As telcos pursue 5G and MEC, Google Cloud leverages its edge

Google Cloud spent much of 2020 ratcheting up its focus on supporting telecom players’ computing needs, particularly when it comes to edge.

Part of Google Cloud’s strategy for serving telcos is developing solutions that the carriers can both use in their own business, and that they can sell to others, according to Amol Phadke, managing director of telecom industry solutions at Google Cloud. “The way we are looking at it as Google Cloud is, we really need to start to build technologies that serve both of those purposes,” he says. Each of its portfolio items “can be used both by our CSP partners and clients, and also by their end customers that they want to serve, whether that’s businesses or consumers.”

In March of last year, the company made an announcement about its overarching Global Mobile Edge Cloud (GMEC) strategy, aiming to deliver a “portfolio and marketplace of 5G solutions built jointly with telecommunications companies’; its Anthos multi-cloud platform for developing those solutions, and underlying both of those, its global distributed edge computing infrastructure.

At the same time that it announced that strategy, Google Cloud also touted a new collaboration with AT&T in which the telco would utilize Google Cloud’s edge computing, AI/ML and Kubernetes capabilities along with AT&T’s network connectivity, with the two companies testing 5G edge solutions for enterprises such as retail, manufacturing and transportation.

“Combining 5G with Google Cloud’s edge compute technologies can unlock the cloud’s true potential,” said Mo Katibeh, EVP and CMO of AT&T Business. “This work is bringing us closer to a reality where cloud and edge technologies give businesses the tools to create a whole new world of experiences for their customers.”

Among Google Cloud’s other publicly announced telecom deals centered on 5G and/or MEC:

-A July 2020 partnership with Orange focused on “advanced cloud, edge computing and cybersecurity services that will open up business opportunities for both Google Cloud and Orange.”

-A 2020 deal with Telefonica that includes plans for Google Cloud to launch a cloud region in Spain that leverages Telefonica’s Madrid regional infrastructure; for Telefonica to use Google Cloud to support the carrier’s own digital transformation; and for the two companies to develop a joint portfolio of 5G solutions that use Google Cloud’s edge.

-A ten-year agreement with Canada’s Telus to help the carrier deliver 5G and MEC services, struck in February of this year.

In terms of services which telcos are both consuming and selling, Phadke cites the example of Google Cloud’s Contact Center AI – which Verizon has announced that it is using, with the goal of resolving contact center inquiries faster and making more efficient use of the digital channels to which customers have turned during the pandemic, in lieu of visiting stores in-person. Phadke says that other operators that Google Cloud is working with are not only using Contact Center AI in their operations, but are then packaging it to enterprise customers such as travel agencies.

But perhaps an even more salient example is edge computing.

“Google has built a strategy … of really building out and leveraging our existing edge computing footprint that’s there locally, and using that as a business monetization platform on which our CSP partners and clients can innovate and build applications to drive revenues for themselves,” Phadke says.

The three building blocks of Google Cloud’s strategy start with that existing compute infrastructure. He points out that Google had thousands of locations worldwide that were used as part its global infrastructure that the company has built, to serve applications that everyone around the globe uses: Consumer applications, YouTube and so on – an edge, before edge really became a thing for telecom.

“One advantage of having that planet-wide infrastructure was that we could really use the edge infrastructure to also offer edge computing,” he continues. “When we are partnering with our CSP clients and partners, it meant we didn’t have to ship out or roll out a new footprint for edge compute. We just leveraged what we had.”

The company has made that infrastructure the basis on which it has layered its Anthos multi-cloud software development environment, followed by the resulting applications — which, as evidenced by the telco collabs, are ideally a result of co-creation.

Service providers often approach the applications part in phases, Phadke says: First in taking advantage of Google Cloud’s edge computing infrastructure for their own retail or customer experience operations, and then figuring out which verticals they want to sell to and which services fit. “This is an example where we are putting edge computing infrastructure inside operators’ environments, for them to harness edge computing as a way to look at their customer efficiency and [total cost of ownership],” Phadke said. “To drive revenue, they would repackage these and sell it — with us, to their customer segments, in partnership — in order to drive specific industry vertical solutions, like retail.”

As telecom providers seek to monetize 5G, edge computing is broadly recognized to be an important part of that. Phadke says that the conversations with telecom customers around the relationships of networks, computing resources and applications are changing significantly, to reflect an approach built on partnerships.

“There is an appreciation and a recognition that we are to work in an open ecosystem together, with cloud players, to really build this together,” he continues. “And it’s not really any more a ‘here is what we need, can you supply it or not’, it’s more about, ‘how can we leverage this to drive growth to change customer experience radically, to help our customers and is there a way we can look at efficiently running our businesses through TCO.’ Those are the imperatives, and it’s more about working collaboratively to solve those imperatives, bringing others in the mix,” he adds. “[There is] a lot more openness now, because of the possibilities, and because there is no one player that has the whole answer in mind, so it’s really about creating that answer with an ecosystem.”

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