Last month, AT&T unveiled its 5G roadmap, which also included details about the role that its virtualized network will play for 5G-related products and services going forward.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is conducting trials and tests this summer before kicking off 5G field trials to fixed locations in Austin later this year. (See AT&T Unveils 5G Ambitions.) AT&T is using SDN and NFV as key building blocks for its virtualized network core.
AT&T is also working in its labs with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) to incubate 5G technologies that will be used for Internet of Things applications, 4K video, virtual reality, robots and self-driving cars.
AT&T's Paul Greendyk, vice president of mobile core and network services, provided additional details about AT&T's virtualization efforts in an interview with Telco Transformation. (This is Part I of our interview with Greendyk.)
Telco Transformation: How do you describe your job and responsibilities at AT&T?
Paul Greendyk: I'm really the guy building the virtualized core, so I'm working with the SDN/NFV core that is part of this. I'm pretty much in the thick of developing and building. We're excited about this ourselves. There's a lot of excitement inside of AT&T.
TT: Can you give us an overview of how AT&T is using SDN and NFV?
PG: We're very, very busy, and have been for quite sometime, on NFV and SDN. As we mentioned in the announcement we have a number of live deployments of virtualized mobile core. We have 14 million subscribers that are live running on a virtualized core, and we've built a virtualized core in Europe to support some of our businesses over there.
We have pretty good field experience already and are working very hard. You saw in the announcement that our goal in 2016 is to achieve 30% of our network functions to be virtualized and a very, very good chunk of those are represented in the mobile core.
TT: So if we zoom in on 5G, what specifically do SDN and NFV do?
PG: There are a number of dimensions that are really essential. The way that I would start with that is I think we all know by now that 5G is a very multi-dimensional thing. It's not nearly as one-dimensional as 2G, 3G and 4G, which were really just about faster speeds, more bandwidth, more coverage, etc. With 5G we're obviously growing from megabits per second to gigabits per second, so that's a big dimension. The trial we're doing with Ericsson and Intel is geared towards that.
But there's an orthogonal access that takes us into this whole densification in the Internet of Things dimension where we have massive coverage and massive scale. Not just millions of devices, but moving into billions of connected devices. That is where NFV/SDN is absolutely essential for that. Today's core, prior to NFV/SDN, was very monolithic. It was very large data centers centralized with very expensive hardware-based solutions.
The ability to build a cloud where you have hundreds or thousands of locations worldwide, and the ability to turn up software in any of those locations that represents the functions of a core allows me to follow and enable that densification that supports those devices. I think densification is a very, very important component of NFV/SDN.
TT: SDN and NFV give you the ability to dynamically alter or offer bandwidth based on a given need at any time, right?
PG: Very much so. The NFV/SDN really allows us to dynamically change the attributes of the core and also the capacity of the core. We can react very quickly and turn up additional capacity very quickly or turn it down very quickly and then share those assets. The beauty of the elasticity of the cloud is the ability to use the cloud capacity, the compute and storage resources. With a hypervisor, we can use that for various network functions as we need them, and even add in features.
TT: Are there SDN controllers in the core, or are they higher up in the infrastructure?
PG: The SDN controllers are really part of the overall infrastructure for AT&T. So AT&T's integrated cloud has a set of SDN controllers that are shared across not just the mobile core but across all of the applications including the enterprise applications that we're running.
— Mike Robuck, editor, Telco Transformation