Before 5G enters the public realm, service providers and vendor partners are testing its capabilities in labs around the world. AT&T, which recently expanded its trial work with Nokia, expects these early initiatives to help it deliver a next-generation wireless network that uses software-defined networking, analytics and open source software.
In its work with Ericsson, AT&T reached speeds above 10 gigabits per second, according to AT&T Labs. Nokia and AT&T will work together on testing millimeter wave (mmWave), expected to be vital in 5G development and implementation. Predicted to be tens -- or even hundreds – of times faster than today's 4G networks, 5G could empower and accelerate adoption of self-driving cars and robotics. Recognizing this, Light Reading created a site dedicated to 5G and this year formed a new Leading Lights award category, Most Innovative 5G Strategy. (Check out the nominees and winner here.)
Insisting on Integration
Integration is very important to a successful 5G trial and eventual deployment, says Hank Kafka, vice president of access architecture and analytics at AT&T.
We recently interviewed Hank Kafka, vice president, access architecture and analytics, at AT&T regarding 5G, standards and AT&T's initiatives.
Alison Diana: Please could you describe your trial approach in more detail.
We have a broad scope of trial activities. One part involves mmWave and 5G Radio Access network technology. We are also pursuing architecture and trial work in other areas that will be critical to realizing the full promise of 5G.
With our SDN, big data and open source network approach, combined with our superior spectrum position and broadband build-out commitment to millions of locations throughout the United States, AT&T is in a unique position to support next-generation 5G applications quickly and efficiently.
NFV/SDN is a key attribute in 5G, and our global leadership in this area will carry across into 5G. It will deliver a sizable cost advantage in deployment of 5G technology over a traditional, hardware-centric network approach. We virtualized 5.7% of our network in 2015 and expect 30% virtualized by the end of 2016 and 75% by 2020. We are building many of our 5G and SDN applications using open source software.
AD: Any analytics?
HK: Our use of big data enables new ways to optimize our network, to drive smarter decision-making and better serve our customers.
AD: We keep hearing that 5G will arrive in 2020: Is that still an accurate estimate or do you believe some service providers may be ready before then if the standards are finalized in 2018?
HK: Standards are not set as of today. We’re conducting our 5G trials in such a way that we’ll be able to pivot to compliant commercial deployments once 5G technology standards are set. The international standards body, 3GPP, will likely complete the first phase of that process in 2018.
How does AT&T determine which partnerships to pursue/enter into for 5G?
HK: We chose our trial vendors based on our previous experience working with them and on opportunities for joint testing and learning.
How important is integration across vendors to 5G?
HK: Integration across vendors is very important to a successful 5G trial and eventual deployment. Standards will be crucial for future integration. When vendors and operators are aligned on best practices and standards, deployment should move faster and more smoothly.
How much time would you estimate AT&T spends on ensuring cross-vendor interoperability for 5G?
HK: AT&T’s current focus is on getting high-quality standards in place. Standards will be the key to global interoperability across the ecosystem of network equipment suppliers, chipset suppliers, devices suppliers and service providers.
We’re structuring our 5G trials in such a way that we’re able to contribute to the internal 5G standards development. The information gained in our testing will help us to contribute to standards development to help produce quality and successful first 5G standards. The information will also help with the expansions and enhancements that will continue for many years in future standards releases.
— Alison Diana, Ambassador, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @NewIPAgency.