Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC)

Have you ever wondered how self-driving cars can process information from numerous sensors and respond to different road environments in microseconds? This impressive feat is made possible by a revolutionary concept known as edge computing.

Edge computing enables data processing and analysis to take place on devices located at the "edge" of a network, such as a smartphone, a sensor, or a router, rather than relying solely on a centralized data center/cloud for processing. But how can you bring the power of edge computing to every application?

Multi-access edge computing (MEC) is an extension of edge computing that provides a framework that allows project managers and developers to create and deploy applications and services closer to the end users using edge infrastructure.

Deploying an MEC framework provides faster response times and enhanced user experiences for the customers using your application.

What Is Multi-Access Edge Computing?

Multi-access edge computing is a standardized network architecture proposed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) as a way to enhance the capabilities of mobile and wireless networks.

The main objective of an MEC is to provide computing and storage resources as close to the network edge as possible to enable low latency, high bandwidth, and faster data processing to the end users on the network. This is in contrast to having compute and storage in a centralized cloud system, which could result in delays due to data transfer and processing times.

The meaning of MEC can be broken down as follows:

  • Multi-access: MEC was originally referred to as mobile edge computing but was later updated by ETSI to multi-access edge computing. This name change reflects MEC's ability to deliver a seamless customer experience across multiple access networks, such as mobile or Wi-Fi.
  • Edge: The term "edge" refers to the edge of the network where computational resources are placed closer to the end users. The edge in MEC can be a cellular base station, a router, a switch, or any other network device located at the edge of the network.
  • Computing: The edge devices in an MEC are equipped with computing resources that can help provide fast data processing capabilities. When compute and data processing is done closer to the customer's location, it results in reduced latency and faster response times and enables real-time data processing.

How Is Multi-Access Edge Computing Different From Edge Computing?

Multi-access edge computing is a distributed computing model that extends the capabilities of edge computing in the following ways:

  • MEC is a standard network architecture for deploying software applications closer to the end users, while traditional edge computing is typically a custom-built solution per application. This means that MEC is more scalable and easier to deploy, as product managers and developers can use a common platform to build and deploy applications.
  • MEC also includes standardized interfaces and APIs, which make it easier for third-party developers to build and deploy applications using the MEC infrastructure. This creates an ecosystem of applications and services that can be quickly deployed and scaled to meet changing demands.
  • MEC also differs from traditional edge computing in terms of its ability to support multiple access networks, such as mobile and Wi-Fi. This multi-access capability enables MEC to provide a seamless experience to customers regardless of the access network they are using.

How Does Multi-Access Edge Computing Work?

The ETSI system architecture outlines the three primary components of the MEC architecture: host, platform, and applications.

MEC Host

The host is the hardware component of the MEC architecture that provides the computing, storage, and networking resources necessary for running MEC applications. The MEC host can be a physical server, a virtual machine, or a containerized environment, depending on the deployment scenario.

The MEC host is deployed at the edge of the network, in close proximity to the end users, and connected to various access technologies such as Wi-Fi, 5G, or LTE.

For example, in a smart city's public safety application system, an MEC host could be installed at key intersections or public transportation hubs across the city to provide real-time transportation monitoring services.

MEC Platform

The platform is the middleware layer that manages the communication between the MEC host and the MEC applications. The MEC platform includes various software components that provide services such as resource management, virtualization, orchestration, and security.

The MEC platform also provides the application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable MEC applications to interact with the underlying hardware resources of the hosts. It acts as a bridge between the MEC host and the MEC applications, ensuring that applications have the necessary resources to run and operate.

In the context of the public safety system, the MEC platform includes software and hardware that support the processing and storage of data generated by various internet-of-things (IoT) devices, such as traffic cameras, air quality sensors, and parking meters.

MEC Applications

The applications are the software programs that run on the MEC platform and are designed to take advantage of the resources available on the MEC host. MEC applications can be developed for various use cases, such as video processing, augmented reality, gaming, and IoT.

MEC applications leverage the proximity of the MEC host to end users to provide low latency and high throughput, enabling real-time data processing and analysis. MEC applications can be deployed in various forms, such as containers, virtual machines, or bare metal, depending on the application requirements.

For the public safety system, the application can be an artificial intelligence-powered video analysis system to detect and respond to potential security threats in real time.

In this full-fledged system, the MEC would house the MEC infrastructure, including the MEC host, platform, and applications. Data from various IoT devices would be collected and processed at the MEC host (at the edge of the network), allowing for real-time insights and faster response times.

What Are the Benefits of Multi-Access Edge Computing?

By shifting data computing and processing closer to the end user, MEC brings a number of benefits. 

1. Reduced Latency

MEC lowers latency by processing data closer to the end user. This is especially beneficial for applications that require fast response times, such as mobile applications, self-driving cars, and virtual/augmented reality applications.

Use case: Autonomous vehicles Self-driving cars make decisions in real time based on the data they collect from their sensors. By processing this data using network resources closer to the car, MEC helps to ensure that the car can make split-second decisions and respond to road conditions more quickly.

2. Increased Capacity

MEC increases the capacity of mobile networks by offloading traffic from the core network to the edge. MEC also localizes data processing, which reduces the amount of data transmitted over the network and increases the overall capacity of the network. This is beneficial for areas with high traffic demand, such as stadiums and concert venues.

Use case: Large events During a large sporting event, the number of people using their phones to stream video and check social media can quickly overwhelm the network. By offloading some of this traffic to MEC nodes, network operators ensure that all users can continue to access high-speed network services.

3. Improved Security

MEC provides an additional layer of security by processing sensitive data closer to the source, reducing the risk of data breaches or unauthorized access during data transmission.

In a traditional cloud computing architecture, data is sent to a remote data center for processing, which creates potential vulnerabilities during transmission. MEC, in contrast, processes data closer to where it is generated, reducing the need for data to be transmitted over long distances and through multiple network layers, thereby reducing the potential for attacks or data breaches.

Use case: Healthcare IoT A hospital that uses IoT devices to monitor patient data can utilize MEC to process that data closer to the point of origin, reducing the need to transmit sensitive patient information to a remote cloud data center in another geographical location. This keeps the data secure and private, protecting patient confidentiality and reducing the risk of data breaches.

4. Reduced Costs

By processing data at the edge of the network, MEC reduces the amount of data that needs to be transferred to the cloud or data center for processing. This can result in significant cost savings for businesses.

MEC also helps businesses optimize resource utilization by distributing computing tasks to the most appropriate location, whether that is at the edge or in the cloud. This increases efficiency and reduces costs by avoiding unnecessary resource usage.

Use case: Video streaming MEC infrastructure provides companies that offer video streaming services with significant cost savings on data transfer. Traditional cloud computing requires all video content processing and storage to be done in centralized cloud data centers, resulting in high costs for data transfer.

But with MEC, companies can now deliver video content to customers with lower latency and higher quality by processing and storing content at the edge of the network, closer to end users. This reduces data transfer and storage costs while improving customer experience. For example, a company can deploy MEC infrastructure in a specific geographic location to enable faster and more efficient delivery of video content to customers in that region.

Expand Your Knowledge Beyond Multi-Access Edge Computing

MEC has the potential to revolutionize industries by enabling faster and more efficient processing of data at the edge of the network.

If you are interested in enhancing your knowledge of other product management and development topics, check out the other topics we've covered in our Stream tutorials. These tutorials are created by experts in the field and provide in-depth explanations on various topics related to the subject matter. Additionally, they also offer practical examples and suggestions to help you build the best products on the market.

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