Edge data center company Vapor IO and bare metal cloud provider Packet plan to install ‘5G capable’ infrastructure at edge locations, with the initiative launching in Chicago later this year as part of Project Volutus.

The partners said that they would deliver ‘5G-as-a-Service (5GaaS)’ using Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge micro data centers. Operators would have to deploy the rest of the infrastructure required for 5G - an emerging technology that is expected to take years to introduce.

Next up, finish defining 5G

Vapor Edge
– Vapor IO

“As wireless technology moves to commoditized x86 and ARM servers, cloud-like operating models will become the de facto standard,” Cole Crawford, founder and CEO of Vapor IO, said.

“Spectrum owners should not have to build a distributed data center footprint from scratch when they can lease 5G infrastructure capacity on demand. Through Volutus and 5G-as-a-Service, operators can optimize their capex/opex and improve their balance sheet while creating more agility.”

Project Volutus was first announced at DCD’s Webscale conference in San Fracisco, with Vapor IO receiving backing from wireless infrastructure provider Crown Castle to explore the technology.

The Vapor Edge Module used in Voltus can support up to 150kW of IT load across six racks, each of which can be divided into five isolated sections to enable multitenancy.

The module, which is 12.5ft wide, 11.5ft tall and 38ft long, is built around a Vapor Chamber - a circular enclosure that rotates 180 degrees either way to only show the correct rack to the correct client.

As part of the project in Chicago, Vapor IO will oversee the physical facilities, operate the network and provide real-time infrastructure management.

Packet will operate the compute service, that can be oprdered through its portal in minutes. Zachary Smith, co-founder and CEO of Packet, added: “5G-as-a-Service is a logical extension of the centralized cloud computing model, only delivered in edge data centers with carrier-grade equipment.

“With this partnership, operators and content players can deploy 5G infrastructure with the agility and economics of the traditional cloud, powering new low-latency services at the network edge.”

After Chicago, the system is expected to come to an unspecified number of additional US cities. Its success and speed of expansion will likely be tied to the success and requirements of 5G technology itself.

The long road to 5G

First international 5G standards were agreed in December by industry body 3GPP, but much work remains to be done before the technology goes mainstream.

AT&T plans to trial 5G in a dozen US cities by late 2018, starting with Atlanta, Dallas and Waco. However, the tests will only use millimeter-wave spectrum, which is short-range and works best with line-of-sight connectivity.

Verizon has also pledged to launch a fixed 5G service in three to five cities this year, followed by a mobile service.

But even if consumers are located in those cities, and are near 5G infrastructure, mobile devices currently lack the technology to use 5G. For now, AT&T plans to offer ‘5G pucks’ - essentially hotspot devices that mobile phones can connect to.

That could change in 2019, when Qualcomm plans to release its first 5G modem, the Snapdragon X50 5G NR. All four US carriers have signed up to conduct live trials of the modem, along with major carriers in Japan, China and Europe.

With Qualcomm being the most advanced 5G technology supplier in the US, concerns have been raised over Broadcom’s attempted $117 billion acquisition, which could impact its research and development efforts. That would leave the field open to Huawei and ZTE, Chinese corporations that have increasingly been targeted by the US, following allegations that they pose a treat to national security (in fact, the US’ apprehension in the matter was high enough for the idea of a nationalized 5G service to be considered).

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) intervened in the acquisition this week, citing security matters.

Aimen N. Mir of the Treasury Department said in a letter: “A weakening of Qualcomm’s position would leave an opening for China to expand its influence on the 5G standard-setting process. Chinese companies, including Huawei, have increased their engagement in 5G standardization working groups as part of their efforts to build out a 5G technology. For example, Huawei has increased its R&D expenditures and owns about 10 percent of 5G essential patents.

“While the United States remains dominant in the standards-setting space currently, China would likely compete robustly to fill any void left by Qualcomm as a result of this hostile takeover. Given well-known US national security concerns about Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications companies, a shift to Chinese dominance in 5G would have substantial negative national security consequences for the United States.”

With this in mind, Broadcom has tried to assuage fears that it will slash R&D to pay off the record $106bn in debt it plans to use to support the acquisition. It promised that if the deal goes ahead, it will set up a $1.5bn fund to “focus on innovation to train and educate the next generation of engineers in the US” and pledged to “make the US the global leader in 5G.”

But Mir noted: “The volume of recent acquisitions by Broadcom has increased the company’s profits and market capitalization, but these acquisitions have been followed by reductions in R&D investment. According to press reports, in the last dozen years, Broadcom has spent six times as much on acquisition as on R&D, and former employees allege that it underinvests in long-term product development.”

Elsewhere, the US government has taken other steps to speed up the adoption of 5G. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4986, the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services - or ‘Ray Baum’s Act,’ named after the Energy and Commerce Committee Staff Director who died last month.

Tha act, among other things, hopes to help with 5G deployment - identifying more spectrum for private sector use, reducing ‘red tape’ around building wireless networks, streamlining the airwaves auctioning process, and helping reimburse those who will have to move to a different wavelength.