Will Edge Computing and Low-Latency Services Allow ISPs to Move Up the Stack?

Most moves made by most tier-one telcos “up the stack” have not worked well, if at all, and that include early moves into computing, data center operations, app stores, appliances and devices, over the top voice and messaging apps, or even OTT video services.

The jury still is out on moves into banking services, mobile advertising and content, but many telcos have fared rather well in the linear video subscription areas.

And though it is a statement of vision more than a practical reality at the moment, AT&T believes that, with a move to pervasive computing (which is one way to describe what “internet of things” is about), there is an inherent ability to embed higher-value operations into the network.

“The network itself moves from a connection to an experience that can include the compute,” said John Donovan, AT&T chief strategy officer.

In other words, even if data warehouses generally have proven to have modest strategic value for access providers (telcos and other access providers), that might well change as services and apps are created that rely on edge computing support.

As a horizontal business model, edge computing support could emerge as an area where telcos and other access providers might actually have some advantages, such as dense networks, access to power, other real estate and network elements that could play a role in supplying edge compute services to third parties.

Consider other potential advantages. AT&T’s new AirGig platform, for example, offers the promise of affordable trunking anywhere above ground where there are power utility poles and transmission lines.

Even if that is not so crucial for urban areas where access providers already have easements, pole attachment rights and access to power, AirGig might well play an important role in rural areas, where the cost of networking and bandwidth has always been tougher.

“For us it's a game changer on a cost basis because the components are small, sample and plastic performance wise,” said Donovan.

In other words, in addition to the “connections” function, there is a logical role either at the applications layer or in the computing layer.

That is not to say the task will be easy. It will be hard. But it is possible, and could prove to be among the more-successful ways telcos can move up the value chain.


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