- MEC is defined as a network architecture that allows computing, network, and mobile service providers to shift some of the computing and cloud-based processes to the edge of the network environment, achieving better performance, latency, and security.
- This article explains its key features, and shares examples of MEC, benefits, and best practices.
Table of Contents
Multi-access edge computing or MEC a network architecture that allows computing, network, and mobile service providers to shift some of the computing and cloud-based processes to the edge of the network environment, achieving better performance, latency, and security.
How MEC Operates
How MEC Operates
Multi-access edge computing (MEC) is an idea or concept developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). Unlike a data center, this network architecture provides user-required services and cloud computing operations at the network edge, which is closer to end users. The meaning of MEC can be broken down as follows:
- Multi-access: MEC was once known as mobile edge computing. Later, the ETSI MEC committee substituted “multi-access” for “mobile.” Whenever a telecom network progresses to 5G, it accommodates and can manage different access techniques in a unified manner. Multi-access allows a MEC system to provide a seamless experience to customers accessing the network via the technology of their choice.
- Edge: Relocating network operations and applications to the network’s edge enables ultra-low latency. For instance, when both the servers and carriers’ principal network gateways are located near your residence, traffic may be managed locally without worrying about traffic volumes and processing timelines.
- Computing: The network’s computational capabilities are spread toward the network’s edge. These include video codec, 3D graphics modeling, video analysis, and artificial intelligence.
Edge computing is the computation that occurs at or close to the actual location of the user or the data source. MEC is an application of edge computing for service providers.
As service providers transition from physical appliances to a service-based architecture, a decoupling occurs that enables the functioning of mobility workloads in a larger ecosystem. When a mobility task is placed farther away from the environment, like at the base station or access layer, and when it is matched with a user-initiated workload, the resultant computational activity is closer to the user than was previously possible.
Numerous service providers are shifting workloads and services from the network’s core (in data centers) to the network’s edge, to sites of the presence or central offices. Multi-access edge computing occurs when a service provider relocates mobile workloads closer to the client to increase throughput and decrease latency.
Why is MEC necessary?
When apps can run near where they’re utilized, their performance is enhanced, and processing activities are completed more swiftly. A multi-access edge computing setup offers ultra-low latency and high bandwidth, in addition to data and radio network data that may be used in real time by applications. This is the greatest advantage of MEC.
RAN functionality improvement is another reason why MEC should be used. Radio access networks (RAN) are key connectivity points between end-user devices and the remainder of an operator’s network. RAN links end-user devices to services enabled by the operator, including voice, data, and over-the-top (OTT) applications like video streaming or healthcare services such as telemedicine that generate revenues for the service provider.
MEC implementations make RAN available to approved application developers and content suppliers, enabling users to deploy edge computing at the application layer and also at the lower level of network operations and data processing.
Service providers will be early users of multi-access edge computing for high-density settings, such as sports stadiums and initial 5G deployments. Internet of Things (IoT) gateways in the manufacturing industry, for example, are ideal candidates for MEC implementation.
See More: What Is IoT Device Management? Definition, Key Features, and Software
Key Features of MEC
Multi-access edge computing (MEC) can be characterized by the following key features:
1. Close proximity to the end user
MEC gathers critical data for analytics or processing close to the information source, eliminating the requirement to backhaul information to core sites. It also permits hosting applications and services “on top” of the mobile network components, i.e., above the network layer. These apps and services may benefit from being close to the client and obtaining contextual information from the local radio network.
2. Low latency of data transmissions
Typically, multi-access edge computing networks have a latency of fewer than 20 milliseconds. This expedites responsiveness and enhances the customer experience. It allows reduced network latency by putting network equipment closer to end users. At the edge, accelerators such as graphics processing units (GPUs), field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) reduce computing latency.
3. Suitability for real-time applications
MEC is advantageous for applications that necessitate near-real-time or real-time decision-making and outcome management. With such low latency, enterprises may easily access near-real-time data transmission and analysis. Real-time segment application cases include AR/VR-connected automobiles, Industry 4.0, and IoT-enabled smart cities. MEC is suited for real-time applications which cannot tolerate a latency greater than 10 to 20 milliseconds.
4. Uninterrupted operational capabilities
Edge apps are localized, which allows them to operate separately from the remainder of the network, even if removed from the core. This indicates that multi-access edge computing may be very reliable and secure if the technology is implemented correctly.
