There’s been a lot of discussion around our next generation network and software defined networking over the past year. I’ve been frequently asked to explain how significant this transformation will be. It keeps bringing me back to the late 19th century, when the horse-drawn carriage industry was about to be disrupted by the internal combustion engine. Innovators at the time had to make a choice. Do you build a mechanical horse and optimize existing carriage equipment or do you build an entirely new transportation vehicle?

That’s where we are now.  Just as the internal combustion engine opened up a world of possibilities over a century ago, our vision for the network of the future will give our customers unprecedented speed and flexibility in setting up new services on our network. Imagine reducing set up time from months to minutes, in many scenarios.

Innovations around the combustible engine required a link between theory and practical applications, as does our transformation to a network that’s more software focused.  That’s what my team in AT&T Labs Advanced Technologies is focused on.  We’re working with thought leaders in academia to bring SDN concepts into the network, enabling new services and improving customer experience in the future.

John Donovan, in a blog post earlier this week, referenced the first AT&T SDN Academic Summit that my team put together and was recently held in New York City. The event attracted nearly 40 of the best and brightest minds from across academia to collaborate with AT&T Labs’ researchers, network architects and operations planners on some of the most pressing and relevant challenges for driving SDN technology into new areas of the network.

Discussions at the event centered on AT&T’s unique networking challenges tied to scale, complexity, operations and geographic scope, as well as the role open source will play in the future of SDN in a carrier network.

Coming out of the Summit, we’re exploring a range of exciting new collaborations between AT&T and academia, focused on areas such as how SDN can transform operations activities, policy management in SDN, and the applying SDN in cellular networks. Beyond these new opportunities, we are currently engaged with the academic community in carrier network research through 35 active projects designed around real world networking challenges.

The opportunities and decisions facing the industry today are not unlike those faced by the transportation pioneers. The outcomes of their decisions have impacted global transportation, societies and economies.   Likewise, the decisions our industry makes today around SDN will have important and lasting societal and economic implications.

Chris Rice
Chris Rice Senior Vice President – AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design