Kicking off 2017, AT&T announced it’s working on all of its access technologies as part of its network evolution to 5G and its goal to deliver 1 Gb/s broadband speeds this year. And John Donovan, AT&T chief strategy officer and group president for technology and operations, said the company surpassed its goal to virtualize 30 percent of its network by the end of 2016.
“Our target is 75 percent of our wide area network (WAN) by 2020, and the target last year was 30 percent,” said Donovan, speaking at the Citi 2017 Internet, Media & Telecommunications Conference. “We hit 34 percent last year.”
The company may have completed the most difficult part of its virtualization transition because the first 30 percent required it to get good at scaling, he said. “The 34 percent bodes well for 2017,” Donovan added.
Evolution to 5G
Four days ago, AT&T decommissioned its 2G network. It’s now moving forward to 5G in two phases. The first phase focuses on the fixed wireless network, which connects two fixed locations (building to building or tower to building, for example).
“The fixed case will be done in phase one before the mobile case,” said Donovan. “If you go to the home, [you] just need to make it work for the home. Mobile adds complexity for handoffs. That part of the work takes a little longer.”
“We don’t think there’s going to be one ubiquitous access technology, and then you flip a switch,” said Donovan. “We’re incented to try to get any technology advancing us to this 1 Gbit/s.”
Here are some updates the company reported today:
- In initial 5G lab trials, it’s achieved speeds up to 14 Gb/s over a wireless connection, and it’s tested a connection with less than 3 milliseconds of latency. The industry expectation for 5G is latency less than 5 milliseconds.
- In its 4G LTE-Advanced network, AT&T expects to begin reaching peak theoretical speeds of up to 1 Gb/s at some cell sites in 2017. It will continue to densify its wireless network in 2017 through the deployment of small cells and the use of technologies like carrier aggregation.
- In the first half of 2017, AT&T plans to conduct a trial in Austin where residential customers can stream the DirecTV NOW video service over a fixed wireless 5G connection. The trial will include multiple sites and devices. Among other 5G learnings, the company will test how fixed wireless millimeter wave (mmWave) technology handles heavy video traffic.
- AT&T is also boosting its DSL connections with G.fast technology. It conducted a G.fast trial at a multi-dwelling unit (MDU) in Minneapolis and plans to offer G.fast to MDUs within its 21-state wireline footprint in 2017.
Donovan was bullish on Project AirGig, a technology from AT&T Labs that could deliver wireless Internet on top of utility power lines. AT&T has more than 200 patents and patent applications for Project AirGig and plans to begin field trials in 2017.
Donovan has been an early champion of software-defined networking (SDN).
Today he said, “A lot of things we are doing now are software projects. Everything is moving in a pretty dramatic way.”
Asked how SDN will save AT&T money, he said not having to buy hardware is an obvious source of savings. But SDN even saves money on software. In the past, some functions would be bought multiple times as part of different appliances.
“We used to buy things over and over again,” he said. “[Now], it’s more like an app store. We can move that around very fungibly. The amount of utilization goes up in the network dramatically. You also save on space, power, and manpower to operate the network.”