5GCity will design, develop, deploy and demonstrate, in operational conditions, a distributed cloud and radio platform for municipalities and infrastructure owners acting as 5G neutral hosts.
Recent developments in cloud technologies and their deployment are pointing towards the realization of novel, heterogeneous and distributed cloud paradigms, which differ from traditional tried-and-tested centralised, mostly homogeneous (i.e., x86 servers based on Xeon processors) model. One of these new paradigms is called edge computing, which calls for the extension of cloud architectures all the way to the edge of the network, close to the devices that produce and act on data. The value proposition of this new model is that: i) it can process data close to where they are collected thus minimizing processing latency; ii) it offloads gigabytes of network traffic from the core network and (iii) it keeps sensitive data inside the network itself.
Such a model directly enables a cloud-like 5G infrastructure capable of supporting rapid, dynamic, and customisable deployment and operation of virtualised network functions (VNFs) and services, or network apps composed of those virtualised elements. A municipality will host thousands of 5G Small Cells with processing and storage capabilities. Thus, it will become itself a huge distributed cloud infrastructure, which can be seen as an open environment for service deployment. From a technical perspective, evolving cloud architectures and adapting them to the edge of the network within the 5G ecosystem brings a number of open challenges:
(i) Deployment and run-time management of densely interconnected and decentralized cloud and network infrastructures;
(ii) Tight-loop interactions between the computing and networking infrastructures at the edge of the network that today are only available in a few, selected centralized private clouds; and
(iii) Performance issues arising from the use of resource-constrained devices (e.g., Single Board Computers with ARM processors) placed at the edge of the network to perform workloads that have been traditionally carried out by powerful servers in centralized data centres.
From a business perspective, pushing cloud architectures to the edge of the network makes economic sense, since it extends the benefits of the cloud paradigm to a new domain: simplicity and low cost thanks to resource pooling, and statistical multiplexing when the allocation for application demands cannot be planned in advance.
There are only two sets of players which are able to take advantage of this business opportunity, since they already own the infrastructure necessary to build a multi-tenant platform offering cloud applications and 5G services at the edge of the network: telecommunication infrastructure providers and smart cities (i.e., municipalities). 5GCity focuses on how a common smart city infrastructure (i.e., small cells and processing power at the very edge of networks) can bring benefit to both players based on resource sharing and end-to-end virtualization, pushing the cloud model to the extreme edge: starting from standard, city-run data-centres all the way to street-side cabinets and boxes/gateways deployed on lampposts and traffic lights. The advantage of such far edge deployment would be the ability to leverage the proximity to data sources (e.g., video cameras, traffic and proximity sensors, temperature and humidity sensors, and many others), in order to (i) provide quicker response for services that need it (e.g., tight-loops between traffic sensors and traffic lights; recommendation systems for ad placement based on mobility patterns, etc.); (ii) provide local access to data which is privacy sensitive and so should not leave the local network (e.g., processing of video data for crime detection); and (iii) reduce unnecessary network traffic between data sources and compute power.
The ultimate goal of 5GCity is to maximise the return on investment for the whole digital market chain (users, application, cloud providers, i.e., the municipalities themselves, telecom providers, and infrastructure providers). To do so, 5GCity’s main aim is to build and deploy a common, multi-tenant, open platform that extends the (centralized) cloud model to the extreme edge of the network, with a demonstration in three different cities (Barcelona, Bristol and Lucca), and thus advance the state of the art to solve the main open research challenges in the 5G-based edge virtualization domain previously mentioned, including the neutral host perspective in dense deployment environments such as cities.
5GCity will essentially turn a city into distributed, third party, multi-tenant edge infrastructure, extending the cloud model all the way to the edge while enabling dynamic, fast, and interoperable provisioning of 5G-based services. The 5GCity platform will embody a hierarchical architecture embedding network, compute and storage resources distributed across Small Cells and deployed at various technical spaces throughout the city: in lamp posts, urban furniture, street cabinets, and traditional data centres. The 5GCity platform will be used by 5G service providers to offload capacity to the neutral host, by municipalities to host Smart City services, and by additional third party services, such as media or automotive verticals, to offer innovative services to their customers. The 5GCity consortium features the relevant actors in the value chain including municipalities, service providers, neutral host operators, telecom vendors, as well as relevant agents in the European academic sector and the European media community. In essence, 5GCity will demonstrate, in multiple operational environments, how empowering the city infrastructure, and transforming it into a hyper-connected, distributed 5G-enabled edge infrastructure, will directly impact a large and varied range of actors: (i) telecom providers; (ii) municipalities; and (iii) a number of different vertical sectors utilizing the city infrastructure. In short, 5GCity will seek to turn the expected transversal impact of 5G technologies into reality.