5. Interoperability with existing applications
In 2017, the Multi-access Edge Computing Industry Specification Group (MEC ISG) of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) issued its first package of standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) that would allow MEC interoperability. MEC does not necessitate the integration or transfer of apps to the new environment, resulting in more efficient development and deployment.
6. A greater degree of virtualization
MEC also provides cloud computing and an IT service landscape at the network’s periphery. A cloud’s resources may reside anywhere, including a centralized data center, a cellular site, a central node, an aggregator site, a metropolitan data center, or the customer’s premises. A software-defined access tier might potentially be utilized as an augmentation of a distributed cloud.
Most edge computing projects use open-source hardware and software to exploit cloud and virtualization principles, like software-defined networking (SDN) and network services virtualization (NFV).
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9 Examples of MEC
Multi-access edge computing (MEC) provides an environment that enables applications to process tasks faster. It facilitates an environment with low latency, high bandwidth, real-time access to data, and radio network information in applications, thus enabling them to perform better. A critical use case of MEC is in 5G networks. Let us look at 5G and some of the other examples of how MEC can be used:
1. Augmenting the power of 5G
As part of the rollout of 5G, service providers will be required to virtualize functionalities that will streamline network operations, increase network flexibility and reliability, and enable them to develop new capabilities and services. MEC is a means of meeting the throughput and latency demands of 5G technology while enhancing the user experience.
MEC and 5G may collaborate to deliver new services and applications. A MEC platform is where 5G-delivered value-added applications or “smart” services are implemented. For example, an AI/ML app would be installed on the MEC platform.
2. Optimizing video delivery
MEC can be implemented in applications to optimize end-user video streaming using throughput guidance for transmission control protocol (TCP). HTTP live streaming (HLS) is a commonly used video streaming protocol based on the TCP transport protocol used for live streaming and on-demand streaming. HLS lowers or raises the quality of the stream as the bandwidth available for a TCP flow varies depending on the underlying network conditions of the client devices.
Network congestion in TCP causes data packet loss and significant delays leading to inefficient use of network resources and degrading application performance. MEC provides the backend video servers with near real-time data on the estimated available throughput information for a specific time interval. With this information, the video servers can assist TCP congestion control decisions thus, improve the usage of network resources. This improved efficiency leads to optimized video delivery and better user experience when streaming videos.
3. Caching viral content locally
Viral content consumed many times by several users at about the same time in the same geographical area increases pressure on the network bandwidth. Therefore, the capacity in the broadband network becomes a bottleneck. Locally caching the content improves the consumer’s quality of experience (QoE) and quality of service (QoS) while also providing savings in the backhaul capacity requirements.
An authorized MEC application can be used to locally store content that is frequently consumed in a particular geographical area. Consumers can access the content from the application’s local cache once a request is made. This technique minimizes additional delays that may result from transferring content over the core network resulting in enhanced QoE for consumers.
4. Enabling augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and cognitive assistance
Technological advancements in gaming, real estate, health and fitness, and remote work have increased demand for AR and VR applications. These are low-latency immersive applications that can implement a MEC application on the MEC host or directly on the client devices. These applications have requirements such as latency, computing, and storage resources that must be fulfilled every time a user makes a request.
The MEC system in the application is responsible for selecting a MEC host that fulfills all its requirements. It also ensures a connection between the client device and the mobile network environment even when conditions change. For instance, when a user accessing a locally stored application wants to access another application located in a cloud environment, the MEC system ensures that the connection is maintained.
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5. Streamlining gaming experiences
The gaming industry is experiencing a massive demand for professional and amateur gaming. Games are very popular applications on computers, smartphones, and gaming consoles. Internet games that require an internet connection can sometimes lead to poor consumer experience as they experience lagging. Gaming lag results from high latency values as the games attempt to access data from servers beyond the core network.
Integrating MEC solutions in gaming provides a platform to locate gaming server applications closer to the radio, thus lowering the latency values and enhancing the applications’ performance. MEC applications can also handle other requirements, such as storage and computing capacity. Additionally, the MEC solutions maintain connectivity between the client devices and the gaming applications even when the underlying conditions change, for instance, when users keep moving.
6. Tracking locations
Location tracking involves using geolocation algorithms to track the real-time and network measurement-based position of active devices that have their global positioning systems (GPS) turned on. Organizations can integrate MEC solutions with active device location tracking services to enhance efficiency.
A MEC application can collect location-related information from the client devices, process and perform data analysis, and send the data to the required party. Location tracking is an efficient and scalable solution that organizations can employ in crowd management, campus management, smart cities, and providing tailor-made advertisements.
