access Edge Computing, but its converged focus may create tensions with other edge-focused initiatives.  Last week’s Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) Congress in Munich showcased the significant progress the ETSI-driven platform has made since work on its specifications started in March 2015. And the group driving MEC has even changed its name to reflect its widening remit – it will now be called the ‘Multi-Access Edge Computing’ industry specification group (ISG) as its work extends from cellular to WiFi and fixed access links.

The name change was announced at the Munich event and will take effect early next year, when the work on MEC specs moves into its second phase. The ISG was due to finish its work in March 2017 – all ETSI initiatives have a two-year life – but like ETSI’s other critical platform for operators, NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) it has received an extension to pursue a follow-up set of specs.

This second stage will focus on edge computing in converged networks rather than mobile-only environments.

“We asked for an extension and modified our terms of reference with the objectives of the next phase and this was all agreed last week,” ISG chair Nurit Sprecher from Nokia told the Congress. “We’re going to extend beyond 3GPP access technologies to cover WiFi and fixed.” According to LightReading (http://www.lightreading.com/mobile/mec-(mobile-edge-computing)/etsi-gets-edgy-about-mobile) Sprecher also said that ETSI has been trying to coordinate activities with some of the other groups which are addressing edge computing, but is keen to remain the “center of gravity”.

This hints at the kind of fragmentation that also faces NFV, which did a remarkable job of unifying the industry’s virtualization efforts in its first phase, but is now fighting to remain the driver of second-stage efforts such as management and orchestration (MANO), where alternative platforms have emerged focused on OpenStack.

In edge computing, there are also several industry and open source efforts, such as the Open Fog Alliance, which supports Cisco’s concepts of fog and mist computing. The further ETSI MEC extends beyond cellular, the more it is likely to overlap with these other activities.

Sprecher revealed that ETSI has signed an agreement with Open Edge Computing, and is working on one with the Open Fog Alliance. There will also be potential confusion in the mobile-only area because the 3GPP will be working on some aspects of edge computing as part of its 5G efforts. “Some activities, such as MEC integration with 5G architecture, will need to go beyond ETSI,” said Sprecher. “It is natural that the 3GPP will work on that and we need to work with them rather than reinventing.”

There were plenty of interesting demonstrations at the Congress, especially in the ETSI MEC PoF (proof of concept) zone, which showcased some of the applications which have been sanctioned by the ISG. Two that stood out were led by Saguna and by Quortus, which were both pioneering mobile edge computing before ETSI started its work and MEC became an official acronym.
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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.

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