What edge developers want from telcos now

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The use of edge computing is accelerating rapidly in applications such as live streaming, drone management, and AR/VR. Developers, the key catalyst of growth, need infrastructure fast and certainty on pricing. Through seven case studies we outline why developers want from edge computing, and how telcos can support them.

There is a clear opportunity for telcos to support edge application developers

STL Partners has been writing about edge computing since 2015. We’ve published reports including Edge computing: Five viable telco business models and Telco edge computing: Turning vision into practice. Although this is relatively nascent in the telecoms industry, the domain is maturing rapidly. Discussions are now centring around the “how” and the “when” rather than the “if” and the “why”.

In order to drive these conversations forward, telcos need to listen and learn from developers who will, eventually, be making use of their edge computing capabilities. There are developers who are deeply engaged with the issue of edge computing, seeing it as a game-changing capability for their own solution. But, they also have strong messages they want the telecommunications industry to hear. They have their own requirements and expectations for how edge computing should work. They want clarity around what capabilities it will have, how their application will work on the edge and how they will be charged for its usage. This paper looks to give several application developers at the forefront of edge computing development a platform to address the telecoms industry.

For our interview programme we have focused on four key industries:

  • AR/VR applications
  • Drones
  • Location based services
  • Video and application optimisation

The focus for this paper is on application developers who primarily serve enterprise markets. However, there is real opportunity and applicability for applications running at the edge in the consumer market as well. In particular, some of the AR/VR applications discussed are currently industry focused but could and will eventually be used by consumers as well.

Our hope with this paper is that it will stimulate discussions within the edge computing community as a whole, including all key stakeholders. We also pull out the key practical implications for telcos in terms of business models, the technology they should look to be developing and the partnerships they may wish to establish.

AR/VR for industry

The promise of industry 4.0 is being discussed broadly, and has been for several years. Much of the promise of increased productivity and reduced waste comes from the automation of processes that have typically required routine, often physical, human intervention. STL Partners has evaluated some of these use cases at length, as well as forecasting the value they can bring to the industry, in an upcoming report focused on the manufacturing industry.

However, there is also much promise in applications that, rather than replacing humans, look to increase their safety, efficiency and productivity. And this kind of use case can span outside of manufacturing, into industries such as mining, utilities, construction, architecture and beyond. One of these use cases is using AR/VR/MR (mixed reality) technology to overlay information for workers. This can span from simpler applications such as improving people management through applications that provide information on the order of tasks that should be performed to more complex applications like using augmented reality to visualise 3D CAD models. Benefits of these kinds of solutions include:

  1. Increased productivity of workers. For example, instead of needing to refer to manuals or instructions before returning to the task at hand, instructions can be overlaid on smart glasses so they can be referred to as the task is being completed.
  2. Increase productivity of experts. VR/AR applications can essentially upskill cheaper labour either through the additional information they can receive through the application or through the ability to more closely collaborate with experts who are not physically in the same place as them.
  3. Tasks performed with more accuracy. If workers can be upskilled through the use of overlaid information, then they are less likely to need to redo tasks because mistakes have been made.
  4. Better health, safety and compliance. Overlays on the smart glasses can warn workers of hazards and enable them to more safely handle challenging situations. Where video is stored, compliance to health and safety standards can be proven.

UAV/drones: Struggling to scale

Forecasts for the drone market have been optimistic in predicting take-up of the technology across different industries. There are proven cases of how drones can deliver benefits across different sectors, for example:

  • Delivering packages, such as Amazon’s Prime Air
  • Monitoring critical infrastructure, such as bridges and utility lines
  • Surveying land and the condition of crop in agricultural settings

Outside of delivery, most drone use cases centre on the ability to capture data that has historically been costly, time consuming or dangerous to do so and make sense of it by creating meaningful maps or interpret the data to identify anomalies. For example, France-based start-up Donecle is enabling automated aircraft inspections through drones to improve efficiencies and reduce the time planes spend in the hangar. Software companies such as Pix4D, DroneDeploy and Bentley are the market leaders for providing photogrammetry tools to translate imagery from drones into practical models.

