One to Watch: Can Military Technological ‘Trickle Down’ to Enterprise Edge Computing?

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By Reece Hayden | 4Q 2021 | IN-6312

Multi-Edge Computing has incredible potential for many markets, but with the military vertical leading the research and development, many of the complications associated with MEC will be eliminated before it reaches mainstream enterprises.

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Collaboration and Innovation within 5G Mobile Edge Computing


As the edge computing market continues to mature, collaborations between telecom operators and hyperscalers remain major drivers of 5G edge computing, specifically Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) (e.g., AWS/Verizon and Ericsson/Google Cloud). However, these activities are not the only ones in the market and perhaps not even the ones that will likely create success cases for the rest of the industry to follow. The military space, on the other hand, is becoming an innovation testbed.

As of September 16th, 2021, IBM and AT&T have entered a three-year partnership with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) to jointly research 5G mmWave spectrum MEC maritime solutions. The aim of this partnership is to explore advanced technological solutions to promote autonomous and unmanned vehicles that can reduce the risk to humans within mission-critical operations. The partnership will further explore how 5G mmWave MEC can be utilized to support artificial reality (AR) and visual reality (VR) to assist in remote medical care situations. Like RADAR and GPS, this military research could have a significant ‘trickle down’ impact upon enterprises by creating solutions for some of the key challenges that enterprises associate with 5G MEC adoption (sensitive data security, reliability in high stress environments, and durability/ruggedization of MEC hardware).

A Mission Critical Use Case for Enterprise Adoption


As skepticism continues to pervade mission-critical enterprise verticals concerning the security, durability, and reliability of 5G MEC, the outcome of NPS’ research could have a significant impact upon the future of enterprise adoption:

  • Mission-criticality: NPS innovation, although enabled by a near-unlimited budget, will provide enterprise verticals with use case information and guidance in mission-critical operations. These use cases will deliver enterprises with a legitimate insight into how 5G MEC can be reliably utilized to solve real-time enterprise problems.
  • Security: Security risks remain at the forefront of enterprise skepticism of MEC. The loose connection between Internet of Things (IoT) devices and the MEC nodes makes enterprises adverse to distributing sensitive information even within a private 5G network. Military innovation within Zero-Trust Edge (ZTE) will provide enterprises the opportunity to understand how the security risks of MEC can be mitigated by introducing architecture that operates under the assumption that, until verified, all IoT devices are compromised.
  • Ruggedization: The central draw of 5G MEC is the replacement of human operators within harsh working environments, such as industrial mines. Mission-critical operations within enterprise not only rely upon low latency and high bandwidth, but hardware that can remain reliable given the day-to-day effect of these harsh working environments. This means that by testing 5G and MEC within maritime and military conditions, NPS research will provide enterprises with data concerning the potential reliability and durability of MEC hardware.

The party most directly impacted by this research will be enterprises that are aiming to shift towards autonomous or unmanned vehicles (e.g., Honda and Verizon) that also operate in hazardous environments, for mission-critical or even life-critical applications. Not only will this group gain an insight into the reliability and versatility of 5G MEC, but as a growing party within the automotive industry suggests that autonomous vehicles can only function within an interconnected ecosystem, NPS’ research into connecting manned and unmanned maritime vessels with 5G MEC will have a significant crossover into this enterprise vertical.

Recommendations for Technology Vendors and Enterprises


For technology vendors, this research may provide a blueprint for future collaborations between hyper scalers and telecom providers. NPS’ security mitigation, through Zero-Trust Edge, will provide information regarding possible technology that can be implemented within private end-to-end user solutions. The success or failure of ZTE will go a long way to understanding the future adoptability of 5G MEC within end-to-end solutions for enterprise verticals that produce a high volume of sensitive data. Importantly, as the implementation of ZTE is not only expensive but also time consuming, by observing this use case, vendors can gain an insight into the implementation process and understand if this security solution is worth the significant time and the capital expenditures (Capex) required.

Secure 5G MEC offers a sizeable opportunity for mission-critical enterprise verticals. By reducing latency and the reliance upon bandwidth, data can be consumed in real-time reducing the necessity for high risks human interference. AT&T’s decision to utilize mmWave spectrum further compounds the importance of this use case for mission-critical enterprises, as it will provide information upon the flexibility, applicability, and reliability of this technology. 5G mmWave, with its superior throughput, may be necessary for mission-critical 5G MEC enterprise deployment, but its limited range and high-density tower requirement remains a constraint upon widespread industrial deployment.

This being said, the ‘trickle down’ effect of military innovation has often faced a significant time lag. AT&T expects the first 5G and MEC nodes to be implemented and available for use in the second quarter of FY22. This means that actionable data from this research may still be a couple of years away, and it remains likely that although the barriers to entry for private 5G MEC will fall slightly, high Capex will remain a considerable issue constraining widespread enterprise adoption, especially in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The immediacy of 5G MEC enterprise adoption remains uncertain but tracking use cases such as the AT&T/IBM and NPS maritime research will go a long way to answering questions over the advisability of adopting 5G mmWave MEC and ZTE solutions within data sensitive, mission critical enterprises.



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