This year’s Mobile World Congress flagged so-called edge services — where cloud computing is optimised by performing data processing near the source of the data — as key to 5G adoption.

Between telcos and cloud computing companies who is best to provide these services?

While initial 5G will focus on speed, the role of 5G data processing services has taken centre stage at Mobile World Congress.

By placing computing resources at the network edge – think mini datacentres – services can be delivered quicker.

And if those data centres could host applications from different companies, then new services beyond 5G are possible.

Would-be 5G service providers like the idea. While edge networks would open up their networks to new partners and revenue streams, they would also take advantage of a critical asset today’s mobile operators hold: real estate.

All of the places where service providers maintain equipment represent potential edge nodes allowing operators to place content and services closer to users in a way almost anybody else could.

But they aren’t the only ones with the potential to seize the opportunity.

Cloud companies have their own edge aspirations. Services like Amazon Greengrass and Microsoft Azure represent attempts to distribute workloads well before 5G arrives.

And where the goal is opening up the edge to services from a wide array of ecosystem players, cloud companies have an advantage; their job is to host diverse workloads.

What’s more, they’ve made the process of integrating those workloads very simple.

Beyond the connectivity, then, it’s a race to see who will play a leading role in delivering 5G services

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Telcos are racing to build a framework (and business model) for marrying their distributed real estate to an open ecosystem of partner apps. Cloud companies are racing to extend their platforms and history in working with diverse services/apps further towards the network edge.

History has shown that it’s a bad idea to bet against the cloud companies given their agility and budgets.

Moves like Greengrass and Azure in turn, show that they’re already focused on edge computing.