AT&T Foundry prepares test zone in Silicon Valley for edge computing

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Low latency is being built into 5G from the very beginning.

AT&T is getting all edgy with a new computing test zone in Palo Alto, California, where it’s inviting developers and others to test apps like self-driving cars, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) and drones.

The test zone isn’t live just yet—that will come in early 2018. Initially it’s going to use a 4G LTE connection but AT&T expects to upgrade it to 5G once the final standards and equipment are in place, possibly as early as the end of 2018, which is the same timeframe the company has cited for its first 5G services potentially to launch.

"Edge computing is the next step in the evolution of the network," said Melissa Arnoldi, president, AT&T Technology and Operations, in a press release. "As connectivity becomes ubiquitous and fast, it also needs to become smart. Edge computing puts a supercomputer in your pocket, on your wrist, in your car and right in front of your eyes."

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It’s all about bringing the network closer to the source of the data. In today's networks, the physical distance between the user and data center can be hundreds or thousands of miles, leading to way too much latency.

“So we have to move the data processing closer to you,” the operator explained. “With edge computing, we'll install graphics processors and other computers in cell towers, small cells and other parts of our network that are never more than a few miles from our customers. This is what's known as the edge of the network.”

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AT&T says it doesn’t have specific projects up and running yet but envisions projects related to AR/VR, drones and autonomous cares being developed in the edge test zone, and developers and other third parties are invited to play in the sandbox. It’s also offering to help turn concepts into prototypes.

"Our goal in this experiment is to find the right architecture, the right services and the right business value in this ecosystem," said Igal Elbaz, head of the AT&T Foundry, in the release. "It's all about moving quickly and collaborating closely with third-party innovators and developers."

The initial test area in Silicon Valley will cover several miles and could expand over time.

The company just published a white paper available for download here that outlines edge computing drivers and edge computing requirements.