EdgeInfra: Fostering network collaboration

18 July 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Cara Mascini, former CMO of AMS-IX, believes the successful business model for the densified networks of the future will depend on collaboration and openness.

Small data centres will help reduce traffic load on networks as data volumes increase and help to reduce the need for investment in more and more capacity, says Mascini.

They “will enable the localisation of compute, storage, networking and interconnection”, she says. “They will enable parties to localise their applications and their workloads and keep data in the area where it is relevant.”

Mascini is co-founder and CEO of EdgeInfra, an Amsterdam-based company that is investing in multi-tenanted edge infrastructure. She spent 10 years as chief marketing officer at AMS-IX, the Amsterdam Internet Exchange. Job Witteman, the other co-founder of EdgeInfra, was previously founder and CEO of the AMS-IX company.

“Edge data centres do not replace regional or core data centres in any way, says Mascini. “They are an additional uniquely local layer in the communications infrastructure. Edge data centres will be in places where no current data centres or interconnection exists. Regional or core data-centre players are business partners for edge data centre players and vice versa. The offers are complementary.”

Some applications or workloads will need localisation, low latency, local processing or local storage. Then “an edge data centre adds value, but some of that also needs to go back to the core of the cloud or internet, and not all applications are in need of those aspects and that is where the current data centres come in.”

Mascini, who spoke at our Communications Infrastructure Summit in Atlanta, sees edge data centres as one element of the new, densified networks of the future – and densification will also apply to fibre networks, cell towers and small-cell antennas.

There will be “new sharing and collaborative business models around the densification”, she adds. Indeed, collaboration will be vital for a range of communications infrastructure throughout the next decade.

She wants a world with “the will to work openly, collaboratively, no more walled gardens and the use of shared infrastructure”.

The financial challenge is enormous and there are technical issues that need to be solved, she adds. “Those will be more easily overcome by sharing both the financial burden and collaboratively work on the technical issues ahead. Using the neutral host principle can be one of the ways forward as we have seen this working in the past.”

The densification and virtualisation “will lead to an infrastructure that is flexible and customisable in real-time”, says Mascini.

We will see “automation of processes over the whole value chain … making complete elastic infrastructures possible, whether they are mobile or fixed networks, edge or cloud compute or storage.”

So what applications will be enabled by these new densified networks in the 5G era?

Entertainment for one, she says: gaming and TV in combination with augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) “as well as social interactivity”. We will have “fully immersive, real-time and interactive experiences of 4K/8K ultra high definition” for live events. Viewers or players will have  a virtual presence thanks to “drones  serving 360-degree images”, Mascini adds: “All very computational heavy and latency sensitive, for which users are willing to pay.”

The future will be a world of personalisation. “Personal assistants, personal advertising, personal retail, personal experiences [with] natural language apps offering personal information, products, experiences and automation, easing life through the use of artificial intelligence using many sources of data that is making decisions and taking action for us.”

Home, building and public security are on her list, with “instant analysis and threat detection, real-time high definition surveillance, AI-driven auto-alerts”. And of course “personal health monitoring, prevention, remote doctoring, AI-driven diagnostics and decision making”. Mascini believes “there is a willingness to pay for applications improving quality of life”.

Surprisingly, she believes that mobility is “not one of the very first drivers but certainly one of the important ones”. Connected autonomous vehicles and traffic information systems will increase road safety and efficiency, she says.

These services will be dependent on low latency and high levels of computing power, so they will “need both 5G – not a Wifi-based technology – and very local high-density edge compute” – and that means “both infrastructural as well as device-based edge compute”.

And “last but certainly not least”, says Mascini, “private 5G network slices will lift a lot of the limitations of Wifi in the business environment, combined with local edge computing supporting cloud-based business applications and IoT [internet of things] deployments of many kinds”. 

But there are challenges, she adds – in particular, people. “The communications infrastructure is not the sexiest of industries to work in. The more physically related civil technology areas such as fibre, cell tower and data centres even more so than telco.”

That means resources might be limited, and that “may pose a real barrier to fast roll-out, both in the near but more so in the future”.

What can we do about that? “We need to actively focus on improving the sector’s reputation in this respect and build programmes to interest students at a very young age.”

One more thing: “I will not mention diversity,” she adds, thereby mentioning diversity – a challenge for many in all sectors of this industry.

Mascini is one of Capacity's 20 Women to Watch from 2018, part of the annual Global Women in Telco & Tech event and awards.

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