Rakuten Mobile has partnered with Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland to launch a brand-new Edge Computing Hub this May.
The hub represents a major step forward in a collaborative relationship that goes back to January 2020. Rakuten Mobile will be sponsoring two PhD students and a post-doctoral researcher to push forward research on edge computing at the new hub and explore what scientific and societal benefits it could unlock.
“As billions of devices are getting connected to the internet, we need more sustainable and scalable architectures for computing. They must not solely rely on distant centralized clouds.”Dr. Blesson Varghese, Queen’s University Belfast
Working together for a more sustainable internet
The project is being led by Dr. Blesson Varghese (pictured second from right above), lecturer at the university’s School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Fellow of the ECIT Institute at Queen’s.
“Currently, processing of all data we generate usually happens on geographically distant clouds,” he commented. “As billions of devices are getting connected to the internet, we need more sustainable and scalable architectures for computing. They must not solely rely on distant centralized clouds.”
This, Varghese explained, is where edge computing can make its mark on the global internet.
“Edge computing will bring certain services of applications closer to the users on the edge of the network. This will make applications more responsive and reduce bandwidth demand in the network core.”
The hub officially opened with a speech and virtual ribbon-cutting by Rakuten’s Global Head of AI and Autonomous Networks Miro Salem. Dr. Paul Harvey of the Rakuten Mobile Innovation Studio also gave a brief talk about the collaboration and why edge computing is so important to Rakuten Mobile. “How do we actually understand what an edge platform should look like?” he posed. “What should it look like as we move forward and how do we best take advantage of it?”
“One of the activities that we get to do in our research lab is to form meaningful research collaborations with different partners,” Harvey explained. “At the beginning of 2020, we were able to join with Blesson and the team to found this new collaboration.”
Harvey noted that the company’s passion for research goes all the way up to Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin and senior management, “Thanks to Tareq, and his desire to create a truly innovative company, we were able to go off and create the Rakuten Mobile Innovation Studio, which is basically a research lab.”
While the team is also interested in publishing and sharing the Hub’s findings with others, Harvey stressed that the research would be put to real-world use. “We do intend to see this technology applied within our own network.”
Edge isn’t just cool: It’s practical
At Rakuten Mobile, Harvey researches autonomous networks. “Autonomous networks, put simply, enable our engineers and technicians to go off and chase really interesting problems, leaving the less interesting problems to be operated by software systems.”
“So why are we here talking about edge computing?” he asked. “Well, edge computing is a part of our network, and just as we look for more technologies in the space, we also need to understand how to autonomously operate those technologies.”
Harvey has watched the topic of edge computing gain significant traction in recent years.
“If you look around in the media, you’ll see all these stories coming out: Edge is cool, now is the time for edge,” he remarked. “It’s being talked about. Cloud players are coming into the space, telecommunications companies are talking about it, universities are doing lots of active research.”
But this doesn’t mean every company should be jumping right into it. “You have to have practical reasons and motivations for doing it,” he said. “At Rakuten Mobile, one of our main reasons is the virtualization of our network.”
“Autonomous networks, put simply, enable our engineers and technicians to go off and chase really interesting problems, leaving the less interesting problems to be operated by software systems.”Dr. Paul Harvey, Rakuten Mobile Innovation Studio
Rakuten Mobile launched full-scale commercial service on the world’s first fully virtualized mobile network in April 2020. “With the virtualization of the network, many mobile phone companies, including us, are now making base stations simpler,” Harvey explained. “The computer that was once inside them is no longer there. Instead, they’re just kind of ‘dumb’ terminals that do very simple processing, passing information along to then be processed inside of the edge infrastructure. This enables up to 16 base stations to be attached to a single machine.”
“This is great, because base stations become cheaper,” he continued. “They require less maintenance, and it becomes much easier to deploy them.”
This highly efficient approach is something Rakuten Mobile is actively pursuing as it deploys thousands of edge data centers around Japan. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle, Harvey revealed.
“Edge isn’t just cool. Edge is practical. It has real use-cases that we actually want to pursue.”Dr. Paul Harvey, Rakuten Mobile Innovation Studio
“We also have these regional data centers. These align more to what you might hear about in the media when they talk about services like augmented reality or autonomous driving, gaming in the cloud or remote surgery,” he expanded. “One of the more fortuitous things about Rakuten is that because we run so many different services, we actually have examples of each of these within the company ― whether it’s augmented reality from the Rakuten Institute of Technology, autonomous driving and delivery, or the Rakuten TV streaming services.”
The team is also thinking about decentralized machine learning, serverless computing and much more: “These ideas represent just the beginnings of the research that we’re doing with Blessen and the team in the edge hub,” Harvey concluded.
“Edge isn’t just cool. Edge is practical. It has real use-cases that we actually want to pursue.”