However, adoption is slower than expected. This is partly due to the nascency of the technology; most drones are limited to 30 minutes of flight time, which restricts the amount of data that can be collected in a single session. Regulation for commercial use is inhibiting use, by putting constraints on how large the drone is, when it can fly and how high, as well as mandating the need for pilot qualifications to fly drones.

Ultimately, the challenge is that, until there is a way to continuously collect data and monitor assets/infrastructure, industries and governments will not be able to access the true benefit of using drones. To make a real economic difference, drones must enable a significant volume of data that is not currently accessible. The current model relies on an individual to manually programme the drone to fly and collect the data, then connect it to a PC, to transfer the data and finally upload it to the photogrammetry software to extract insights. Atrius, a start-up we interviewed who is developing data centre units to enable autonomous drones, likened this to using a bucket to collect oil from an oil field and driving back to the refinery to process it into fuel rather than using a pipeline. Instead of using manual processes, data collection and transformation from drones needs to be autonomous – from the drone knowing when to set off and where to go, to interpreting the data and distributing it to the relevant recipients and systems.

Video and application optimisation

The way in which content, video and applications are optimised to improve performance, scalability and security has evolved. This is due to a number of reasons:

  • Application and web page content is increasingly personalised and dynamic – caching static content at the edge is not sufficient.
  • Real-time video streaming is growing in entertainment, as well as enterprise/government applications (e.g. police body cameras) – performance here cannot be improved by moving the content closer to the end-viewer, video has to be optimised as it is captured.
  • Content is being enriched with augmented reality – for example overlaying live statistics on players when streaming a basketball game.

This is driving a need for edge computing and the ability to run workloads closer to the end user, rather than simply cache content or applications in a CDN. Two of our case studies come from this domain, although have very different propositions: the start-up Section provides a platform deploying workloads for developers at the edge and Smart Mobile Labs’ solutions optimise real-time video streaming.

Location-based services

Location-based services leverage information about a user’s location in order to provide targeted information, advertising or offers. Radius Networks provides these types of solutions for the retail and fast food industry. Specifically, they enable solutions such as:

  • Table service. Often used in fast food restaurants, when a customer has ordered they are given a beacon and can go and sit at a table. Staff are able to track the customer and bring their food to them when it has been prepared.
  • Curbside pickup of groceries. When a customer orders groceries in advance and drives to the store to pick it up, their location can be tracked in order for staff to be ready to hand them their order as soon as they arrive in the carpark. This ensures minimum wait time while also minimising the amount of time food is taken out of optimal storage conditions such as a fridge or a freezer.
  • Asset tracking. Assets such as products or machinery can be tracked throughout a store. This can ensure expensive stock or items are not lost and can help with logistical difficulties such as locating a specific package or item in a large warehouse.

There are current technical limitations that come with location-based services, but Radius Networks believes that edge computing can help solve them.

This report looks at the four use case categories in depth, including the types of services application developers are offering, why they need edge computing, and the opportunity for telecoms operators.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • AR/VR for industry
    • Application introduction (AR/VR for industry)
    • 1000 Realities: Edge computing for remote AR assistance
    • Light: edge for heavy duty computing with CAD models
    • Arvizio: edge for dynamic collaboration between remote parties
    • Challenges and implications for telcos
  • UAV/drones
    • Commercial drones are struggling to achieve wide scale adoption
    • Enter edge computing: enabling autonomous drones
    • Atrius’ experience: edge is necessary, and the network is key
    • Challenges and implications for operators
  • Video and application optimisation
    • The changing nature of video and application optimisation
    • Benefits of the telecom edge
    • Edge use cases in video / application optimisation
    • Challenges and implications for operators
  • Location-based services
    • There are current technical limitations that come with location-based services – and edge can help solve them
    • Edge computing and location-based services: how it works
    • Challenges and implications for operators
  • Monetisation opportunities for telcos
  • Conclusions: practical next steps for operators

Technologies and industry terms referenced include: , , , , , ,