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Journey to the Edge

While speaking to developers on the Topcoder platform, Adam Morehead asked me a seemingly straightforward question about my background and why I founded Alef.

While speaking to developers on the Topcoder platform, Adam Morehead asked me a seemingly straightforward question about my background and why I founded Alef. This is not the first time I have been asked about my background, but it gave me the opportunity to respond with: the mobile internet was growing rapidly, but there are significant areas of technology and business friction in launching any new service or simpler yet to enhance existing services. I saw a massive opportunity to create a network effect. While my response was factual, I felt it lacked sufficient detail and I was inspired to dive in deeper through this blog.

In the early days, it started with conversations with industry experts and potential customers. Given my background in mobility systems, I had a chance to speak to senior telecom executives first and followed it up with enterprise IT heads on their burning problems with respect to the mobile internet. A clear consensus was evolving – mechanisms to rapidly rollout the next generation multi-media centric apps over mobile broadband was an immediate market need. However, there was no coordinated technology effort across the value chain and this lack of coordination was stifling innovation; this in turn meant an economic workflow that benefitted all participants was absent. It was evident, there was too much friction in both the technology and business dimensions. Though this was a hard problem to solve, even if we could reach a solution with a small part of it, it was clear that the network impacts would be profound.

But what would it look like if developers had access to the tools to build amazing things within this new distributed internet architecture? Together we could leverage the imagination and effort of developers to build something new: the Edge.

By examining why there was technology friction, I was able to make a few observations:

  • Mobile carrier networks are designed/built for “anytime and anywhere access to the existing internet” – and hence an optimal mobile first internet that could deliver a “desktop grade” experience to end-users was not a primary consideration.
  • Capacity, coverage and mobility were the fuel to the system designs – but contemporary systems were not designed for application richness or responsiveness. As such, I discovered latency as the independent variable. This discovery was not as easy as it sounds – as a mobile internet practitioner, performance optimization was often centered around optimizing either networks or applications.
  • With the edge, where connectivity meets computing at the point of consumption, it occurred to me this is a false dichotomy. This informal either/or fallacy is due to an erroneous understanding that mobility architectures must be centralized.
  • As has become evident, the edge is foundational to the ongoing Internet decentralization. Hence, a fundamental redesign of mobile access was needed but it cannot be a forklift given the investments in various generations of technology.

As I was examining and designing new architectures, the root of the business friction, as I saw it, was becoming obvious and centered around the lack of APIs and abstractions, unit economics and adoption workflows that lacked automation, etc. In short, the need for new mobile internet market models that lead to “shared and participative economies” was staring at me. The cloud had demonstrated agility, but centralized cloud architectures were adding fuel to the fire and performance has constantly been sacrificed. However, the operating model of the cloud is very compelling despite the architectural shortcomings. So, I decided to focus on how to adopt and adapt cloud models at the edge with edge APIs and a shared economic model. As I connected the dots, it was clear the network effects were profound but required new value chain participants.

So, where are we today?
The Edge Internet is now considered the next generation of the internet, with latency as the new currency. New value chain participants include tower companies and shared spectrum management providers. APIs and developer led initiatives as economic levers are well understood. Edge initiatives at enterprises are not just projects, but instead IT heads are adopting new edge products as part of their network/digital transformation initiatives via a consumption/transactional operating model. Market analysts are predicting edge economies running into the trillions. Investments in this space are accelerating with a broad recognition that the edge internet has been years in the making.

More recently, deployment of enterprise private mobile networks has been dramatically simplified through an edge API-based developer first low-code/no-code framework. New distributed architectures with neutral host private edge platforms are expanding and enterprises are embarking on their journeys alongside new ecosystem partners. The excitement is palpable and contagious, as our journey to the edge and beyond advances!

My interview about Simplifying Wireless Connectivity with Topcoder can be found here.

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