AT&T hosted the recent ETSI NFV ISG conference in Atlanta and kicked things off with a thought leadership session that spanned several network transformation topics including cloud-centric revenue opportunities, NFV, SDN, 5G, and branding – yes, branding.
Bala Thekkedath, Director of Marketing, and Dossevi Trenou, Chief Technologist for Hewlett Packard Enterprise kicked things off with a discussion on something we all like to hear about – new revenue opportunities. The omnipresent OTT threat of course came up, and they suggested to the crowd (made up of service providers and vendors) to proceed down the peaceful coexistence route and focus on each of the respective core strengths of these seemingly contraposed parties. Probably the most interesting aspect of the discussion was around the concept of the enterprise as a Virtual Mobile Network Operator or VMNO which in the future could be supported by network slicing techniques (keep reading).
Tom Anschutz got the audience up to speed on AT&T’s CORD initiative. CORD is not just any old four letter word, it’s an acronym for Central Office Re-architected Datacenter. CORD, a collaborative effort between AT&T and ON.Lab, combines NFV, SDN and cloud concepts along with commodity hardware in order to build out an agile and programmable central office infrastructure designed for rapid deployment of services. Virtualized network functions such as firewalls, parental control applications and caching along with OLT, CPE and broadband network gateways run on commodity servers managed by an open VNF manager that leverages OpenStack. You can download an informative whitepaper on the architecture here.
Hank Kafka, VP of Access Architecture and Analytics, provided insight into AT&T’s vision for its 5G architecture and direction on virtualization. 5G is not only really fast connectivity (mobile broadband speeds over 56 Gbps) and but also improved connection densities both of which are needed to support the massive amounts of IoT/connected devices and near real-time applications that we know are coming. The low latency characteristics of 5G are important for real-time remote manipulation of devices, industrial controls, and applications such auto collision detection. Hank indicated we’ll start to see pre-5G with the coming of the 2018 Korean Winter Olympics. So we’ll get a taste of what’s in store when the time comes for 5G to start rolling out in areas outside Asia Pacific.
But one of the key takeaways I noted was the call for the core network to be reinvented when it comes to 5G. 5G use cases will definitely have an impact on core network design, and while there will be the same radio resources basically, they will be used in different ways. In a 5G world, the various devices will have a wide range of speed demands, a wide range of latency requirements and wide range of mobility needs. The “one size fits all network” that we have today is not in tune with new device and use case trends. The networks deployed were originally optimized for voice, but Internet demand has driven new generations of RAN and core technology and the new array of connected devices for vehicles, and wearables, and remote sensors –all of which will have different mobility needs.
This observation was a natural lead-in to the next concept Hank brought up, which was network slicing. You can read about this very cool concept in a blog that I wrote a few weeks back. With network slicing there could be multiple instances of virtualized network functions that could exist - each allocated to a specific network slice. Each different network slice would be optimized, orchestrated and functionally equipped for a specific use case, device or group of subscribers. This would enable the dynamic and automatic orchestration, addition or removal of network functions that provide the services in that network slice. One of the obvious demands going forward would be the need for new array of key functional richness obviously tailored to the requirements of the various slices. The main point I came away with was Hank’s comment that network slicing is a concept that is only possible with the use of NFV technologies.
Alan Blackburn, VP of Architecture and Planning, reiterated A&T’s goal to virtualize and - more importantly - control 75% of its network using cloud infrastructure and SDN by 2020. The “why” to this “what” was because of the exploding traffic volumes and the realization that they can’t build networks any more in the traditional manner due to the sheer tonnage of video traffic and massive amount of IoT sessions that they are experiencing. The range of traffic that networks have to carry will be vastly different.
AT&T recently released a white paper on its virtualization and NFV architecture framework that talks about their ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy) software platform. ECOMP is one of the three pillars - in addition to NFV and SDN - of its Domain 2.0 (D2) initiative. Together, these three frameworks are expected to enable AT&T to realize improved efficiency, reduced cycle times, and the ability to rollout innovative services at a faster rate.
ECOMP is a critical component in achieving AT&T’s D2 imperatives and it’s basically the brains of their D2 strategy. It provides closed loop automation and service instantiation to help rapidly on-board new services created either by AT&T or third party providers. While it’s designed to help reduce CAPEX and OPEX, D2 is a transformative initiative that will enable AT&T network services and infrastructure to be used, provisioned and orchestrated in a manner as is typical of cloud services in data centers. The challenge with a framework like Domain 2.0 is that there naturally has to be a “3.0” version, but AT&T is already starting to think about what that will look like.
All in all, the AT&T thought leadership session was a whirlwind of concepts that covered more than NFV, SDN, 5G, revenue opportunities, the “reimagining of the central office” and a healthy dose of acronyms. But what about branding? How does a company’s branding activity intersect with all the cloud technology initiatives discussed? That was one of the more interesting topics which I’ll talk about in my next blog. Stay tuned!