Deutsche Telekom may be the first carrier in the world to install an Edge Cloud, which they are doing at a remarkably low cost. By going further back in DT's transport network, they reduced the number of boxes required from 10,000's of thousands to hundreds.

A cloud like this - highly reliable but not quite as fast - would be a very small percentage of a carrier’s capex budget. (A carrier has the fiber and other equipment in place.) It would cut the latency on your network by 40% to 70%. Perhaps more important, the latency would be much more predictable.

DT started with an initial dozen sites, which connected to almost all of the country. It is also installing at as many as 900 additional locations in the regions. This is a Level 3 Cloud - on the carrier's network but several hops from the towers.

MobiledgeX, a DT subsidiary, provides multi-tenant software to run the cloud. CEO Jason Hoffman makes a convincing case that allowing other carriers access will quickly build the necessary volume. They are a natural partner in other countries.

One reason to start now on Edge is that doing it right will be challenging. An efficient system will be part of a distributed cloud. It will constantly monitor demand from users and determine what is served directly. It also constantly communicates with larger servers in a traditional cloud, pulling own the right resources.

Bandwidth is cheap but not free. A busy cloud will be exchanging massive amounts of data. Unless run efficiently, bandwidth costs will get out of hand while performance suffers.

Distributed clouds are demanding to run. That’s another reason to start today with a modest system. Your people will learn what’s involved integrating cloud into your network.  

Until recently, most of the industry thought Edge meant a box at each of the tens of thousands of cells for a large company. That's so expensive that I don't know any carrier committed to deploying a Level 1 Edge.

Vapor and friends have installed a Level 2 Edge system in Chicago. It is 1-3 hops away from the Towers, which adds 4-10 ms latency. One box may be able to serve 100 and even 200 cells, possibly bringing the cost down by an order of magnitude.

Most carriers are studying Edge but holding back for now because the demand isn’t proven. Except on private wireless networks, The lowest common latency will be about 15 ms. (Today’s systems are 30-70+ ms.)  Everything is crisper at lower latency but it isn’t clear the difference will be worth paying for. Streaming video - which Cisco estimates will be 75% of traffic - is virtually unaffected.

Autonomous cars don’t need 5G. Don Butler, executive director, Ford Connected Vehicle Platform and Product, points out, "These vehicles will be fully capable of operating without C-V2X."

Verizon and Telefonica are drastically simplifying their networks. Enrique Blanco, Telefonica CTO, is reducing their transport from a typical 8 hops to about 4 hops. Verizon’s Lee Hicks is leading the “One Verizon” effort, replacing 200,000 pieces of gear with 20,000 faster and more capable equipment. Each router eliminated shaves milliseconds.

The result is a saving of 10-30 milliseconds, sometimes more than the difference between LTE and 5G NR. That may be enough latency reduction for many applications.

At the modest cost of a Level 3 network, a carrier gets into a business sure to grow.