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Using the public cloud at the edge

I talk A LOT about telcos using the public cloud in IT. I think it’s an easy route to the public cloud for telcos to take their old legacy applications, right through BSS and charging, and move those applications to get a ton of TCO savings and feature velocity. But another popular approach is to use the public cloud at the edge. And I think this is a great idea, too.

Using the public cloud at the edge

All of the hyperscalers offer edge capabilities: Microsoft Azure with Azure private MEC, AWS with OutpostsWavelength and Local Zones, and Google Cloud with Anthos. We compared these offerings in a previous blog if you want to learn more about the differences between the services. But I want to talk about what’s going on with the public cloud and the edge. As we’ve seen over the past few months, there have been a number of high-profile announcements of telcos partnering with the hyperscalers. For example:

  • AWS announced that DISH will be using AWS Outposts and Local Zones to build its 5G network. The first available location will be in Las Vegas, and it will begin by offering support to enterprise customers in this area. DISH is the most out there operator with its thinking on cloud. Not only is it using AWS at the edge, it’s also using AWS to host its 5G core. So it continues to be an interesting use case to benchmark and watch as it builds a new network in the US.
  • AT&T announced in July that it’s working with Google Cloud to expand its 5G and edge collaboration to better service business customers. AT&T has ALSO announced that it will be working with Microsoft Azure to support 5G core traffic at the edge. So here we have a big established operator going multi-cloud with two different vendors at the edge. It will be interesting to watch which parts it uses where. As we’ve in previous podcasts, multi-cloud is HARD. We should watch AT&T’s ability to execute on this strategy.
  • Bell Canada announced that it’s using AWS Wavelength to build edge compute and storage solutions. Interestingly, Bell Canada has also entered into a partnership with Google Cloud focused on new innovations over the next decade, “including cloud solutions for enterprise customers and consumers powered by Google edge solutions.” Like AT&T, it looks as though Bell Canada could be using two public cloud providers to build its edge infrastructure, although concrete plans of its work with Google at the edge have not been announced. Here again I’ll point out that multi-cloud is hard, so we will watch Bell Canada to see what it’s using where and its ability to reap the benefits with a two-cloud strategy.
  • Finally, and most recently, AWS announced that it’s working with Verizon on three new Wavelength Zones to support edge services in Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix. Through this ongoing partnership, Verizon will enable developers and businesses to build and deploy applications at the edge of Verizon’s wireless network, via AWS Wavelength. With the addition of three more cities in the U.S., AWS Wavelength is now offered in 17 cities around the world.

Clearly, there’s a lot of demand from major telcos to leverage the power of the hyperscalers at the edge. But why use the public cloud at the edge? What’s the advantage? Let’s start by looking at the alternatives if you DON’T use the public cloud.

There are two alternatives available to telcos when it comes to building their own non-public cloud edge infrastructure:

  1. Go it alone and offer their own proprietary tech stack at the edge.
  2. Use a private cloud provider like Oracle or IBM.

A familiar infrastructure for enterprise customers

To start, you need to look at the edge through the eyes of the user: enterprises and consumers. For enterprises, hyperscalers offer a tech stack that they know and love, and many are already using the public cloud in other areas of their business. Their employees already know how to create apps using the public cloud, so building at the edge (using the AWS stack, for example) taps into their existing knowledge without requiring the hassle, cost, and additional hours of learning a new, proprietary approach. They can quickly build the applications they need.

While most people look at the public cloud as an INFRASTRUCTURE play, they need to look at it for what it’s towering strength is: its SERVICES. The public cloud is a plug-and-play platform that saves time and money on creating applications. AWS, for example, has more than 160 services that act like Lego building blocks for enterprise applications. This brilliant song from A Cloud Guru’s Forrest Brazeal is testimony to the breadth of services AWS offers. The other hyperscalers have a similar set of services.

The alternative approaches – using a proprietary stack or working with a fake cloud provider like Oracle – forces your enterprise customers  to learn an entirely new stack, complicating the app development business and slowing time to market for new services. These customers  are ALREADY picking the public cloud themselves for their internal IT. Telcos could just jump on this bandwagon. If you don’t believe me, just ask any telco’s VP of Enterprise Sales which is easier to sell: developing against the AWS/GCP/Azure tech stack, or some proprietary one? I’ll tell you right now – it’s the BFCs.

A foundation for new consumer applications

It’s not just the enterprise that is set to be transformed by the capabilities of the telco edge. Consumer applications will also get the same makeover by bringing processing power closer to the end-user.

Consider live sports and the fan experience: By leveraging the power of 5G edge computing and partnering with a hyperscaler, a telco could identify season ticket holders, VIPs, and employees, and automatically authorize them to enter a stadium faster (as discussed here by Verizon). No more long lines to get into events. Telcos could also transform the live viewing experience through augmented reality overlays on spectators’ devices that provide real-time statistics and player highlights for the event they’re attending. And live events are just one example – there are limitless opportunities for telcos to improve subscriber personalization and engagement.

Of course, services that support live events and other consumer uses aren’t required 24/7. A built-in benefit of the public cloud is that capacity can be scaled up and down when it’s required, so that telcos are not wasting CapEx investment on compute or storage when the service demands are intermittent. Instead, save that cash and use it on another investment area and leverage the CapEx investment the hyperscalers have done for your gain.

Public cloud at the edge

When building the edge, the answer is clear – telcos should leverage the capabilities of the public cloud to provide a tech stack that’s easier to sell and use or to provide an improved user experience without CapEx investment. The end result is more enterprise revenue for telcos, and more innovative engagement with subscribers. How awesome would that be?

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