Cloud computing giant Amazon Web Services has launched AWS Wavelength, an edge computing offering for developers wanting to create applications that leverage the ultra-low latency of 5G wireless networks. AWS will connect with 5G networks from four wireless carriers worldwide initially, including Verizon.

As Amazon explains, AWS Wavelength is based on Wavelength Zones that embed AWS compute and storage services in data centers operated by communications service providers at the edge of the providers’ 5G networks, thereby supporting applications with “single-digit millisecond latencies.” According to an AWS Wavelength web page “application traffic can reach application servers running in Wavelength Zones without leaving the mobile network.”

For now, at least, Verizon is the only U.S. operator supporting AWS Wavelength. Vodaphone is also an AWS Wavelength mobile partner, focused on European markets.

Amazon said it will have more partners soon. That’s likely to be important moving forward, considering the tight coupling of 5G networks with edge computing, which would appear to challenge assumptions we have traditionally made about interoperability between carrier networks. More on that later in this post.

AWS Wavelength
While 5G networks are designed for lower latency in comparison with earlier-generation wireless, many of the applications foreseen for the technology require considerable computing power. Tapping the cloud for that power can minimize the cost and size of end user devices, but adds latency, especially if the cloud data center is in a remote location.

AWS Wavelength Diagram (Source: Amazon AWS)

The solution is to move the cloud closer to the end user – an approach known as edge computing that Verizon, AT&T and others already have been pursuing. AT&T has deals with Microsoft and IBM that are similar to Verizon’s with AWS.

“Select customers” are already piloting AWS Wavelength using Verizon’s 5G network in Chicago. The press release highlights two customers and how they are using low-latency and edge computing to create new applications.

Finnish company Varjo Technologies Oy is developing “human eye resolution technology” for virtual reality and augmented reality, which the company hopes to extend to 5G devices using AWS Wavelength.

“Simulating things at the same acuity you see in real life is a game changer compared to standard VR approaches,” said Niko Eiden, Vargo founder and CEO, in a press release.

Varjo’s technology is based on “millions of pixels of extremely high-resolution, uncompressed content,” he explained.

“Now, instead of having to develop expensive local computing services that would be impossible to run on a battery-operated device, we can use edge computing to scale . . . from thousands to hundreds of thousands of units,” Eiden added.

The other customer reference is Mapbox, which provides map technology underlying applications such as, Facebook and the New York Times.

The company uses artificial intelligence to constantly update traffic and new streets – and as Mapbox co-founder and CEO Eric Gundersen explained “AWS Wavelength’s ultra-low-latency compute can help us process billions of sensor data updates into better maps by identifying new roads as they’re built, routing drivers around traffic jams and spotting road construction.”

He added that AWS Wavelength can reduce refresh times from minutes to seconds, providing “a truly living map.”

Verizon also mentioned potential AWS Wavelength powered applications for its NFL in-stadium 5G experience in a press release

Interoperability Questions
The tight coupling of 5G networks with edge computing raises interesting interoperability questions. For now, at least, it appears that a U.S. end user wanting to use an application that relies on a Wavelength Zone would have to be a Verizon customer with a Verizon device. That’s not how we usually think about “the cloud,” which today can be accessed from a wide range of devices over a wide range of connectivity providers.

For applications requiring dedicated devices and dedicated wireless plans, such as connected cars, this won’t matter much. But it would appear to raise challenges for smartphone-based applications. Does an application provider really want an app that requires the end user to purchase service from a specific provider?

Eventually I would expect AWS to strike deals with all major carriers as they deploy 5G and edge computing, but that will mean a huge investment as developers make their applications available from all carriers all over.

Long term, I expect we will see some sharing of edge computing resources – edge data centers that can support more than one carrier.

It’s an exciting area and one Telecompetitor will be covering closely moving forward.

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