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The femto and small cell vendor Ubiquisys has announced that they are partnering with ​chip giant Intel to develop the concept of an ‘Edge Cloud’. The Edge Cloud refers to a layer of extremely powerful Atom-based 3G/LTE small cell platforms that can process and even store high-end bulky content at the edge of the network instead of sending it back to the core network. Intel will provide its Atom processors and the Intel Developer Forum to develop the concept of the ‘Edge Cloud’ along with Ubiquisys. The Edge Cloud can be used as a collective RAN caching solution or as a collective content processing layer.

The Edge Cloud is another term in the increasing glossary of terms such as Cloud RAN, Baseband Pooling, Cloud Core etc. All of these techniques are aimed at concentrating resources and processing power at a generic location in the network to drive efficiencies and lower cost. The cloud also brings flexibility in terms of resource allocation and scalability.

The unique difference here is that the Edge Cloud is focused on the content storing and content processing rather than baseband or technology protocol processing. Essentially the higher layers of the stack are being processed at the small cell itself rather than being transported back into the core. This also means that Ubiquisys will continue to use Texas Instruments for 3G/LTE baseband processing but will include Intel’s Atom processors for Edge Cloud functionality.

One of the clear advantages of the Edge Cloud is that the pressure on the backhaul pipe needed to transport bulky content will be eased. Backhaul for small cells is a key hurdle and challenge as operators begin to trial and test these solutions.

While the first prototypes of this co-development will only see light of day by 2012, this is bound to drive increasing amount of debate on the definition of a cloud, the location of the cloud, its role in future mobile networks etc. To some extent this sounds familiar to NSN’s Liquid Radio concept where capacity and processing power ebbs and flows through the access layer based on traffic demand and time of day.

Although using the Edge Cloud as a RAN caching solution might be quite tricky and complex, using the Edge Cloud as a content processing engine could well prove to be a useful technique. How this technology develops in conjunction with the advances in existing media optimization and compression solutions will be interesting to see.

One thing is clear – Ubiquisys is definitely pushing the boundaries for small cells and its role in the mobile network. Their recent tie-ups with Texas Instruments and Intel show that they are not to be taken lightly in this market.