What the heck is MEC?

October 13, 2015

cowboyFor those who have been following our posts for the last few years, we have been discussing three emergent trends:

  1. The blurring of the lines between mobile operator and enterprise infrastructure.
  2. The reversal of common IT platform services spend from 80% capex/20% opex to 20% capex/80% opex.
  3. The innovation opportunity created by mobility and the immense untapped capability of mobile operating systems to transform business.

Each trend is discussed in the context of computing needs in the cloud services offerings and, in the near future, edge processing inside the enterprise. The use of edge processing has been slow to emerge due to a lack of standards and the need to accumulate enough interest to catalyze the mobile operator market.

In the last year, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute “ETSI” kicked off an initiative to more fully develop Mobile Edge Computing “MEC” (pronounced MECk) and create a common technical landscape. This will allow the Independent Software Developer “ISV” community to more easily develop packages that are portable to any RAN vendor’s MEC hardware platform. You can learn more here. This is exciting to us as it’s a further proof point that the journey that SpiderCloud has been on to create an awesome customer experience along with critical services has been embraced by mobile operators and their key suppliers.

SpiderCloud spoke at the first MEC Congress, in London on 29-30 Sept 2015, about our early prototypes and experiences with our E-RAN in learning about the market and technology potential in the past five years. While many of the present considerations around MEC are focused on foundations for 5G services, SpiderCloud has been showing enterprise-focused services targeted at increasing revenue directly, or as feeder service that must be performed locally.

A few examples could be helpful to illustrate them:

  • Increasing revenue: Unified Communications tying the native interfaces on a mobile device to the enterprise’s infrastructure have drawn interest from enterprises that wish to integrate and simplify the lives of their business customers who are highly mobile. This reduces the need to build “enterprise OTT”, and simplifies day-to-day usage.
  • Feeder Service: Location Based Services raw events are capable of generating a very large stream and can impact backhaul if it’s sent in raw form to a cloud service. We collaborated withVodafone and HP to build an on-board x86 Services Blade and App for the E-RAN’s Services Node. The process of events stream into UE locations could easily be handed to an external application using the context of UE locations to make better decisions within an equipped facility. The edge service was necessary due to both time critical events, and the sheer volume.

The E-RAN’s ability to conduct many of these early prototypes is directly related to the Services Node aggregating the cloud of radios in the building. All mobility events are “in front” of the x86 Services Blade such that mobility event handling and context switching don’t need to be incorporated into the macro-network. Further, the cost of x86 processing capacity is amortized across all the Radio Nodes in the building. This makes the business case work. If every small cell needed an onboard processor, edge computing could easily be cost prohibitive for most applications.

And, finally, 451 Research’s Ken Rehbehn moderated a webinar on MEC development with Intel’s Caroline Chan, McAfee’s Dan Frey, and SpiderCloud on 8 Oct that is available for replay here. It explored MEC concepts, SpiderCloud’s early edge cloud experiences, a deep dive into operating the McAfee NG-FW as an enterprise service, and a number of audience questions about MEC.

So, we welcome ETSI MEC as yet another proof point that the trail we are blazing with our early mobile operators in both R&D and deployment is going in the correct direction. As MEC applications hosting and use cases develop, we suggest that Product Managers in mobile operators pay attention to the indoor applications market as it’s very unique and potentially far more profitable, relative to MEC in the macro-cellular.

– Art King, SpiderCloud Wireless, Director of Enterprise Services & Technologies

Twitter: @EMobilityInside
Visit our Enterprise IT site @ http://SpiderCloud.com/EInsider

Enterprise & OTT Services

April 15, 2013

Over-The-Top services is a big topic in the mobile operator industry due to the negative effects on networks and revenues. If you reflect on what’s been written and said, most of the discussions don’t explicitly segment consumer and enterprise. If we were to separate the differences between these two markets, the major buckets would look something like this:

Consumer Behavior

  • Cost optimize as much as possible with a goal of a free service (such as Skype)
  • Will defer certain broadband behavior or actions (use of free Wi-Fi hotspots to offset impact on plans)
  • Unpredictable quality… is acceptable

Enterprise Behavior, though influenced by consumer demand for ease-of-use, focus more on:

  • Cost optimization
  • IT Services are important
  • All actions are urgent and/or immediate
  • Quality must be consistent, good and highly predictable and repeatable
  • Keep it simple, or new devices, applications or services will not be used or adopted

The behavioral drivers are the opportunity cost of time and brand identity. Enterprise users want high quality mobile services that work, with no limitations, wherever they are.

There are a number of examples of enterprise behavior to illustrate these points:

  • RCR TV – Telecom Talent Wars webinar series on Go-To-Meeting where a number of the participants, even though they are stationary at computers, are using cellular for the audio and wired broadband for connectivity. Personally, I most often use my mobile for audio, both to show respect for viewers, and other participants, and to protect my personal brand by having quality audio.
  • Apple’s iMessage has been a runaway success in the Enterprise because it was implemented underneath the SMS interface. This translated into traffic shift to OTT without the device owners being involved because of Apple’s dominance in the enterprise. It also is critical to note that even though iMessage is an island, the iOS device falls back to SMS when it talks to a non-iOS device, without any actions required by the person sending the text message.

