By Tanya Seda, Chief Strategy Officer
As we move through 2020, we are seeing that content providers (Netflix, Amazon, etc.) somewhat surprisingly, are not moving to the “telco edge” as expected. That edge, at least in theory, is the cell tower. The problem is, cell towers are not up to the task with regard to caching content and by extension, user experience, especially in this time of so much of the workforce operating from their home offices, with no end in sight. Let’s break this down to understand what’s going on:
Why the model doesn’t as well as expected is because, on average. US cell towers have just two of eight providers on them. What this means to content providers (who are carrier-neutral) is they have limited market presence, while needing to reach all their end users at all times. That said, even if all eight providers were on one cell tower, you can’t cross-connect at the base because it’s a wireless network, not a core network. Important to remember.
Another way of looking at the telco edge, is to see it as a transition from a “fat cloud” to what we call a “thin client”. Think of it this way: airplane mode on your smartphone untethers you from the cloud. When that happens the majority of your smartphone’s functionality goes away as well. Thus, we’ve been “fat” built on the cloud, and to support all that functionality hyperscale, giant data centers have been built out, and the utility we all depend on is tied to that core.
It is my belief that in the not too distant future, we will have to move closer to the edge, creating a client model. A good example of how this will work is to consider autonomous cars. Today, an untethered car would have to stop to get directions from cloud servers storing that information. To keep the car moving, the car becomes the computer, an edge device, and interacts with the world around it. That world requires lots and lots of endpoints, and they will all need to be managed.
As TEM providers, I think it is important to keep a pulse on what’s coming in the future with technology and how it influences the services we need to offer our clients to keep them operating efficiently. Increasingly this means considering connected devices (IoT, M2M, etc.), not just user-connected equipment and services. One rapidly growing area we see are cell towers. For the future, I expect that they will have a broad mission-critical component at the base of them.
A couple years ago, we imagined that consumer content would be king, but today we are recognizing that the enterprise will be the driver instead. Right now, companies are still investing in cloud and hyperscale data centers. Over the next decade, that budget will go downstream to the edge. If we follow this model, what is downstream from the current mainstream edge is the telco edge, and that is at the base of the cell tower.
I predict that edge data centers will eventually be integrated cell towers in a more distributed model. There are some proof of concept deployments in the works to test that model. A growing number of companies are in the experimentation stage with business models as well, and the use cases are growing. The towers will become more populated as companies further define the possibilities.
Of most importance for the TEM industry is that the telco edge will play an important role in the expansion of 5G and the many millions of end point devices that will need to be managed. There are 250,000 cell towers across the US today but we need 2.5 million bases for 5G to proliferate. The new network model will leverage distributed IT platforms to provide lower latency, increase bandwidth, and expand the IoT which will connect more than 2.5 million sensors per deployment. That’s a lot of work and a lot of devices and services to manage!
As we await what is next with telcos and their customers moving to the edge, TEM providers are in a perfect position to help our customers manage those millions of endpoint devices. That will require an accurate and current asset inventory for all of them, and the asset intelligence to see and report on how each asset is being utilized and how it is “behaving”.
This is an exciting new evolution and has many use cases in healthcare, supply chain, and manufacturing and we are here to help manage those new assets!