MobiledgeX completely¬†disappeared from view in April after its acquisition by Google. The X-factor of edge offerings from public cloud providers, and the increasing alignment of CSPs with them, seems to have put pay to MobiledgeX’s, and its original parent Deutsche Telekom’s, telco-aligned ambition for edge, beyond supporting 5G. Enter MobiledgeX in a search engine, and you now get nothing.

To win at the edge requires infrastructure investment

As we reported in Preparing for Edge Cloud, the winners at the edge will be those that have the critical mass and focus to proactively invest in edge infrastructure, and to optimize the operational cost of this infrastructure. An effective edge will require global scale and ubiquitous presence to be a compelling platform for developers and innovators. From the evidence this battle seems to be being led and won by the webscalers.

Groundhog Day

In Winning at the Edge we highlighted the failure of CSPs and NEPs in creating and monetizing data centre infrastructure, losing ultimately to the webscalers. The demise of MobiledgeX would seem to fit into this narrative, but now at the network edge. However, unlike data centres this has potentially game-changing impact on the Network Equipment Providers and CSPs. Worse still, the similarities with the demise of Ericsson Edge Gravity, are eerily similar. In writing this blog – the narrative has not really changed.

Dumb Pipes

For CSPs it means that increasingly value added services (those dreaded OTT services) will be being run on webscale infrastructure at the edge. CSPs could become marginalised as providers of transport network, access network and edge locations. This is not necessarily the “dumb pipe” fate that many fear. Appledore believes that many CSPs will increasingly flourish as utility telcos. Shorn of their need to be digital service providers they can focus on operational cost and ease of use by all.

Network disaggregation

For network equipment vendors it could mean increasing disaggregation and commoditisation. Network functions at the end of the day are simply software functions. If you can deploy a function to a webscale edge cloud, then you can deploy a network function to that webscale edge cloud. Increasingly the only barriers to moving network functions to the public cloud are historic CSP practice. We highlighted this as both a threat and an opportunity in our recent research Telco as a Platform.

Waiting for the killer use case

“We have five edge sites deployed in Germany and very limited customers – The use cases are not coming as fast.” – Abdu Mudesir, Deutsche Telekom CTO at MWC 2022

This comment highlights the major problem for telco at the edge and the challenge that ultimately proved the terminal reality for MobiledgeX and Edge Gravity before it. There is no single killer application or even industry sector for edge. Edge will succeed in by addressing more general issues faced by many use cases across industries but this requires a willingness to invest ahead of known demand. This is not dissimilar to how public cloud providers ultimately succeeded in transforming data centres. But this did not happen overnight and it was supported by a willingness to use the same infrastructure for their own needs and others. Their internal needs were a base use case for investment. Telcos have a similar investment need at edge (5G) that could similarly be the base use case for edge success. But separated from network investment, telco’s customer edge is a poor alternative to hyperscalers moving towards the edge.