Mobile operators have less to be concerned about with OTT communications services in the enterprise because the tools usually require the device owners to install something new and train themselves on it. Deploying new tools, and getting their usage ingrained into an organization is one of the hardest tasks in enterprise IT. If the OTT tool replicates a consumer grade communication feature of the mobile device, and is not a mandatory part of daily workflow in the person’s role, chances of success are low. There may be islands of OTT, but moving everyone is extremely hard.

At SpiderCloud, we have adopted a similar philosophy to services with the view that any Unified Communication should become a “Clientless UC” experience where the consumer interface integrates to the enterprise platform. By taking this path, enterprise IT has little of the OTT support burdens that greatly reduce success in the present UC strategies.

Many enterprise device owners will continue to be very resistant to adopting multiple tools. Enterprise IT, when presented with service packages that allow the consumer interfaces to accomplish functions that OTT solves for, will approve those packages instead of using Capex funding to build and run the OTT services themselves.

The important thing to remember is that “a new and more important role is emerging for mobile operators where enterprise mobility and value-added IP services is part of the ‘package.’ Mobile is the heartbeat of any organization, and wireless is the digital oxygen that our devices breathe at home and on the road.”

– Art King, SpiderCloud Wireless, Director of Enterprise Services & Technologies

Twitter: @EMobilityInside
Visit our Enterprise IT site @ http://SpiderCloud.com/EInsider

Joanie Wexler @ Death to the Desk Phone?

February 18, 2013

Unlikely till Mobile UC Grows Seamless

There’s been talk for years about the imminent demise of corporate desk phones. They could simply fade into oblivion through attrition as users acquire smart phones. Or enterprises could make bold decisions to unplug them and immediately save money on telecom gear. Many residential phone users are giving up their landlines in favor of cellular phones; why not at work, too?

There are several issues that need resolving before desk phone annihilation can sweep enterprise telecom strategies. And a few niggling ones indicate that some wired phones are likely to remain indefinitely. For example, there are certain users who don’t really need to be mobile; their jobs require that they sit at a desk for most of their day (think admins, receptionists). For these folks, a tried-and-true wired phone that consistently works with high quality and reliable dial tone suits their needs best.

In addition, many of the enterprises I talk to express a desire to keep at least a few landlines around for the sake of backup in the case of power or cellular network outages.  In other words, wireless devices can be backups to landlines, and landlines can be backups to mobile phones. So perhaps, there will always be some wired phones kicking around.

Doing away with the majority of desk phones, however, is in the cards. But the biggest challenge to doing so, is the inability to create the same enterprise telephony and unified communications (UC) experience on mobile devices that exists on traditional desk phone-to-PBX setups.  Most PBX vendors transitioned into IP telephony a decade ago, and from there entered the UC business, focusing on wired network infrastructures. There are also specialty software UC vendors and UC cloud providers. Interoperability across platforms and features among all these players is far from nailed up. This situation causes mobile users running any variety of operating systems to either do unnatural acts to get features to work, or to just discard the apps in disgust.

Most enterprises have historically had an Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Nortel, ShoreTel or other PBX maker delivering switched phone calls to user desks, and from user desks out over the WAN. These vendors have taken it upon themselves to extend their IP telephony service to include integrated message boxes, calendaring, contact info, presence (location-based) services, chat, screen sharing, conferencing and other capabilities that contribute to the ability for employees, colleagues, partners and customers to collaborate.

These solutions have worked pretty well inside the enterprise in the wired environment. That’s because each client/server ecosystem has generally been created by one vendor, that has optimized all the components to work together. There have also been some strides toward extending certain features from the PBX to both the corresponding desk phone, and a mobile phone, such that both phones ring (a function called “twinning”). This is handy when the user is away. Some also allow the user to push a button to transfer the call from a mobile to a desk phone and vice versa.

At issue, however, is the diversity of mobile devices and their mobile OSs that are springing up in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) enterprise environments. UC was initially engineered for the wired workplace, and employees find that they have to modify their behavior to use mobile telephony and UC services, and they don’t like it.

Users have decided to dig in their heels. If something doesn’t work intuitively without training, and within just a few seconds, users tend to abandon the capabilities altogether. For better or for worse, the attention span and patience to learn new techniques for doing the “same old things” is nearly nil.

Consider telephony in its most basic form. There’s the corporate wired plan. There are pools of shared voice minutes for cellular, usually with one carrier or, for international companies, with one carrier per country. Employees want to make phone calls the same way regardless of what plan is at work in the background, and whether they are on a landline or mobile phone.

Enter BYOD: the enterprise is no longer in control of the mobile operators in use, or the devices. Unsupported devices can completely derail enterprise hopes and plans for UC deployments. Just how is all this interoperability, and getting a simple automated dial plan to users supposed to happen?

It’s getting to be time for the public and private mobile networks to merge in a way that masks all that complexity from users. In the way that the old Ma Bell phone network didn’t differentiate among the devices that connected to it (admittedly, because it built them all and made them all consistent), let’s envision a world in which the mobile network is the hub where dial plans, UC capabilities and mobile apps reside and are able to work consistently, regardless of the peculiarities of each user’s device. The magic would be ecosystem cooperation at the back end.

Sounds like an impossible dream, but it is something that could be rolled out, enterprise by enterprise, via in-building cellular equipment used to deliver mobile WAN signal. If we could get back to a telephony/UC network that requires no special software client on individual devices to deliver functions, but instead hosts the plans, apps and features in the cloud that work the same everywhere, we’d be a big step ahead toward user acceptance and happiness – and the ability to ditch the majority of clunky old desk phones for good.

– Joanie Wexler, Guest Blogger