While AT&T marches towards its goal of virtualizing 75% of its network by 2020, as well as rolling its ECOMP platform into open source for other service providers, it's also going full speed ahead on combining software-defined networking with artificial intelligence.
Mazin Gilbert, vice president of advanced technologies at AT&T Labs , said AT&T was in a unique position among service providers due to its ability to blend software-defined networking (SDN) with artificial intelligence (AI). The end result will enable Internet of Things (IoT) applications, such as autonomous cars, while adding more proactive intelligence into its network. AT&T Labs is also hard at work on giving business customers the power to configure their own networks and applications.
In Part 1 of a Q&A with Telco Transformation, Gilbert discussed how and why AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) built its Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP) platform, while in Part II he spoke about orchestration and what it takes to be an effective leader. (See AT&T's Gilbert: ECOMP Is a Game Changer and AT&T's Gilbert Talks Virtualization .)
In this final installment, Mazin also talks about his biggest accomplishments and proudest moments during his 25-year career with Bell Labs and AT&T Labs.
Telco Transformation: How is AT&T integrating ECOMP with its legacy OSS/BSS?
Mazin Gilbert:So today when we use ECOMP we're building bridges to the OSS and BSS systems. ECOMP redefines part of the OSS, which makes it unique in that sense. ECOMP redefines how ticketing is done. It redefines how closed-loop automation is done. A lot of the OSS functions are redefined based on ECOMP.
It doesn't touch the BSS, but like I said, what we've done in our deployment is create bridges to these systems. We're starting to look at a more holistic view of the end-to-end network that includes OSS and BSS systems, but we're not there. This is a journey. What we have today is maturity in terms of ECOMP and building the bridges so we can deploy a lot of business services like Flexware, Network On Demand and others, but we are rapidly evolving to a more holistic architecture, or holistic framework, where we are looking at service evolution from end-to-end.
TT: One of the emerging trends for SDN is customer-facing use cases, which would include CPE for both residential and business services. Do you have some examples of current ECOMP use cases and ones that may be on the horizon?
MG: ECOMP has matured to the point to where we are now supporting a number of business applications that are in addition to our internal mobility network functions and applications. These are the business applications that we've announced like Flexware and Network On Demand. So today we're allowing our customers to adjust their required bandwidth on demand. They can change that around the clock as they need more bandwidth. (See AT&T's Pacewicz Details Network Functions On Demand Service.)
Remember in the old days, in the legacy systems, this took days, weeks and months of work along with the all of the paperwork and writing the contract. Now it's all done autonomously. What we're starting to look at is smarter capabilities, like letting them adjust it themselves.
We can help them by giving them some idea on the amount of bandwidth they'll need. I can predict for you the kind of bandwidth you'll need over the next week, month or three months so I could tell you what your bandwidth should be.
That's what we're going through right now. We're giving you the power to change the bandwidth, but we can tell you what the bandwidth should be as we see your bandwidth evolving. We can take that all the way to starting to apply AI in the lab. We're doing a lot of experiments to ask, "Can I just adjust and adapt your bandwidth automatically?"
It's all zero touch. I'll predict some of the things prior; a minute prior, an hour prior, a day prior. It's adjusting your bandwidth with zero touch without you being affected. So that's certainly one area that that will mature.
The second one is part of Flexware, which is one of the key services in Network On Demand, which is really allowing customers to build their own networks. This is small, medium and large businesses building their own networks by being able to take different virtual functions, compose them and service chain them together. Today we're doing it for them in a somewhat autonomous way. Tomorrow we're going to let them do that. We're going to let them build their own network; adjust and configure their own network in a very managed way with pretty much no intervention by AT&T.
As we evolve on this journey, we're going to go from small, medium and large businesses all the way to the consumers. It's really a very exciting world ahead of us here.
TT: What role is SDN playing in regards to artificial intelligence, and how is AT&T Labs' approach different?
When you marry AI with a software-defined network you really end up with a transformation that you've never imagined before. No. 1, we're different because we sit in both of these camps. We bring both of these camps together at scale. By bringing both of these camps at a scale, now we are able to look at our network and say, "How can I provide reliability and resiliency in this network?" By having these AI software agents in our network that are continuously computing data, continuously predicting the future reliability of our network, the failures and our network degradation, we can continuously take action by doing an artificial intelligence type of automation all with zero touch.
No one can do that today. AT&T is very uniquely positioned to do that and we're wanting to help other providers by having them adopt ECOMP.
The second item is security. You want to apply AI and the learnings we have at the edge of the network, which no one can do today at scale, so that you can detect patterns for cybersecurity and address them around the clock. You get millions of those threats and attacks daily and they are getting smarter and smarter. Our systems have to get smarter and smarter and faster and faster by being at the edge.
The third item is the user experience. The ability to use this foundation of software-defined networking and AI to be able to provide the next-generation connected world. Truly enabling a connected world with things like autonomous cars and connected drones with IoT. For you to go to that scale of 30 billion to 50 billion IoT (devices) projected by 2020, you really need to have secure, true reliability. And the intelligence of a network that can predict how these autonomous cars will interact with each other, how signals interact with each other, and how appliances interact with each other. That's really where we see the world heading. You really can't do that unless you marry AI and software-defined network more tightly together.
TT: You have an interesting background dating back to Bell Labs. What's your best war story, biggest accomplishment or most proud moment?
MG: I visited Bell Labs in the summer of 1989 and I honestly thought that this was a place where people do their hobbies, impact society and get paid for it. I knew from that moment that this was a place I wanted to be and that's the place I ended up being at. I just love this place.
Over the past 25 years, I've been working with an incredible set of people. My proud moments are working with really smart people, learning a lot and putting something from "ideazation" all the way to a product. We did that with the AT&T Watson speech and language program. It was something that AT&T had been looking at in the past and we really evolved it from a concept, to the technologies, to AI and machine learning all the way to a product. AT&T partnered with an external company so it could scale worldwide. I've enjoyed the people. I've enjoyed getting a product out from basic research. There are several stories like this, but this is one that I'll never forget.
The biggest accomplishment is what we are doing through today. You can't get a bigger opportunity than this to work at the heart of the most complex network in the universe, and also be able to impact and affect how users, businesses and consumers, use devices. How business and consumers interact with their world and how they can create a connected world.
This is the best position you can ever be at. The proud moment is what I'm going through today. As we are maturing the platform, as we're putting more success stories out, we're learning. We're absolutely learning. Frankly, our worst nightmare happens every day, which is when we learn about things that are gaps. We very quickly learn from those gaps because they affect customers on a daily basis. What is happening now with this network transformation today is probably the most exciting time and the most scariest time ever in my career.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation