Vodafone opens UK’s first Edge Innovation Lab at MediaCityUK to potentially bring futuristic applications to sports fans
Vodafone has announced it is opening a new Edge Innovation Lab in MediaCityUK, Salford, in what is a first of its kind in the UK. The lab could help broadcasters and partners develop new applications for end users – such as the holographic boxing idea developed as one of the 5G Edge XR projects – which require significant edge computing power to deliver innovative ideas to sports fans.
The Edge Innovation Lab at Host, which calls itself the home of skills and technology, will offer the opportunity for companies, academics, software developers and public sector organisations to see and test the possibilities of the next generation in network technology, multi-access edge compute (MEC).
MEC technology enables real time data processing at the network edge, allowing for the creation of low latency services that would not be possible on today’s traditional network infrastructure. This offers innovators in the Greater Manchester area an opportunity to be at the forefront of next generation digital services.
On the benefits of MEC in enabling projects such as 5G Edge XR, Matt Stagg, BT Sport’s director of mobile and immersive, told SVG Europe while on stage at FutureSPORT 2022: “MEC will definitely play a part in providing the compute power for mixed reality (XR). The key challenge is where is the Edge in MEC? It’s a trade off between the cost and the latency; the closer you place the compute power [to the event], the more costly it is to scale as you need more of it. If you put it all in a large centralised data centre, then it becomes more cost effective but you increase the latency [due to the distance between the event and the data centre]. The key to it all is finding the sweet spot.”
By installing specialist servers either in Vodafone or customer facilities, applications are able to respond to command significantly faster, the mobile operator said. Latency is a barrier for next generation innovations that require almost instantaneous reactions, or are powered by artificial intelligence. When combined with 5G, latency could be reduced to speeds faster than the human brain processes information.
Use cases enabled by MEC include autonomous vehicles, autonomous operations in factories, immersive augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), remote medicine, cloud gaming and drone transport.
Vodafone has deployed dedicated MEC servers at the Edge Innovation Lab and has launched a distributed MEC zone in the Manchester area in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), as part of the AWS Wavelength Zone infrastructure. Vodafone will also showcase mixed reality (XR) and visual inspection services at the lab. Vodafone has partnered with Kyndryl to offer customers professional and managed services for dedicated MEC and wider cloud managed services to Vodafone customers.
Software developers and innovators in the Greater Manchester region will have access to these technologies in the earliest stages of development. This head start will create a global centre of excellence for real time mobile applications in the region, supporting the growth of digitally led businesses and industries in the area, as well as in the rest of the UK.
Nick Gliddon, business director, Vodafone UK, said: “MEC enables the creation of digital services and platforms that would otherwise be impossible to deliver. 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. It will place Manchester and surrounding region at the centre of the next stage of digital revolution.”
Tosca Colangeli, president, Kyndryl UK and Ireland, said: “We are excited, as part of our strategic partnership with Vodafone, to be supporting the Edge Innovation Lab in Salford and to use the facility as inspiration and co-creation for our joint customer engagements. We expect Edge technologies to increasingly become an enabler of business outcomes; allowing end users (and machines) and industries including manufacturing, energy and retail, to reap the benefits of traditional cloud computing while gaining advantages such as reduced data latency, better data autonomy and enhanced security.”
This builds on Vodafone’s four-year partnership with Host in MediaCityUK, where the lab will be located. Host combines skills, innovation and start up growth services all under one roof, with an inclusive community that supports businesses to learn, grow and succeed. It focuses on key sectors including data science, artificial intelligence (AI), cyber and immersive technologies so individuals and businesses can explore the pioneering opportunities available in these areas. Host is also home to the UK’s Unity Centre of Excellence and Skills City’s digital Skills Bootcamps.
Alongside the launch of the lab, Vodafone is also running the Edge Innovation Programme 2.0.
Using both dedicated and distributed MEC technologies, the Edge Innovation Programme 2.0 will inspire the creation of innovative and futuristic services, products and applications. Participants of the trial will be able to ‘try before you buy’ MEC services and will also receive a voucher for further discounts on additional services following trials and proof-of-concepts, as well as work alongside Vodafone network and technology experts to bring ideas to life.
Vodafone has already worked with more than 20 companies to trial new MEC services, including:
• Aurrigo: Cambridge-based SME Aurrigo used MEC and Vodafone’s 4G/5G network to improve the safety and performance of its driverless vehicles, as well as enhancing security as data is not exposed to the public internet
• Sportable: The company’s ball-embedded and wearable Internet of Things (IOT) technology captures every movement on the pitch, delivering real time insights to fans, coaches, officials and broadcasters
• InterDigital: MEC can better support applications like ‘zero-defect’ manufacturing, to unlock huge benefits for the industry 4.0 and smart factories
• Keyless: Keyless is a privacy-first biometric authentication solution that makes the authentication processes for digital payments faster. MEC makes real time multi-factor authentication a reality for all end users, meaning business and consumers can embrace seamless biometric technology