Verizon and AT&T separately announced plans to update their SD-WAN services with 5G. The moves are not surprising, considering both companies are building substantial momentum behind their current, LTE-powered SD-WAN offerings and, concurrently, are working to both build out their 5G networks and attract businesses to those networks.
SD-WAN on 5G remains at a very, very nascent stage. Perhaps most importantly, neither Verizon nor AT&T offer much in the way of (mobile) 5G coverage. Verizon launched its 5G Home fixed wireless service in parts of four cities last year, and the operator has said it will launch mobile 5G services in 30 cities sometime in the first half of this year.
Meantime, AT&T has launched mobile 5G in parts of a dozen cities, with plans to significantly expand that offering in the coming months. But AT&T's current mobile 5G coverage area can be placed squarely in the testing arena, considering the company has only offered mobile 5G to "select" customers and details about its network management, speeds and pricing remain vague at best.
Further, neither AT&T nor Verizon offered details such as pricing for their respective SD-WAN 5G offerings.
That said, both operators have been pushing LTE-powered SD-WAN offerings to businesses for years now, and both have reportedly found substantial success in the effort. For example, AT&T's Josh Goodell said late last year that SD-WAN is the first "killer app" for digital transformation at the edge and is exploding as a service. He added that the operator is deploying 28,000 SD-WAN endpoints.
AT&T and Verizon aren't alone in working to flesh out the SD-WAN opportunity among their business customers. A wide range of other telecom players have launched competing offerings, from BT to Orange to Colt. Indeed, market research firm IDC has predicted the SD-WAN infrastructure market will rise at a 40.4% compound annual growth rate from 2017 to 2022, to reach a value of $4.5 billion. SD-WAN technology essentially allows businesses with multiple locations to select their preferred network technologies on a site-by-site basis -- like VPN, wired Internet and cellular -- with the ability to mix and match SD-WAN and non-SD-WAN sites. Businesses can also use SD-WAN to give data from select applications priority over other kinds of traffic.
Not surprisingly, AT&T and Verizon are leaning on some of their big-name suppliers for their respective expansions into 5G SD-WAN. AT&T announced it is working with VMware's VeloCloud-powered SD-WAN unit to implement its 5G capabilities into its SD-WAN. "This transformative combination could be an ideal solution for businesses looking to use SD-WAN with a high-speed, low-latency 5G network as their primary or secondary WAN connection type in combination with other transport connections," the operator stated in a release, adding that its business customers currently using SD-WAN "can easily upgrade to 5G when it's ready through a simple modem change."
In its release, AT&T also shed some light into exactly how it might position the combination of 5G and SD-WAN to its corporate clientele: "SD-WAN could divide traffic so that all the manufacturing floor traffic goes over fixed wireless using a deployed 5G network, while keeping general office (web browsing) traffic on landline broadband. Within the manufacturing floor traffic, the 5G network could isolate one slice of network to handle shop floor robotics that rely on ultra-low latency, while running less time-sensitive edge computing across a parallel path at the same time."
As for Verizon, the operator said its Virtual Network Services would support 5G devices on Cisco's SD-WAN platform. And like AT&T, Verizon in its own release offered its take on what it believes 5G on SD-WAN would be used for: "Potential use cases include the ability to enable an intelligent security perimeter for mobile workers, ensuring that access to corporate assets are governed by their security posture, with a different slice or policy on per application basis from the users' devices. IoT devices that sit outside the campus or branch could be managed and secured with the same network and security tools used inside the campus, giving enterprises a unified approach to applying networking and security policy across any environment."