AT&T plans to have nationwide mobile 5G coverage by early 2020, recently hit its goal of gaining software control over 65 percent of its network assets, and is reportedly set to cut jobs. The carrier highlighted those first two as part of an update to its network plans, while the third item was first reported by Motherboard.
AT&T late last year was the first domestic carrier to launch a standards-based mobile 5G network, turning on that network in a dozen markets. However, that network was somewhat limited in reach as it relies on the carrier’s millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.
Today, the carrier said it plans to expand that network nationwide by early next year using its lower frequency bands that will have more reach per cell site. AT&T will begin tapping into those lower spectrum bands later this year and will also continue to expand use of its mmWave spectrum as part of that network.
AT&T CFO John Stephens told an audience today at the Citi 2019 Global TMT West Conference in Las Vegas that the carrier will have 5G available in 20 total markets by the middle of the year.
The carrier’s nationwide timing would align with what rival T-Mobile US is promising for its nationwide mobile 5G network. T-Mobile US has said its initial mobile 5G service will tap into its 600 MHz spectrum assets that will provide a substantial coverage advantage compared with the mmWave spectrum.
SDN and White Boxes
As part of the same update, AT&T said it had reached its target of virtualizing and gaining software control of 65 percent of its core network functions at the end of 2018.
“This initiative is making it faster and more cost effective to deploy technologies, such as our continued mobile 5G expansion,” the carrier noted.
The next step is to hit its long-promised target of 75 percent virtualization and software control by 2020. Amy Wheelus, vice president of Network Cloud at the carrier, recently told SDxCentral that “the last 10 percent will be hard.” She explained that this was because as the carrier moved deeper into the software conversion, it was becoming harder to replace the legacy equipment.
AT&T is also continuing to push its white box router strategy on towers across its network, stating it would have those routers on thousands of sites this year. The carrier first announced those white box plans last March, noting it planned to install more than 60,000 open source, software-powered white boxes across its network over the next several years in support of its 5G plans.
AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch last month said the carrier’s white box strategy was in a large-scale production test carrying live network traffic. He explained that the routers will be installed at cell towers in AT&T’s wireless network where they will direct the data traffic flowing back and forth between customers and the internet.
Traditionally, AT&T bought those routers from a handful of vendors, and the equipment was highly specialized and came with specialized software. But the company decided to change the model, designing its own open hardware to create white box routers that would run open source software.
AT&T earlier this week said it was working with Nokia to produce a software platform to allow for the development of open source software aligned with the O-RAN target architecture. That platform code will accelerate the deployment of open source software for the 5G radio access network (RAN).
Stephens said that the carrier’s ongoing network upgrades would allow its move to support mobile 5G as just a “software update.”
The network updates are having to compete against a report that AT&T was set to slash jobs in an effort to beef up its bottom line.
According to a report from Motherboard, AT&T was set to cut an unknown number of jobs at 10 operational hubs in New York, California, Texas, New Jersey, Washington State, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, and Washington, D.C.
The report cites an internal AT&T memo sent by Jeff McElfresh, president of technology and operations at AT&T.
“To win in this new world, we must continue to lower costs and keep getting faster, leaner, and more agile,” McElfresh told employees, according to the story. “This includes reductions in our organization, and others across the company, which will begin later this month and take place over several months.”
AT&T has yet to respond to SDxCentral questions on the report, but the Motherboard story states that an AT&T spokesperson had confirmed the carrier was planning to “adjust” its workforce.
AT&T counts around 273,000 total employees.