The Internet of Things (IoT) is experiencing an explosive growth, with the number of IoT devices worldwide forecasted to almost double from 15.1 billion in 2020 to more than 29 billion in 2030. This rapid expansion, however, brings with it the challenge of data latency, a critical factor that can impact the efficiency and effectiveness of these devices.

Enter Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC). MEC moves the computing of traffic and services from a centralized cloud to the edge of the network, closer to the customer. This shift allows for real-time, high-bandwidth, low-latency access to network resources, making it a key enabler for managing IoT connected devices. On the other hand, IoT is the backbone of future customer value, enabling ubiquitously available digital services.

How multi-access edge computing works

Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) can be described as a network design that allows cloud services to run at the edge of a network, performing tasks in real or near-real-time that would traditionally be processed in centralized core or cloud infrastructures. This is a significant evolution in cloud computing, leveraging mobility, cloud services, and edge computing to shift application hosts from a centralized datacenter to the network’s edge.

Applications perform better and processing tasks occur more quickly when they can run close to where they are being used. The multi-access edge computing environment enables ultra-low latency and high bandwidth, along with data and radio network information that can be utilized by applications in real-time.

For instance, mobile operators introducing 5G can use the same cloud-native infrastructure to run both MEC and vRANs on the same COTs hardware. Positioning relevant applications on or near the base station not only provides advantages to consumer and enterprise end users but also reduces the volume of traffic offloaded to the core network. This minimizes operational costs (OPEX) and helps address security and data governance issues.

The need for MEC for IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionized the way organizations interact with the world around us. Every day, more and more devices are being connected to the internet, generating an enormous amount of data. However, this massive influx of information presents a unique set of challenges, particularly when it comes to data processing and latency. Consider a real-world example of an autonomous vehicle system. In this scenario, latency can have serious consequences. If there’s a delay in processing data from traffic signals or other vehicles, it could lead to accidents. In business operations, latency issues could result in significant operational inefficiencies and increased costs.

The exponential growth in traffic, especially video, and the explosion of connected devices mean that network infrastructures will need to scale effectively to deliver higher volumes of data. MEC brings the flexibility and agility of the cloud closer to the customer to meet these demands. Edge computing allows IoT data to be gathered and processed at the edge, rather than sending the data back to a datacenter or cloud. Together, IoT and edge computing are a powerful way to rapidly analyze data in real-time.

Edge access networks are also evolving to include converged residential, business, and mobile networks and virtualization. BI Intelligence expects more than 5.6 billion enterprise and government IoT devices worldwide will utilize edge computing solutions in 2020, up from less than 1 billion in 2016. IDC predicted that 43% of the data created by IoT devices worldwide will be stored, processed, analyzed, and acted on at the edge (instead of in the cloud or a remote data center) by 2019.

Real-world applications of MEC in IoT

Equinix

Equinix, a global data center and interconnection platform, faced challenges due to the rapid growth of communication-intensive mobile applications, smart cities, and Internet of Things (IoT). The requirements of low latency, deployment independence, location awareness, and mobility support were raising challenging research issues. The company needed better computing power and service capabilities to make the IoT intelligent and optimize the cloud-edge-terminal ecosystem for tackling network bottlenecks.

To address these challenges, Equinix implemented Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) in its operations. The implementation of MEC has brought significant benefits to Equinix. Today, 51% of IoT-supporting digital infrastructure is deployed at the edge, growing to 59% in two years. This has resulted in reduced latency for end users, thereby improving user experience.

Equinix’s MEC solutions help autonomous vehicles connect to digital ecosystems and execute digital transactions in near real-time. This has made smart mobility feasible by enabling connected vehicles to pull data from sensors and other connected resources, process that data, and then react to the data in near real-time.

Strategic advantages for corporates

Competitive differentiator

MEC adoption can be a significant competitive differentiator for businesses. It combines compute and networking at the edge, enabling real-time or near real-time response1. This is particularly beneficial for companies under tremendous pressure to implement use cases that require real-time or near real-time response1. For instance, in a recent IDG survey, 95% of IT leaders said they expect MEC to have a significant or transformational impact on the business.

Scalability benefits

MEC is highly scalable, allowing businesses to expand or dial back on services without incurring high costs. It also improves reliability and supports heterogeneous configurations. Network entities can be rapidly deployed, leading to just-in-time service initiation. Moreover, MEC can optimize network performance by adapting to changing radio conditions. This means businesses can easily add more IoT devices without performance issues.

Digital transformation strategy

MEC fits into a broader digital transformation strategy by moving application hosts away from a centralized datacenter to the edge of the network. This results in applications that are closer to end users and computing services that are closer to application data. As a result, applications perform better and processing tasks happen more quickly.

In the long term, MEC offers advantages like adaptability and future-readiness. It allows content, services, and applications to be accelerated by increasing their responsiveness. Furthermore, MEC does not require adoption or migration of applications to the new environment, which makes development and deployment more efficient.

Risks and considerations

While MEC has numerous benefits, it also introduces several potential risks and challenges for businesses and companies, particularly in IoT applications:

Location and physical hardware limitation

The closer to the user edge computing gets, the more complicated the real estate issue becomes. Deploying computing hardware at thousands of individual tower sites significantly increases the cost and complexity of deployment. This is further complicated by power requirements. Depending on the size of the edge compute installation and its location, it may not be possible to get sufficient dual-power feeds to match up with existing real estate options for MEC installations.

Pushing compute resources to central offices or customer premises may mean either a need to retrofit those environments or operating in less-than-ideal spaces. Furthermore, edge computing facilities will need access to fiber networks and most likely, to peering point with other networks. Getting the right capacity and the necessary peering relationships at a given edge compute location could end up being much more complicated than at the relatively few numbers of large data center hubs.

Security vulnerabilities

One of the most consequential attacks that MEC systems are vulnerable to is the compromising of unsecured internet protocols. Protocols, alongside certain kinds of security measures, can also be vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Falsified information and/or logs can have disastrous consequences for data integrity and overall business operations.

As companies deploy more and more edge devices to manage a wider array of operations, it gets harder to track and monitor. Over time, devices may even outgrow boundaries of the edge, creating bandwidth overcrowding and endangering the security of multiple devices.

One of the biggest security risks with edge computing is data breaches. When data is stored locally on devices instead of in a central location, it becomes much easier for hackers to access it. Without secure and compliant long-term data retention and archival solutions, critical data could be misconstrued and destroyed by an edge device by accident. This means that businesses will need to invest in robust security measures to protect their data.

Conclusion

Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) for Internet of Things (IoT) systems are highly beneficials as it brings computation and data storage closer to the devices where it’s needed, reducing latency, improving speed, and saving bandwidth. This is particularly relevant for corporate decision-makers who are constantly seeking ways to optimize their operations and gain a competitive edge in the market. Furthermore, MEC offers a new paradigm that can transform IoT systems, making them more efficient, responsive, and secure. It provides real-time analytics and machine learning at the edge of the network, enabling faster decision-making and more efficient use of resources.

Thomas Charneau

December 14, 2023

7 Min read