In the second installment of his Q&A with Telco Transformation, AT&T's Paul Greendyk provides additional details on the company's virtualized 5G core.
When AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) announced its 5G game plan last month, the company said it expected 5G to deliver speeds 10 to 100 times faster than today's average 4G connections. In addition to the faster speeds, AT&T customers will also see lower latency with the 5G service, with latency projected to be in the range of one to five milliseconds.
The 5G service will also alleviate traffic bottlenecks on AT&T's wireless network, which grew more than 150,000% from 2007 to 2015. Video accounted for more than 60% of AT&T's data traffic last year, and that traffic is going to continue to go up with 4K, virtual reality and Internet of Things use cases.
While standards body 3GPP probably won't complete the first phase of standards until 2018, AT&T said it was conducting its 5G trials, including one that will start later this year in Austin, in a way that will allow it to pivot to commercial deployments once those standards are in place.
In the first installment of the Q&A, Greendyk, vice president of mobile core and network services, provided details on how AT&T is using SDN and NFV in it core network. (See AT&T's Greendyk Details Use of SDN/NFV in Mobile Core.)
In this second part, he discusses other elements of the 5G core, what he thinks will be the first big mover in 5G and how AT&T will play a role in the standards efforts.
Telco Transformation: What are some of the additional key elements of the 5G core?
Paul Greendyk: There are many other dimensions of the 5G core that are really important. Things like network slicing, which is defining slices of networks for specific applications. NFV/SDN is ideal for this because we can turn up different slices of the core using software without having to roll out customer hardware, or dedicated hardware for those functions. We can turn up different cores, as it were, that are just more software running in the same cloud that enable us to do that.
That context-aware networking is another dimension of 5G. We're much more aware of the end user's needs and the applications that are running. Think of it as a feedback loop. For example, if an end user needs very low latency for a particular application, the distributed core is essential for very low latency. If I have five, ten or 15 data centers, I still need to haul traffic from the radio side back to the core. If my core is distributed software obviously I can enable much lower latency with the core very close to the radio head. Those are just a few areas.
TT: So what role will big data play in all of this?
PG: We believe that big data is a very key part of this for us because we can have an intelligent use of those resources with that feedback loop using big data to inform us on what is needed where and when. We can react very quickly without needing a lot of operational, hands-on humans having to do that work physically, which is sort of the old way of building a core.
TT: Will containers play a role going forward?
PG: I believe they will. It's not really my area of expertise because in this world I'm the tenant, if you will. I'm building the applications that reside on the cloud, but I do believe container technology will come into play over time.
TT: What 5G-enabled service will be the first big one out of the starter blocks?
PG: I actually think what is going to happen first is Internet of Things and this densification. Look at what's happening with smart cities. You have smart parking meters, connected cars, connected meters and connected shipping containers. The list goes on and on.
I believe the early instances of this will be the flattening of the network and the densification of the network. As the industry gets itself prepared, we'll work on the massive speed side of 5G. But I believe the industry is already evolving from 4G to 5G because of this Internet of Things densification area. That's where using our virtualized mobile core is such an asset and that's why we're very busy building it as we speak.
TT: How does AT&T contribute on the 5G standards side given they won't be set until 2018 or 2019?
PG: We clearly play an active role, and in some cases a leadership role, in contributing to standards. We have some of our best and brightest talent contributing to standards. I believe there's going to be an industry wide push to move faster than we've ever moved to get to 5G standards. We all know that it does move at a certain pace and there's only so much faster that one can push it, but it is important.
This is a different standard because I don't think any of the standards for mobility have included such a broad tapestry of areas covering the radio side, the core side, the application side, and the device side. I don't think a standard has ever been as comprehensive as this one is going to need to be. I believe it will come out by degrees.
TT: How does the US stack up globally in terms of 5G?
PG: I wouldn't profess to be an expert in answering that. My opinion is that we are a leader in virtualization and SDN/NFV. I believe we're way ahead of the world in that area. In terms of other dimensions of 5G, I would be less in a position to comment. For instance, I'm not working on the radio side myself.
TT: The 5G trial will take place in Austin, which was the same city where AT&T first rolled out its GigaPower broadband service a few years ago. (See AT&T Unveils 5G Ambitions.) What is it about Austin?
PG: We have a laboratory, a testing facility and a great team of people in Austin. It's a friendly place for us. It's a place where we do a lot of advanced, forward-looking work.
TT:: So any final thoughts on AT&T's mobile core?
PG: The bottom line is I believe what we're doing with virtualization in the mobile core allows us to react quickly to market needs. It gives customers much more control of their network services and I believe its going to provide a rich set of features and capabilities for our customers. There's a lot of excitement at AT&T.
— Mike Robuck, editor, Telco Transformation