Another day, another new lab, as Vodafone seeks an edge

Tech

Vodafone UK wants to show the people of Manchester what can be done with multi-access edge computing (MEC).

The operator on Monday opened what it calls an Edge Innovation Lab in MediaCity, Salford. It will  give enterprises in the region an opportunity to trial new use cases that rely on real-time connectivity. In addition to equipping the lab with dedicated MEC servers, Vodafone has also partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to deploy a distributed MEC zone in Manchester, which will presumably give enterprises a taste of what ‘real-world’ performance might look like. Voda has also roped in IBM’s IT spin-off Kyndryl to offer customers professional and managed MEC and cloud services.

Spending on edge-related hardware, software and services is expected to reach $176 billion worldwide this year, according to IDC, rising to $274 billion by 2025. With figures like this doing the rounds, it’s little wonder that Vodafone is keen to get enterprise customers to buy into the concept.

“The lab offers innovators the opportunity to experiment with next-generation technologies and bring to life ideas that could revolutionise the way we do business and deliver public services,” said Nick Gliddon, UK business director at Vodafone, in a statement. “It will place Manchester and the surrounding region at the centre of the next stage of digital revolution.”

Barely a day goes by at the moment without someone opening a lab somewhere.

Monday also saw Nokia cut the ribbon on a 5G and 6G research facility at its campus in Amadora, Portugal. Its focus is software, specifically embedded and real-time software. It wants to employ 100 staff over the next two years.

Last Tuesday, Ericsson revealed plans to spend tens of millions of pounds over the course of the next decade on a UK-based 6G research programme. A team of researchers, academics, PhD students and CSP and industry partners will look at aspects like network resilience and security, AI, cognitive networks and energy efficiency.

A day later, UK-based Colt strengthened its partnership with IBM by opening an Industry 4.0 lab, also in the UK. It will offer enterprises in the manufacturing sector hands-on experience with various applications enabled by their respective cloud and edge networking solutions in an effort to lower barriers to adoption and generate a bit of business for Colt and IBM along the way.

Furthermore, a couple of weeks ago, Orange Belgium opened its second 5G lab. The first is based in Antwerp, but this new one is in Liège, and will focus on standalone (SA) 5G use cases.

The growing number of labs showcasing what can be done with 5G and related tech like MEC and slicing only goes to show just how desperate the industry is to evolve beyond enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and into new service categories that will hopefully generate more revenue. Meanwhile, Nokia and Ericsson researching 6G is just prudent planning on their part – they need to have something expensive to sell to operators in 10 years time.

Whatever the motivation, it seems to be a good time to be in the lab-building business.

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