While AT&T has launched its second trial using millimeter wave (mmWave) technology at more locations in Austin, Texas, it’s also looking ahead to experiment with new virtualized-RAN core network capabilities later this year.
It’s all part of AT&T’s efforts to further incorporate software-defined networks, something it committed to big time in 2014. The company aims to have 75% of its traffic on a software-defined network by 2020 and could even exceed that goal.
Intel and Ericsson are continuing to work with AT&T in the Austin trial, where they completed a fixed wireless 5G business customer trial in 2016. AT&T is using Ericsson's 5G RAN and the Intel 5G Mobile Trial Platform to deliver an ultra-fast internet connection to residential, small business and enterprise customers. AT&T said trial participants will be able to stream premium live TV via DirecTV Now and at speeds up to 1 gigabit per second using mmWave spectrum.
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Intel and others have said they think NFV is a key component of 5G in terms of making it economical for operators. Service providers aiming to support a broad range of 5G use cases will need a software-driven strategy in order to support their efforts.
AT&T’s Marachel Knight, senior vice president, Wireless Network Architecture and Design, has said 5G and SDN will be intertwined, and 5G will be the first new major technology initiative that will be “born in the cloud.”
AT&T was the first major global carrier to launch a virtualized mobility packet core almost two years ago, allowing it to quickly add resources during traffic spikes, route around problems when they occur and ramp up security before attacks affect customers.
Verizon also has said that it plans to test and implement virtualized RAN technologies this year as part of a wider effort to make its wireless network design more efficient and to save money. Ericsson also is participating in Verizon’s tests and deployments of vRAN technology.
vRAN refers to a RAN implementation where some or all baseband functions are separated from the remote radio unit and run as VNFs (Virtualized Network Functions) on commodity hardware. Such an approach results in multiple operational benefits including but not limited to TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) reduction, performance gains and scalability, according to research firm SNS Telecom, which predicts vRAN deployments will account for a market worth $2.6 billion by 2020.