Edge deployments place resources close to applications and the source of their data. But applications like the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles are so full of moving parts, the only practical way to link them up is through radio networks.
The development of Edge has been closely linked with the arrival of 5G, the short-range high bit-rate evolution of mobile phone networks that are still being delivered. But Edge applications will have to be flexible, and use whatever technology suits their needs - and that could be a problem.
Radio Access Networks (RANs) provide connection between connected devices and the core network via the base stations. Though incredibly important, the technology used is often proprietary so equipment from one vendor will rarely interface with other components from rival vendors. As a result, mobile operators are faced with vendor lock-in and use end-to-end solutions from a small set of providers, which can drive up costs and lead to sub-par equipment being used in certain areas.
OpenRAN, however, aims to break down the RAN into component parts and create a unified open interface to connect them. In theory, this allows operators to create bespoke and interoperable best-of-breed deployments. The goal is to create more diversity in the supply chain and allow smaller, specialized companies to enter the market and compete with the incumbents.
These deployments are important, argues Paul Rhodes, OpenRAN and 5G principal consultant, World Wide Technology (WWT), as they are an opportunity for operators to see and validate good over-the-air performance. “Rather than theoretically in a lab with a controlled environment, now they're actually exposing it to the real world,” he says.