7. Deduplicating network traffic
Many users rely on their smartphones or computers to access similar content on the web. Often, traffic repeats itself as several users consume the same popular shows from social media platforms or content providers such as Netflix, Instagram, or Tiktok. Deduplication of traffic allows these platforms to be used more efficiently with fewer computing resources.
The traffic deduplication technique comprises two functions, compressor and decompressor. These functions identify repeating patterns in the traffic, which are then stored close to the user at the decompressor. Repeating traffic patterns are identified by the compressor, which sends indexes that match that specific pattern stored in the decompressor.
MEC solution services enable the decompressor to perform traffic routing. They also allow the decompressor to detect repeating patterns, store them, and reconstruct the original content.
8. Enabling vehicle-to-infrastructure communication
Exchanging vital safety and operational information between vehicles and roadside units increases the safety and efficiency of the transport system. Telematics applications consist of algorithms that collect information from vehicles and roadside sensors to detect high-risk situations in advance and send alerts to nearby vehicles in that area.
Companies can use MEC to increase the coverage area so that more data can be collected and analyzed by connecting the cars to a highly distributed mobile network environment. MEC enables the roadside applications to receive data from more vehicles and roadside sensors, analyze them, and send warnings to nearby cars with very low latency. The low latency enables drivers to quickly receive information to make immediate life-saving decisions.
9. Orchestrating edge-delivered video broadcasts
Organizers can apply edge video orchestration in large stadiums and concerts where multiple end-users can receive live video streams from the stadium cameras in real time. The users can access the videos from various camera angles and view the provided replays. The edge video orchestration applications are integrated with MEC solutions to enhance the performance of these applications. The MEC platform routes the data traffic from the cameras and sensors to the video orchestration application and the end user.
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MEC Best Practices and Tips
The following are five best practices to remember when preparing for MEC adoption.
Multi-Access Edge Computing Tips
1. Consider the use case carefully
Determine the applications that stand to benefit from integrating MEC solutions. MEC solutions are suitable for use in applications that require low latency, such as gaming, VR, AR, and real-time video analysis. This best practice is crucial since MEC requires a heavy initial investment.
2. Configure existing applications to utilize MEC potential
Developers should configure applications to offload part of their computational load to a MEC application to enhance the selected applications’ performance. For instance, MEC services allow tasks such as real-time video processing to be processed at the network’s edge, reducing the load on the central data centers. The central data centers are thus freed up to perform other tasks, boosting the overall efficiency of the operation.
3. Leverage MEC to improve network security
Users can use MEC to improve the security and safety of sensitive data traveling across computer networks. MEC allows users to store their information closer to the edge of the network, which is usually more secure than the central data center, which is more vulnerable to denial-of-service attacks. MEC solutions also provide additional layers of protection at the network’s edge. Thus, they minimize the risk of data breaches and ensure data safety. Therefore, it is an essential best practice to incorporate MEC into your cybersecurity strategy.
4. Position MEC as part of your differentiated value proposition to consumers
MEC helps optimize network performance, which should be part of your service value proposition. Network operators can integrate MEC solutions to perform tasks such as traffic deduplication and traffic routing. This will ensure their consumers get quick access to information from various websites or applications as they request it over their network, thus enhancing consumer satisfaction.
5. Combine MEC with business-critical applications and processes
It is a best practice to implement MEC for business-critical applications that require maximum availability. This way, you can be sure of the technology’s ROI. MEC distributes resources across multiple MEC nodes. It also enables applications to perform traffic routing to optimize the best routes to send data packets. Therefore, MEC plays a significant role in minimizing outages and downtimes for business applications.
Tips to make the most of MEC
Here are further tips to get the most out of MEC once it is implemented:
- Regularly monitor and optimize MEC performance in applications and networks to ensure that it consistently meets the needs of your applications and consumers.
- Keep up with the latest MEC technologies and best practices (since it is an emerging field) to ensure you get the best out of your solutions.
- Ensure that the MEC architecture is designed and configured to support localized content and services such as local content caching or active device location tracking.
- Design a resilient platform that addresses the high availability requirements for applications without compromising network availability. Ensure there is a failsafe mechanism so that consumers are minimally interrupted in cases of malfunctions.
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MEC is the next step in the evolution of global networks. It will allow carriers to distribute the pressure on computing resources so that no data center is strained. In the era of immersive technology, IoT proliferation, and ubiquitous AI, MEC has the potential to transform how users experience internet services, albeit working in the background!
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