We’ve been on an aggressive software path since 2015, altering the technology landscape for the telecom industry. And it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity. We now carry more than 197 petabytes of data traffic on our global network every business day. Keeping up with that kind of demand by buying and installing new hardware every time is just too costly and time-consuming. You must be able to activate new capabilities and expand services in near real time.

In early 2015, we stated our plan to virtualize and software-control 75% of our core network functions by 2020. Last year, we hit our goal of reaching 55%.

And we just announced that our goal for 2018 is 65%, which we intend to hit too.

But this latest goal is particularly critical, as 2018 is also the year we plan to launch mobile 5G here in the U.S.

Network AI

To deliver a cost-effective nationwide services of tomorrow, we need a software-centric network as the foundation. That’s how we’ll deploy not just our standard network services in our centralized network cloud, but new mobility, consumer and enterprise low-latency applications at the network edge in our edge cloud. Open source software has allowed us to more cost-effectively manage, better control and more quickly deploy network services than ever before. We’ve announced several major open source initiatives over the last year or so, all designed to maximize speed and innovation while controlling costs:

  • ONAPThe operating system for Network Clouds. Since formation a year ago, the project now brings together over 50 of the largest network and cloud operators and technology providers from around the globe, representing more than 60% of the world’s mobile subscribers. AT&T is leading the software contribution and together with project members plans to deliver the second ONAP release, Beijing, in the second quarter of this year.
  • DANOSThe operating system for individual white box servers that power a virtualized network. And we recently announced we are taking white boxes, running on DANOS, to scale in our network and will plan to install as many of 60,000 of these white box routers to support our 5G build out over the next few years.
  • AcumosAn industry-first AI platform and marketplace, co-created with Tech Mahindra, that makes it easy to chain multiple microservices together in a simple drag-and-drop interface. And The Linux Foundation recently announced the public availability of Acumos, meaning anyone can now access the platform and begin building AI applications. We’re also releasing our Acumos whitepaper, where we highlight our direction and efforts in this area.
  • Akraino Edge StackA complete software platform for edge computing systems and applications. The Linux Foundation also recently announced that Intel among others have signed on as members of the community. We’re seeing early indicators of progress that are encouraging, and this growing collaboration will help to expedite the maturity and adoption of edge cloud.

These aren’t just frameworks or concepts. We’re delivering functioning software, tools, applications and platforms. Our engineers and developers are contributing code that’s being used in AT&T and around the world.

We’re also designing open hardware platforms that will run these new virtual network functions. Just last month, the Open Compute Platform (OCP) approved our proposed specifications for what we call “universal customer premise equipment,” or uCPE. These are the boxes we install in businesses upon which we deliver applications and services to help them manage their enterprise networks. As an official OCP spec, any company can now build their own equipment using these specifications to help get their own virtual functions up and running quickly. It’s yet another example of how we’re working with developer communities to help the entire industry accelerate in this software-defined networking world.

In fact, AT&T’s contributions to open source have been recognized by industry leaders.

“AT&T is largely responsible for the success of open source in the telecom space and has become a key player in the overall open source ecosystem,” said Jim Zemlin, Executive Director at The Linux Foundation. “AT&T's leadership in SDN/NVF and open source is unquestionable and one that has truly transformed the industry.”

With the number of open source projects at AT&T continuing to expand, we’re building a framework for how they integrate with and support one another. Think of this as Network AI, an intelligent software-defined framework for these projects. AT&T Labs will spearhead this initiative. The focus is on identifying areas where a combination of software, open source and AT&T resources can drive innovation for the industry.

Our software story is at the heart of everything we’re doing these days. It powers our network, delivers videos, music, games and more to our customers, and is a toolbox for developers around the world to create new applications we can’t even imagine yet. It allows our customers to have more of their thing!

Read more about our broader open source initiative and active projects on our newly relaunched AT&T Labs website.

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

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