Telecoms operators are still grappling with how they should work with hyperscalers; the network edge is a key battleground. This report is an update of our network edge capacity forecasts and incorporates survey data from over 190 respondents to evaluate the market’s views on telcos.
Developers need to see sufficient edge capacity
Edge computing comprises a spectrum of potential locations and technologies designed to bring processing power closer to the end-device and source of data, outside of a central data centre or cloud. This report focuses on forecasting capacity at the network edge – i.e. edge computing at edge data centres owned (and usually operated) by telecoms operators.
This forecast models capacity at these sites for non-RAN workloads. In other words, processing for enterprise or consumer applications and the distributed core network functions required to support them. We cover forecasts on RAN as part of our Telco Cloud research services portfolio.
Forecast scope in terms of edge locations and workload types
Source: STL Partners
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The output of the forecast focuses on capacity: number of edge data centres and servers
STL Partners has always argued that for network edge to take off, developers and enterprises need to see sufficient edge capacity to transform their applications to leverage its benefits at scale. The forecast seeks to provide an indication for how this will grow over the next five years, by predicting the number of edge data centres owned by telecoms operators and how many servers they plan to fill these up with.
Hardware vendors have been evolving their server portfolios for a number of years to fit the needs of the telecoms industry. This started with core network virtualisation, as the industry moved away from an appliance-based model to using common-off-the-shelf hardware to support the virtualised LTE core.
As infrastructure moves “deeper” into the edge, the requirements for servers will change. Servers at RAN base stations will not have full data centre structures, but need to be self-contained and ruggedised.
However, at this stage of the market’s maturity, most servers at the network edge will be in data centre-like facilities.
There are three key factors determining a telco’s approach and timing for its edge computing data centres
Telecoms operators want to build their network edge capacity where there is demand. In general, the approach has been to create a deployment strategy for network edge data centres that guarantees a level of (low) latency for a certain level of population coverage. In interviews with operators, this has often ranged from 90-99% of the population experiencing sub-10 to 20 millisecond roundtrip latency for applications hosted at their network edge.
The resultant distribution of edge capacity will therefore be impacted by the spread of the population, the size of the country and the telecoms operator’s network topology. For example, in well connected, small countries, such as the Netherlands, low latencies are already achievable with the current networks and location of centralised data centres.
Key factors determining network edge build
Source: STL Partners
The actual number of sites and speed at which a telecoms operator deploys these sites is driven by three main factors:
Factor 1: edge computing strategy;
Factor 2: the speed at which it has or will deploy 5G (if it is a mobile operator);
Factor 3: the country’s geographic profile.
Details on the evidence for the individual factors can be found in the inaugural report, Forecasting capacity of network edge computing.
Table of contents
- Executive summary
- Introduction to the forecast
- Key findings this year
- Regional deep-dives
- Role of hyperscalers
- Appendix: Methodology