As AT&T nears the end of its long march to network virtualization, it's gearing up to exploit its telco cloud platform to enable new edge and 5G applications for enterprises and new business opportunities for the ambitious operator, says Roman Pacewicz, AT&T Business's chief product officer.
AT&T has virtualized 65% of its core network during the past five year, and is on track to meet its goal of virtualizing 75% of its network functions by next year.
"We see the cloud fragmenting again and certain workloads being pushed out to the edge -- at customer [premises] and in the network -- with more heavy-duty storage, and the back end being in the centralized cloud," Pacewicz told Light Reading during an interview conducted at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
"Nowhere is [virtualization] more important than in our rollout of 5G," Pacewicz says. "If we didn't have a network edge cloud environment that takes the mobile core out to the edge of the network, those deployments would be complicated and longer. The whole strategy of virtualization and cloudification of the network becomes more important in upgrading the infrastructure to 5G, because everything is virtualized and software-enabled."
A new generation of services enabled by 5G will require low latency, and therefore require compute and storage resources close to the edge of the network, Pacewicz says.
As an example, the AT&T man cites a joint project with Microsoft to deliver Microsoft Azure cloud services from the AT&T network edge, for reduced latency, announced during Mobile World Congress. For applications such as AI, mixed reality and augmented reality, latency needs to be no greater than 20 milliseconds and that requires data to be processed closer to the edge of the network and closer to the end user, Pacewicz says.
For example, AT&T is teaming with Israeli startup Vorpal on projects to monitor the location of drones around sensitive locations such as aircraft and airports, alert authorities if they're flying in restricted areas, and even identify the location of a drone's controller. That kind of application requires low latency enabled by edge computing, Pacewicz says.
Similarly, retailers are looking into facial recognition to identify individual buyers and suss out their preference based on their shopping history. A retailer with 8,000–10,000 stores can't have dedicated compute at every site, but needs low latency to create new types of experience, Pacewicz says.
And networks need 2 millisecond latency for safe interactions between robots and human beings, he says.
SD-WAN is a key part of making the network more intelligent and flexible to accommodate 5G applications by optimizing traffic routing, particularly as edge devices don't just consume data, but also generate it, Pacewicz says. Both AT&T and competitor Verizon separately announced plans last month to update their SD-WAN services as part of their 5G plans.
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— Mitch Wagner Executive Editor, Light Reading