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AT&T's Cloud Future Takes Shape

Dan Jones

BARCELONA — Mobile World Congress 2014 — AT&T sent a clear signal of its willingness to shake up its vendor list in the move to virtualization by naming startup Affirmed Networks as the first vendor to work on the network operator's virtualized EPC architecture as part of the AT&T's "Domain 2.0" program to reduce network costs and speed service development and deployment.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) said Monday that it has selected Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Tail-f Systems , and Metaswitch Networks for further discussions on design and deployment. The initiative is designed to accelerate the carrier's move to software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), help it adopt a more cloud-based approach, and enable it to reduce capital expenses. (See AT&T Puts SDN/NFV in Driver's Seat.)

In a brief appearance here in Barcelona Monday afternoon, AT&T's John Donovan, senior executive vice president of AT&T technology and network operations, said to expect more vendors to be announced in 2014, including some that haven't worked in the telecom space before.

Donovan's presentation stuck close to a blog posted by AT&T today. Nonetheless, he stressed the radical nature of the changing way that AT&T is working with suppliers on this project with suppliers, stressing that the operator needed to take an innovative approach if it is to create the "User-Defined Network Cloud."

Here's how the operator envisages that cloud:

AT&T's Ambitious Cloud
Source: AT&T Inc.
Source: AT&T Inc.

Startup Affirmed Networks got the first crack at AT&T's virtualized Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) over much larger vendors, including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Ericsson, who have announced and are demonstrating eVPCs here. Affirmed has been working in this area already with its AN3000 platform (See Affirmed Brings Smarts to Mobile Data Flows and Packet Core Looks 'Ripe' for Virtualization.)

The EPC is essential for routing different data streams correctly on LTE networks. Making it virtual simply means creating a standard server software platform to handle the tasks that would have previously been done by custom hardware. (See Evolved Packet Core (EPC) for more on the technology.)

"We have... around 10 or so commercial deployments, some with tier-one operators," Affirmed CEO Hassan Ahmed told Light Reading earlier this month. (See Affirmed Claims Mobile NFV Customers, Trials.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
2/27/2014 | 6:24:58 PM
Re: AT&T Network Virtualization

If this is really a sign of things to come, it will be a wild year or two ahead

You hit the nail on the head with that -- IF this is a sign.. AT&T has had a pretty long history of trialing all sorts of innovative/disruptive technologies, but its track record shows that it doesn't necessarily follow through after the tests.


User Rank: Blogger
2/25/2014 | 6:07:51 PM
Re: AT&T Network Virtualization
If this is really a sign of things to come, it will be a wild year or two ahead. Much welcome by those tired of the norm, much to fear for those who have had a lock on carrier business for years, much to regret for small, innovative vendors that started too early and couldn't survive to see this day.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/25/2014 | 9:55:17 AM
AT&T Network Virtualization
Wow, going outside the normal supply chain...that is quite a shock.  I'm sure Mobile World Congress will supply AT&T and others a number of alternatives to the regulars attending the party.  Sounds like the carriers are outside their comfort zone - they know what they want and when they will really need it, but getting to the point of offering true high-quality carrier-grade virtualization can take a couple/few years.  One thing they will retain is to ensure the 5 "9s" of quality they expect and will not sacrifice by moving from a traditional box network to a flatter model where there are less boxes that do more. - even with the capex and opex savings.  Think we'll also see more companies that previsously offered boxes to software driven solutions - i.e., like virtualizing the session border controllers 
User Rank: Blogger
2/24/2014 | 8:17:03 PM
Re: Long-run impact

Like I said, he stuck close to the spirit of his blog, stressed that this was no where close to the end of the selection and said people should approach AT&T if they thought they had something to offer.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
2/24/2014 | 5:03:14 PM
Long-run impact
AT&T choosing Affirmed Networks to work on the virtual EPC was something of a surprise - I wonder what it means for the long haul. 

Did Donovan offer any explanation for the choices?
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