By Amy Wheelus & Paul Bartoli

If you love using your phone to bank, book air travel or watch the latest episode of “Game of Thrones,” you can thank a hardware-centric network. It can handle an enormous amount of bandwidth. But if you’re looking forward to hopping into your self-driving car or escaping into jaw-dropping virtual worlds, well, even a hardware-centric network won’t cut it.

What you’ll need is a software-defined network. One that can handle ridiculous amounts of bandwidth, not to mention a projected 50 billion connected devices globally by 2020. And for that, you can thank some very clever people at AT&T.

"A few ‘we-love-a-challenge’ engineers at AT&T got together in a room to figure out how to build and deploy a software-defined network. They created something called Enhanced Control Orchestration Management Policy or “ECOMP.”

What is ECOMP?

ECOMP enables the physical network – like routers – to be implemented with software. These software applications can then operate on top of the AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC) to interact with each other, as well as with external apps. This is how ECOMP allows for emerging technologies – like virtual assistants, self-driving cars, virtual reality experiences – to become part of our everyday lives.

To better understand how ECOMP and the AIC work together, consider your smartphone’s operating system. It does things like power your phone on and off, manage network connectivity, and control the storage capability. Your phone can’t perform basic functions without it. That’s how the AIC operates for the network and virtual functions.

However, your phone also has another system that oversees the apps that have to work together and with external applications, whether you’re posting video on social media or hailing a ride share. Similarly, ECOMP enables the virtual network functions (apps) to talk to each other and with the outside world. 

Why did we create ECOMP?

At first, we asked ourselves what networks were going to look like in the future and how we would manage them. That process made us rethink how we create, deploy and manage network services. ECOMP was our solution. It provided a strong foundation for future innovation to build on.

We had to create an entirely new network operating system so we could seamlessly manage and control virtual network functions – eventually getting to policy driven automation of the network. This was a highly complex endeavor and we focused on ensuring that all the components, ECOMP, AIC and network operations projects were in harmony. 

What’s next?

So far, we’ve only scratched the surface. We’re on the cusp of what's next.

ECOMP is arguably one of the most comprehensive and advanced platforms the industry has to offer. That’s a big deal. It’s one of the largest projects we’ve worked on, and we still have work to do. Because we can’t wait to get into that self-driving car ourselves.

To learn more about where this vision is taking us, check out this video.