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Seeing Through "The Fog"

With half of all TV and videos being watched on mobile screens by 2020, according to Ericsson, there’s an increasing technical and economic imperative to bring signals closer to audiences. Although content producers usually leave network architecture decisions to engineering wonks, the growing complexity and increased interest on targeted advertising is encouraging executives to explore new distribution options. 

Enter “Fog Computing” 

Although its name suggests a murky miasma, “fog” is a derivative of “cloud computing,” which brings content closer to the viewer and is a major factor for supporting emerging wireless services and devices. “Fog is ‘distributed cloud,’” says Don Clarke, principal architect at Cable TV Laboratories. Other experts contend that “fog computing” and “edge computing” are often used interchangeably, although the two approaches are seen as synergistic. Two Australian academics who first conceptualized the fog approach contend the fog lies between the cloud and the edge. Fog computing is envisioned for wireless services like mobile voice, 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity for self-driving vehicles.

“Fog can be distinguished from cloud by its proximity to end users and its  support for mobility,” Ivan Stojmenovic and Sheng Wen of Deakin University  in Australia, wrote. “As fog computing  is implemented at the edge of the network, it provides low latency, location awareness and improves quality-of-service for streaming and real-time applications.” They expect fog service to “be hosted at end devices such as set-top boxes or access points.” 

Ericsson's ConsumerLab TV and Media Report found nearly 60 percent of viewers prefer portable, on-demand options to scheduled, linear viewing. In such an environment, the value of targeted advertising and content delivery from fine-tuned (albeit “foggy”) sources is more desirable.

Major Developments 

At the Fog World Congress in Silicon Valley, Christian Renaud, research director of IoT at 451 Research, predicted that fog computing will become an $18.2 billion market by 2022, primarily in industrial sectors. But, the potential for fog capability at the network edge is also on the minds of U.S. media companies. “It’s about relationships,” CableLabs’ Clarke  says. “Wireless is an important consideration as we architect these new networks at 5G and beyond.” 

Although IoT may become the first implementation of fog architecture, personalized advertising and customized video programming are also likely to embrace this approach. According to the recent Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) paper Fog Computing: Towards Minimizing Delay in the Internet of Things, “One of the promising advantages of fog is reducing service delay for  end user applications.” 

“It’s necessary to understand the interplay between fog computing and cloud, to evaluate the effect of fog computing on the IoT service delay and quality of service,” wrote University of Texas computer scientists Ashkan Yousefpour, Genya Ishigaki and Jason Jue in the report.

Comcast recently awarded a grant to  a Princeton University lab to support research into the “Cloud-to-Fog interface in the areas of storage, communications and management.” Announcing the grant, Jason Livingood, vice president of technology policy and standards at Comcast, called fog networking “an architectural approach that seeks to make networks more efficient by pushing network intelligence and processing capabilities closer to end users.” He adds, fog computing processes enable the “cloud and edge to form  a mutually beneficial, interdependent continuum” that eliminate or minimize the need to determine if a task should be  handled in the cloud or at  a customer’s edge device. 

Dr. Mung Chiang, an electrical engineering professor, founder of the Princeton EDGE Lab and cofounder of the global Open Fog Consortium, is supervising the project. EDGE Lab  supporters include ARM, Cisco, Dell, Intel  and Microsoft. Dr. Chiang says he helped  to launch the Consortium to address common problems with “edge networks” —  the connections at the periphery of a more  centralized network, close to the actual devices that use the network. 

“We have a unique opportunity to bring the cloud closer to the edge and users as fog,” Chiang says. 

Gary Arlen