Edge computing is the key enabler to 5G and its cloud-based structure. The experts of Cnit (Italian Inter-University Center for Telecoms) explained how during the 5G Italy event.
This new approach is very challenging to explain, so let’s start with a bulleted shortlist. Andrea Detti (University of Rome – Tor Vergata) summarized the technical similarities between cloud and 5G in three key points:
- 5G, splitting radio and processing units, has a lot in common with the Web structure itself;
- 5G no longer relies on nodes, but on functions: it needs the underlying cloud computing;
- more technically, 5G-related software uses a Rest-based approach on open APIs ready-to-use on Github through Docker containers.
A technical paper has been presented during 5G Italy 2019, due to Fabrizio Granelli (University of Trento) and Riccardo Bassoli (University of Dresden). It helps to explain the importance of the 5G architecture through the radio-access network and edge computing.
5G will incorporate several state-of-the-art architectural and protocol approaches on top of his networking infrastructure to tackle the emerging needs for improved flexibility and performance.
Such requirements lead to the design of two options for its architecture: an evolution of 4G-LTE standard Ip architecture and interaction of the core network functions using a Service-Based Architecture. This novel architecture allows the integration of the recent developments in cloud and mobile edge technologies, also leveraging energy efficiency and latency.
5G application scenarios include vehicles and robots
The key approach to the coming revolution is Network Function Virtualization. 5G is expected to support unprecedented requirements such as very low latency (in the order of 1 ms), high reliability, and capability to offer access to distributed computation or storage facilities. These new characteristics add to higher connectivity and bandwidth.
Several target scenarios and services include strict constraints in terms of low latency and extreme reliability, classified as URLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications) services. Vehicular communications and remote control of robots or machinery belong to such class of services and are well-known 5G application scenarios.
By virtualizing the key network, it is possible to detach software functions from dedicated hardware, with the advantage to be able to relocate or modify resources most efficiently and in real time. This emerging paradigm is what we define as NFV, Network Function Virtualization.
NFV leads to the definition of two next-generation paradigms such as C-RAN (Cloud Radio Access Network) and MEC (Mobile Edge Computing/Cloud). Let’s give a look.
The Cloud Radio Access Network
Cells are increasingly becoming smaller and smaller, to provide high performances. This generates problems in terms of the costs of the equipment itself and its powering. C-RAN represents a possible architecture for future cellular networks to tackle cost and energy consumption.
Base stations are designed to handle the maximum traffic possible, not the average traffic. This results in a waste of processing resources and power at idle time or at a low amount of traffic.
The majority of power doesn’t scale with the number of users nor the amount of traffic. Therefore, a more flexible solution is required.
The typical 4G RAN architecture in the eNodeB architecture contains both RF and processing capabilities. Cloud RAN separates the two components, putting processing units in a BBU (baseband unit) Pool and connecting to the RRH (Remote Radio heads). BBU pools are based on open platforms and real-time virtualization technologies rooted in cloud computing achieve dynamic, shared resource allocation and support for the multi-vendor, multi-technology environment.
Cloud RAN enables large-scale centralized deployments, allowing hundreds of thousands of remote RRHs to connect to a single centralized BBU pool.
A detailed end-to-end mathematical framework has been recently developed at the Cint research unit in Trento to study the potential benefits in 5G.
Mobile Edge Computing, or MEC
MEC is a cloud-based IT service environment running application closer to the customers. This way, latency, and network congestion can be reduced, giving generally higher performances.
A MEC application is hosted in the distributed cloud of a MEC system. It can belong to one or more network slices (i.e. virtual networks) that have been configured inside the 5G core network.
Cloud RAN and MEC represent a big step forward in the flexibility of the 5G network infrastructure, increasing scalability and service support.
Edge computing will be central in 5G, added Maurizio Dècina, president of Infratel, during the main conference. “If there are about ten core centers, we already see hundreds of regional data centers and thousands of other dedicated data centers, a very large number for a nation like Italy”.
Edge computing is though the key, both in terms of data ownership and performance. “The edge computing approach, in fact, makes possible to exploit the network at 70/80%, where wasting only huge amounts of core data centers would be enormous”.