AT&T CTO makes edge pitch for Apple's Vision Pro

'How much computing power do you actually want to put into the device itself ... versus putting it back in the network and doing the computing in the network?' asked AT&T's Jeremy Legg.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

June 28, 2023

4 Min Read
AT&T CTO makes edge pitch for Apple's Vision Pro
Jeremy Legg.(Source: Collision Conference)

AT&T's new networking chief, Jeremy Legg, argued that Apple may need to shift to an edge computing model for its augmented and virtual reality strategy at some point in order to provide such services in a mobile – rather than stationary – environment.

However, Legg also pointed out that Apple's first foray into the AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) sector – via its newly announced Vision Pro headset, which costs a whopping $3,499 – will likely still make use of AT&T's offerings even in an initial, stationary use case.

"The solutions that sit at the backend [of headsets like Vision Pro] are fiber," Legg said this week during the Collision Conference in Toronto. He said AT&T's growing fiber network can provide the necessary speeds for such gadgets, as well as the symmetrical upload and download connections that can support virtually instant communications and interactions. He added that channel bonding inside users' Wi-Fi routers – a technology that's available today to glue together transmissions in various Wi-Fi spectrum bands – will also play a role.

Apple's new Vision Pro headset, set to go on sale next year, is designed to connect to local Wi-Fi networks and does not include the capability to connect to 4G and 5G networks like the Apple iPhone.

But Legg said the situation could be much different if Apple hopes to eventually design a lightweight, portable Vision Pro headset that's intended for use in mobile environments, like strolling through a city.

Mobility "becomes a different equation because you're dealing with spectrum," Legg continued. "Spectrum is limited and so there's only so much bandwidth that you can optimize on any given cell tower at any given time. So the question on the mobility side actually switches a little bit: How much computing power do you actually want to put into the device itself, so that it's computing literally right on your face, versus putting it back in the network and doing the computing in the network? That drives a lot of how much spectrum you're going to be using from one of these devices."

Legg said shifting AR and VR computing into the network could cut down on the cost of such headsets. "It's really more of a cost equation," he said. "The upside of that is that you have that computing local, the downside is that they're very expensive because you've got to use a lot of technology embedded into the device itself. So I think that there's going to be a mix of these things that happen over time."

A slow-moving market

To be clear, Legg isn't the only telecom executive to argue that VR goggles and edge computing will eventually play a major role in the future of the computing industry.

For example, a wide range of executives across the data center and cell tower industries continue to argue that edge computing will eventually mature. Broadly, they argue that future computing services will require speedy connections to nearby data centers – and that today's giant, centralized computing resources won't be able to provide those kinds of low-latency connections.

Indeed, according to reports, the overall latency in Apple's Vision Pro design is around 12 milliseconds, which is far below the 31ms on most US mobile networks, according to Ookla's Speedtest.

Further, AT&T executives have been touting the possibility of edge computing for years now. In recent years, the operator has embarked on edge computing tests and deployments using technologies from hyperscale giants like Microsoft, Google Cloud and IBM. And late last year, Legg said the operator would deploy its 5G core across 12 "edge zones" in the US.

But the edge computing market overall has been moving in fits and starts. For example, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a broad array of operators and technology companies were preparing edge computing tests and deployments. But the traffic spikes at the outset of the pandemic in 2020 forced operators to shift their spending into core network upgrades that could support that demand.

As a result, edge computing investments were halted or delayed. And even now, operators like Verizon have admitted to relatively sluggish demand for their newly refreshed edge computing offerings.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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