Choose Private Wireless Networking for your Edge Compute Solutions
In a recent blog post, I cited a report saying that 50 percent* of enterprises are expected to deploy edge compute solutions within three years, correlating with the growth of low-latency IoT applications. Capitalizing on that trend, major mobile network operators (MNOs) seek to tie enterprise edge computing to their 5G wireless services.
Before 5G, MNOs offered 4G/LTE wireless capabilities to support enterprise applications, but 4G/LTE architectures didn’t really allow for localization of data flows. Most of those wireless architectures were set up to route all the voice and data traffic to Mobile Telephone Switching Offices (MTSOs). Each MNO might have a dozen MTSOs around the county that they would route all of the data to, and then the data would be routed to the appropriate destinations.
That model did not allow for high-performance networking solutions. As enterprise applications began to need to use wireless networks, customers ran into a similar problem as I mentioned in my previous blog post regarding using the public internet to reach public cloud data centers: you just don’t know how the data is going to move. That means that if you’re an enterprise trying to use the wireless network for performance-sensitive applications, you’re going to be out of luck.
5G technology offers a completely different architecture in that it allows the separation of data. It allows localized switching of data to control the performance of how that data is moving—from a routing standpoint and a latency standpoint.
5G also offers “striping” capabilities that enable mobile network operators to carve-out portions of the 5G spectrum for specific enterprise connections. That allows MNOs to guarantee performance. Striping doesn’t use shared bandwidth, as the older networks did. You used a shared-spectrum model if you ran data over a 4G/LTE wireless network—the same spectrum used for voice calls and other customers’ data. But 5G allows for instantaneous and dynamic slotting and carving-out of dedicated spectrum capacity for those data flows. That’s one of the big advantages of 5G. It can become a much more useful and reliable tool for enterprise data connectivity because of that localization and control of how data is flowed in a high-performance manner.
The 5G architecture also enables MNOs to pair localized data switching with edge compute. Now, applications that require high-performance networking and low-latency can run on that edge compute, in that local market, and support enterprise on-premises locations. MNOs can now create an edge middle ground that optimizes performance, cost and security. Their customers can run enterprise applications in a more high-performance way that can interact with the same types of AI, machine learning and other tools offered by cloud service providers.
Lumen takes a more open standards approach toward our edge compute. If you’re a VMware shop or a Red Hat OpenShift shop, Lumen gives you native access to our edge compute services so you can use the same tools that you’re already familiar with. That’s not how the MNOs’ edge compute with 5G architectures work. That edge compute is built on proprietary 5G development and management tools. There are efforts in the 5G world to make it easier for enterprise customers to leverage 5G edge compute. For instance, Verizon and Amazon Web Services (AWS) teamed-up on a service called Wavelength: AWS puts an Outpost next to a Verizon edge compute location, and that becomes a landing spot for enterprise applications. Enterprises that want to use AWS can land their applications locally in the market, and Verizon has worked out the required protocols and the interactions.
But that’s not as open an architecture as what Lumen is deploying for our edge compute services—and that begs the question: what is Lumen doing with wireless? We take a different approach than the MNOs. We don’t believe 5G is the answer for everything. The MNOs want to push all of the networking through 5G. But there are many other wireless capabilities that might have better cost/performance trade-offs. For some enterprise campuses, Wi-Fi is still perfectly acceptable and very cheap. Enterprises are used to managing their own Wi-Fi networks, and they want to control their own Wi-Fi networks to a large extent. Wi-Fi continues to make advances, too. Wi-Fi 6 has a lot more security capabilities, more bandwidth, and the ability to support more connections reliably.
Lumen’s approach is to offer a variety of wireless connectivity options for the enterprise campus and let customers choose what meets their cost/performance requirements best. In addition to Wi-Fi, Lumen offers a long-range wireless IoT capability called LoRa. It is ideal for low-power IoT devices that only need to transmit small amounts of data at a time. LoRa is a great solution because IoT developers don’t want to build 5G chips into sensor devices—it would make them much more expensive.
In addition, Lumen has great experience in Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) wireless technology. It was carved-out by the U.S. government to allow innovation in high-speed wireless networking without having to own vast amounts of the radio spectrum. Lumen deploys private CBRS wireless capabilities at enterprise campuses to give enterprise customers all the same benefits of 5G, but with local control—doing it locally on-premises, under tight control by the enterprise and our company together. In the 5G world, the MNO has complete control. The enterprise customer doesn’t have a lot of insight as to what is going on in the 5G network. With CBRS, Lumen can deploy a private wireless network that operates at the same speed as 5G, but just on that enterprise campus. If you have a factory, we can create the purpose-built antenna structure and we can do the switching, even on the factory floor. That enables us to break out and route the data any way you and anywhere you need it.
If you are one of those 50 percent* of enterprises that expects to deploy edge compute solutions within the next three years, be sure to carefully evaluate your wireless options. Lumen can help you get the security, performance, and data management flexibility you need while keeping costs under control.
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* Global Trend Report: How the 4th Industrial Revolution is Changing IT, Business and the World, September 2020