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AT&T to Tap External Developers for Edge Computing Test Zone

Kelsey Kusterer Ziser

AT&T is looking outward to drive innovation around edge computing, having announced plans to launch an edge computing test zone in Silicon Valley in early 2018.

Open to outside developers and other companies -- ranging from startups to larger businesses -- the Palo Alto-based test zone, announced last week, will provide a space for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and third parties to test connected applications such as autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and drones. Initially, the test zone will utilize a 4G LTE connection, but AT&T plans to upgrade to 5G ideally by the end of 2018, once standards and equipment are established. (See AT&T to Launch Edge Computing Test Zone in Silicon Valley in Early 2018.)

"Ultra-low latency and high throughput, and all of the characteristics coming with 5G, will be critically important for some of the use cases people are talking about such as autonomous cars, AR and VR, IoT and possibly others," said Igal Elbaz, vice president of ecosystem and innovation at AT&T and head of AT&T Foundry.

By moving compute power to the edge of the network and utilizing central offices, cell towers and small cells as distributed computing facilities, service providers expect edge computing to improve mobile users' experiences on applications like AR/VR that require low-latency and high-bandwidth. (See Edge Computing: AT&T's Next Big Play?)

John Byrne, service director of Global Telecom Technology and Software for GlobalData Plc , explained to Light Reading that while AT&T initially emphasized that the "M" in MEC stands for "multi-access" edge computing, the carrier is heavily emphasizing the "mobile" aspect here.

By recently focusing so much on the mobile aspect, AT&T officials possibly did a disservice to explaining their edge computing efforts, which use both mobile and fixed assets, added Byrne. However, AT&T's Elbaz did touch on AT&T's physical assets in its edge computing strategy in an interview with Light Reading.

"Edge computing is important for us because we're going to roll out 5G, but not only that, we have a lot of physical assets and capabilities in terms of cell towers or central offices, so we have the footprint that can allow us to do computation at the edge of our network," said Elbaz.

AT&T Foundry innovation centers in Silicon Valley and Atlanta are heading up the development of the test zone, and the initial test area will likely cover several miles. While AT&T Foundry has not yet announced specific projects, the test zone is expected to develop projects around AR/VR, drones and self-driving cars.

"We want to be very focused and be able to get deep and understand those use cases," he said. "Over time we might be introduced to additional use cases and see if it's something we want to do… definitely IoT, autonomous cars… these are potential use cases we might look at."

Elbaz said it's too early to name which companies will join the test zone ecosystem, but more updates on partnerships will be coming in 2018.

Overall, AT&T's focus on edge computing makes a lot of sense, said Byrne, "because as we look at a lot of the emerging use cases, the key components of them are utilizing low-latency, and the only way you are able to achieve those levels of latency are with a robust edge computing proposition."

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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