AT&T embraces edge for 5G, launches test zone, new open source project

data center (pixabay)
AT&T announced two initiatives to help make the edge a reality: the launch of a Palo Alto edge test zone and the new Akraino open source project. (Pixabay)

In case there was any doubt, AT&T is making it known that edge computing is key to its 5G strategy. Toward that end, it has launched its first test zone for edge applications at its AT&T Foundry innovation center in Palo Alto, California.

It also announced the creation of an open source project called Akraino that’s intended to create an open source software stack supporting high-availability cloud services optimized for edge computing systems and applications. Akraino is being hosted by The Linux Foundation.

It’s all about embracing edge computing. “We’re moving network access to cloud computation, but we’re keeping it physically close to our users. Rather than travel over wireless connections to data centers hundreds or thousands of miles away, we’ll propel this data across super-responsive 5G networks to computers just a few miles away,” explained Melissa Arnoldi, president of technology development at AT&T, in a blog post.

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For consumers, edge computing basically means a better user experience. Arnoldi said many AR applications today either strain the processor on the phone or require a wired connection to a nearby computer to deliver the best possible experience.

“Edge computing moves that processing to the cloud,” she said. “You can get a high-end experience without being tethered to bulky equipment.”

The first project getting underway as part of the test zone at the foundry in Palo Alto is a collaboration with GridRaster to test augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) experiences on mobile devices. AT&T has said it would launch a mobile 5G service this year.

GridRaster provides the underlying compute and network stack to power high-end AR/VR experiences on mobile platforms. AT&T says that by bringing its next-generation, low-latency edge cloud to the game, it will allow for compelling, immersive experiences without the blurry or choppy graphics that often come with mobile AR/VR applications on smartphones today.

The AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto developed a test zone for third-party developers of emerging applications, such as AR/VR and self-driving cars, to experiment with the performance of their devices and applications on a next-generation edge computing network environment. Currently, the zone uses a 4G LTE connection, but that will be upgraded to 5G potentially as early as the end of this year, according to AT&T.

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Moving things to the edge cloud is often cited as a component to getting to 5G. Rather than traveling over wireless connections to data centers hundreds or thousands of miles away, AT&T plans to transfer data much closer to the actual end user using computers that are just a few miles away.

Autonomous cars are one easy example of why computing resources need to be closer—they don’t have time to travel miles and miles away in order to complete their tasks for safe driving.  

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As for the Akraino project, AT&T is contributing code to the community as it has done in past projects. Akraino's code is designed for carrier-scale edge computing applications running virtual machines and containers to support reliability and performance requirements. The community, which is just getting formed now, expects to see the first code released in the second quarter of 2018.

“Akraino, coupled with ONAP and OpenStack, will help to accelerate progress towards development of next-generation, network-based edge services, fueling a new ecosystem of applications for 5G and IoT,” said Mazin Gilbert, vice president of Advanced Technology at AT&T Labs, in a release.

While several open source projects exist to help solve pieces of the puzzle, nothing currently meets the need for an edge infrastructure solution, the foundation said, adding that integration of existing efforts in the Akraino new project will help deliver ease of use, hardened reliability, unique features, and performance for carrier, provider, and IoT networks.