Our Journey to The Edge

The Future of Communication

While it seems like a short period, I’ve worked in telecommunications for ten years now. I entered telecoms at a turbulent time; a time when the industry was shifting and the way we communicate was evolving. As new players were emerging, giants were diminishing, changing the very fabric of what made this industry a solid, unshaken ground for decades.

Throughout my ten year journey, I kept falling in and out of love with telecoms. While I attempted on countless occasions to leave it all behind, there was always an invisible force pulling me back in from another side.

To me, the changes in our industry were exciting, while what frustrated me was the lack of willingness to adopt and embrace this change by the majority of the industry stakeholders. It was an inflection point that struck the industry, and the big players decided to ignore it. And whenever that happened, I decided to leave. Yet it was these same exciting changes that drove me back to it, in the hopes that maybe — just maybe — this time it would be different.

What pulled me back the most was the prospect of what could come next?, and the unbearable attachment to the fact that if what could come next arrives, I need to be in the middle of it.

Inflection Point

Going back twelve years in time, the inflection point that struck the telecoms industry found its seed in two major developments in our world-wide infrastructure. I am not talking about the birth of the smartphone or of social media, I am speaking about a much bigger development that for so many went unnoticed.

These developments were the beginnings of the open access cloud and the rise of LTE/4G. They sat at the opposite ends of the connectivity spectrum, and paved the way for the explosion of smartphones and instant social media communication: the world seemed a happy place, and communication to many people became instant, a stepping stone towards a more connected future. And it worked; it was fascinating.

4G networks allowed millions of people around the world to access applications hosted on The Cloud, which is essentially almost every single application we have on our smartphones today. But while 4G and the cloud seemed like the perfect match, that relationship — from a business perspective — was completely unbalanced.

While cloud platforms and cloud based applications grew, and continued to grow at an extraordinary pace, 4G operators were left out of an unstoppable, innovative ecosystem. With the rise of cloud based communication services that competed with operators, 4G networks revenues began to plummet.

However, the effects of this major inflection point to the industry only started to appear midway through my ten years journey in telecoms.

Experimenting With The Future

Back then, I decided to do something else. I set up a technology lab in London (Room One), and at the lab we began experimenting with future technologies. Again, my fear of missing out was taking over me; we built applications with Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Robotics, AI, Drones, all the applications that are slowly becoming part of our daily lives.

Then the talk of 5G networks and technologies began to surface, and the impact 5G capabilities would have on our lives. So I found myself directing our work with these applications towards building new means of what we called “Immersive Communication” — the move from tapping a screen, to fully being immersed in a digital environment.

Organically, these experiments we were conducting turned into 5G demonstrations and use cases, and a new business model for Room One was born. We went on to work with companies such as Ericsson & Huawei who were building the very network infrastructure that would form the basis of 5G networks. We built 5G powered pilot projects and applications for mobile operators around the world such as Vodafone, Rostelecom, BT, Teliasonera, Etisalat and many more.

Our experiments turned into marketing demos that vendors and operators would parade in events, and use as an examples of a more immersive and connected future that will be powered by 5G. It was a fantastic experience to me and the team; we felt we were part of a new revolution that will change the telecoms industry for the better.

Arriving At The Edge

But something was missing. All that we built was naturally hosted and processed in the cloud, but given the nature of these applications and the huge demand of real-time data processing they require, the cloud alone was not enough.

To achieve truly immersive, seamless communication, a move from the centralisation of data to a more distributed computing resource was needed. Data needed to be processed locally, closer to the source and to the user.

At the Edge.

To us, that locality seemed achievable through mobile networks to begin with, as the edges of the network were undergoing a major development with the introduction of 5G.

Edge Computing, a term that has been used for some time by cloud providers, had not really reached the edge yet; this cloud edge was still the closest data centre to a user.

But Mobile Edge Computing is different: it can be as large as a network base station, or as small as a modem at home. All connected together, turning every network into a powerful computing giant: a distributed supercomputer than can power all future services, and pave the way to achieving real immersive communication in the near future. The solution.

There was another obstacle however. While mobile networks saw the value in mobile edge computing and 5G networks in general, they were still reluctant to invest in an upgraded infrastructure for fear of repeating the past. Even though 5G upgrades are the inevitable fate to all networks — and they will all make the move eventually — that move is currently at a very slow pace.

A New Category

For us, that problem was an opportunity — Mobile Edge Computing was still an unclaimed territory, a new category that we could build up and drive.

There needed to be a place for application developers to instantly deploy services over edge powered networks, and for operators to generate new revenue streams from the applications that they are enabling. A new, collaborative ecosystem that would be the first step towards a fully connected future.

So we built Ori.

Through Ori, networks can onboard their infrastructure making it available for developers. Developers can then define the capabilities of their application and deploy them over available computing infrastructure.

In turn, networks can define access rules to their edge nodes, and monetise that access whenever a developer integrates it into their applications.

The prospect of what we can achieve in such a new ecosystem is the driving force behind what we are building now; even though it is still early days, I can clearly picture what the future looks like, a connected future were communication turns seamless and interaction is instinctive.

A future, at The Edge.