Vodafone and AWS combine MEC and 5G

  • December 16, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

Vodafone Business is working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) on a service that combines the quick response times of distributed multi-access edge computing (MEC) technology with the fast speeds of 5G.

Vodafone is the first company in Europe to let organisations create pilot applications using distributed MEC with AWS. This is made possible by embedding AWS Wavelength at the edge of its 4G and 5G networks to bring its customers and key applications closer together.

In collaboration with AWS, Vodafone Business’ distributed MEC service will be rolled out from spring 2021, starting with the first commercial centre in London, with other locations in the UK and Germany to follow. These will give businesses, application developers and independent software vendors a start in developing digital services and access to real-time analytics so they can respond better to events and end-user needs.

The commercial MEC centre in London will provide a low-latency zone over a wide area and make use of Vodafone’s 5G network in the capital. In addition to areas within and around London, the low latency zone will extend to Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff, as well as many towns home to tech firms along the M4 motorway corridor and parts of Wales and Cornwall.

MEC is a key component to unlock the full potential of 5G as it moves cloud-based IT services to the edge of the network, providing services with almost instantaneous connectivity. Combined, MEC and 5G form a platform on which remote surgery, connected industrial robots and autonomous cars as well as critical IoT applications will work by allowing low-latency response times between the user and the application housed within the edge of the network.

Milliseconds matter for remote surgery and driverless cars, but the responsiveness of the network also makes a difference for gaming, augmented reality and virtual reality as it makes the experience more enjoyable and feel more real to the user. It will also provide a more immersive experience for sports fans when they replay a goal from several pitch-level angles, as well as allow shoppers to try on clothes virtually.

Typically today, mobile data response times are 50 to 200ms. Vodafone recently achieved a low latency time – the total round trip time from the base station to the location where the MEC application server is hosted – of less than 10ms between a test location near Newbury in the south of England and Birmingham in the Midlands.

This builds on the agreement Vodafone Business and AWS announced last year. Vodafone has been piloting MEC based on the AWS Wavelength zones with customers in two beta trial sites in the UK. An additional beta trial location is due to open in Dusseldorf, Germany, early next year with general availability in Dortmund later in 2021.

This first AWS Wavelength zone in Germany will let developers create low-latency applications for organisations in the economic heart of Germany, including Dusseldorf and Cologne. In addition to London, these locations will also be used to support innovation hubs for business customers and software vendors.

Companies such as Dedrone, Digital Barriers, Groopview and Unleash Live have already built and tested applications deployed in Vodafone’s test facilities. Here Technologies will start trials in Germany in early 2021. The applications include:

  • Dedrone: An airspace security service that provides early warning, classification, and localisation of drones.
  • Digital Barriers: Video analytics using body-worn cameras for frontline workers in emergency situations.
  • Groopview: A synchronised viewing experience that allows viewers seamlessly to watch and talk over live or on-demand streaming video together, even when they are not together physically.
  • Here Technologies: Real-time hazard warning services for safer road enablement with increasing digital traffic scenarios.
  • Unleash Live: An AI-powered video analytics platform built to automate real-time visual oversight and alerts for cities, enterprises and infrastructure, for example on public safety needs including passenger safety and risk alerts at train stations, face mask and social distancing detection in public, and inspections of major infrastructure such as wind farms.

“Every millisecond matters in digitalising manufacturing, safeguarding citizens and workers, transporting medical supplies by drone or eliminating motion sickness when wearing a VR headset,” said Vodafone chief technology officer Johan Wibergh. “Putting these services much closer to the customer with Vodafone’s edge computing service will significantly reduce any delay in transmitting critical services. By opening up new innovation hubs within our 5G network, which currently spans 127 cities and nine markets in Europe, we can help turn new business ideas into commercial successes.”

Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business, added: “Working with AWS on edge computing means we are making it simpler for both independent software vendors and our customers to experiment with this emerging technology. We’re doing this by offering an incubation space to create and test applications that we can then industrialise and scale. And we’re already seeing some innovative applications that provide positive business outcomes from Dedrone, Digital Barriers, Here Technologies, Groopview and Unleash Live, with so much more to come once our MEC innovation programme is running.”

Hanno Blankenstein, CEO of Unleash Live, added: “Using Unleash Live technology, the public transport networks and cities can ensure commuters and the public are safe. By measuring the reality of what’s going on, managers can act on facts and take fast action. Vodafone Business’ distributed edge computing service and our cloud analytics are making this new confidence possible.”

Vodafone Business will run an MEC innovation programme in collaboration with AWS from early 2021 for a wider developer and business community to experiment with this new technology.

This is a significant milestone in Vodafone Business’ strategy to provide enterprise customers with both dedicated MEC – edge computing combined with mobile private networks for the sole use of a company – and distributed MEC that is embedded at the edge of the 4G and 5G network. In addition to increasing the capacity and speed of its core converged network, Vodafone’s multi-cloud approach supports customers of all sizes to succeed in a digital world.

“Cities of the future will require complete airspace awareness of drone activity,” said Aaditya Devarakonda, CEO of Dedrone. “As unmanned traffic management systems are being developed and deployed globally, Dedrone and Vodafone Business are working to deliver comprehensive airspace security to detect, classify and localise drones. Integrating Dedrone’s counter-drone platform into Vodafone Business’ MEC means customers can quickly and easily extend their security systems to better protect their lower airspace from drone threats.”

Zak Doffman CEO of Digital Barriers, added: “What we can do now with distributed MEC is astonishing. We’re turning what were once fantastic possibilities into incredible realities. I think it’s critical for customers to benefit from this immediately.”

And Delmond Newton, CEO of Groopview, said: “This technology enriches people’s lives, helping them communicate and connect in meaningful ways that weren’t possible earlier. Vodafone Business and AWS have a global footprint, which means we can scale our platform with them, bringing people together as if they really are watching in the same room – and we are only limited by our imagination.”

Michiel Verberg, technology director at Here Technologies, said: “We’re excited to work together with Vodafone Business and AWS to trial what MEC and 5G can support when location intelligence and real-time connectivity come together. These cutting-edge technologies are the foundation for the transport of the future and will underpin powerful new services that improve people’s quality of life, such as safer driving.”