AT&T launches virtualized packet core in Europe

In August, AT&T (NYSE: T) flipped the switch on a virtualized packet core in Europe. Analysts explained that the move was geared to aid the transmission of traffic for AT&T's international Internet of Things (IoT) and connected car services, and reduce the carrier's expenses.

AT&T confirmed the launch of the packet core to FierceWirelessTech, explaining only that the move is intended to "deliver a consistent customer experience both in the U.S. and abroad." The carrier did not provide details on the vendor for the packet core or the cost of the launch.

Interestingly, AT&T also confirmed that it uses a virtualized packet core in the United States "for certain network functions," though the carrier did not provide details.

Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics and a FierceWireless contributor, tweeted that AT&T launched the core in Europe to "facilitate global IoT traffic & connected cars."

When questioned about the move by FierceWirelessTech, Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar explained that AT&T's European virtualized packet core "is about performance. The company wants more control over the network performance and doesn't want to outsource one of the major elements of the network, this needs to be done in house. This gives AT&T two options. It could just carry traffic back to the U.S. but that is expensive and creates performance delays. Second option is a in region packet core, which AT&T is doing. It keeps the traffic in Europe while giving AT&T full control. The virtualized route saves money over dedicated hardware," said Schoolar, also a FierceWireless contributor.

The Evolved Packet Core (EPC) was first introduced by 3GPP in Release 8 for 3G networks, and it essentially connects user messages via IP instead of circuit- or packet-switching. A virtualized version of the technology of the standard gives operators further flexibility by conducting most work through software. Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco and others sell packet cores.

AT&T in 2014 announced it would work with startup Affirmed Networks on a virtualized EPC. And earlier this year, Cisco announced that AT&T would use its "virtualized mobile Internet solution" for its connected car services.

AT&T has made a broad push into the machine-to-machine and IoT space by selling connections to automobile makers and other industrial companies. The company also supports a number of international services; for example, it recently announced that Maersk Line, the world's largest container-shipping company, will use AT&T devices to track refrigerated containers across the world.

Thus, AT&T's deployment of a virtualized EPC in Europe is likely an effort by the company to grow that business.

Related articles:
DoCoMo completes proof-of-concept NFV trials with 6 vendors
AT&T's virtualization play makes a star out of Affirmed Networks
Telefonica, China Unicom tout mobile network virtualization

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