TRUTH about 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and the path to 5G Standards:
3GPP is a very honest, focused and effective engineering organization that develops technical specifications – not standards. Not once has 3GPP contributed to the hype and spin embedded in “5G” propaganda and fake news. It is the 3GPP member companies, service providers, and the press that’s guilty of that disinformation campaign.
The 3GPP Technical Specifications and Technical Reports have, in themselves, no legal standing. They only become “official” when transposed into corresponding publications of the Partner Organizations (or the national / regional standards body acting as publisher for the Partner). At this point, the specifications are referred to as UMTS within ETSI and FOMA within ARIB/TTC.
Some TRs (mainly those with numbers of the form xx.8xx) are not intended for publication, but are retained as internal working documents of 3GPP. Once a Release is frozen (see definition in 3GPP TR 21.900), its specifications are published by the Partners.
All of the above and more were explained in this blog post, but apparently no one paid any attention as the claims of being compliant with “3GPP standards” abound. Here are two from AT&T:
1. After the 3GPP New Radio (NR) description/specification was completed in 3GPP Release 15:
“We’re proud to see the completion of this set of standards. Reaching this milestone enables the next phase of equipment availability and movement to interoperability testing and early 5G availability,” said Hank Kafka, VP Access Architecture and Analytics at AT&T. “It showcases the dedication and leadership of the industry participants in 3GPP to follow through on accelerating standards to allow for faster technology deployments,” he added.
2. In AT&Ts recent FCC application for an experimental radio license in Austin, TX, which is in this FCC filing:
“3GPP has developed 5G standards that became available in 2018.”
That statement was echoed in a Light Reading blog post titled: AT&T to Show Off Standards-Based 5G in Austin.
My rebuttal in an email to AT&T executives included this paragraph:
As you should be very well aware, 3GPP specifications have no official status and are not standards (as per their website). More importantly, 3GPPs “final 5G” spec will be in release 16 which won’t be completed till July 2019. Release 16 and parts of Release 15 will then be submitted for consideration as an IMT 2020 Radio Interface Technology (RIT) at the July 2019 ITU-R WP5D meeting- the first meeting which will evaluate IMT 2020 RIT/SRITs. All this info and much more is available at the 3GPP website with no log in required for access!…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Here’s the actual status of 3GPP specs directed at 5G standards (IMT 2020) from 3GPP’s Submission of initial 5G description for IMT-2020:
This document December 2017 version of 3GPP Release 15) is the first of three planned steps spanning two releases from 3GPP, following the decision to submit preliminary descriptions of the solution only when milestones of high relevance are achieved:
- Release 15 December 2017 version;
- Release 15 June 2018 version and
- Release 16 (scheduled for July 2019)
The final and fully comprehensive 3GPP IMT-2020 submission (encompassing both Release 15 and Release 16) for IMT 2020 is planned for July 2019.
To help the ITU-R Evaluation Groups in their work, 3GPP is currently planning a workshop to present the 5G solutions to interested external bodies – specifically the Evaluation Groups – to allow a better understanding of the 3GPP technologies for 5G.
Here’s a free 3GPP webinar where you can get more information:
Comment from Kevin Flynn of 3GPP, which was inadvertently deleted when this website was move to a new compute server in early May 2019:
I have now updated the 3GPP page on Official Publications (http://www.3gpp.org/specifications/63-official-publications), referenced above. I hope that this does not undermine your excellent article in any way. I have updated the Partners & their web sites and modified the text to bring it up-to-date.
Thanks & best regards,
3GPP Marketing Officer
Debunking the 5G carrier and vendor claims:
As we’ve repeatedly stated, ITU-R WP 5D is the official standards organization for IMT 2020 (5G mobile). They will evaluate RIT/SRIT submissions at their July 2019 meeting. To date, 3GPP, South Korea, China, ETSI/DECT Forum, and TDSI have all indicated their intent to submit detailed RIT/SRIT proposals at the July 2019 ITU-R WP 5D meeting. There are significant differences amongst these proposed RITs which WP 5D must sort out and approve before the IMT 2020 standard is completed at the end of 2020.
Note also that there is NO IMT 2020 USE CASE FOR 5G FIXED WIRELESS ACCESS (FWA), so all claims about standards compliant 5G FWA (based on 3GPP release 15 “5G NR – Non Stand Alone” are bogus/fake.
“Non Stand Alone” (NSA) 5G NR means that a 4G-LTE network anchors the 5G NR access (see comments below this post). That LTE network is used for control plane signaling and for the Evolved Packet Core (EPC). In 5G NR NSA access, the LTE base station (eNB) and the 5G NR base station are interconnected with dual connectivity. The IMT 2020 standard will include a 5G packet core without any LTE components.
In addition to the IMT 2020 specified (by ITU-R) packet core there is the transport network for 5G, which is described in this ITU-T Technical Report (TR). There are fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul components described in that TR. It is a work in progress.
AT&T to test “standards based 5G” at the Austin, TX Convention Center:
The FCC has just granted AT&T an experimental radio license to test what the mega carrier calls “standards-based 5G” in the convention center in Austin, Texas. The test will begin at the end of July. AT&T will run “up to 3” 28GHz fixed base stations in the convention center with connections to “up to 6” compatible user devices at up to 100 meters. AT&T promises demonstrations of 4K TV, volumetric video and eSports, as well mobile gaming, over the air, and more.
Indeed, Austin has been a hotbed for AT&T’s 5G developments. In February, the company announced plans to open a new 5G lab there. One of the first in-house projects built at the lab is the Advanced 5G NR Testbed System (ANTS), which AT&T describes as a first-of-its kind 5G testbed system that is proprietary to AT&T.
AT&T said in January 2018 that it plans to launch 3GPP release 15 based mobile 5G in up to 12 markets by the end of the year. The mega carrier (and now via Time Warner acquisition an entertainment content company) has been using special events around the country to showcase its 5G technology.
In early June, AT&T staged its Shape conference at Time Warner’s Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, where it showed presentations on edge technologies, artificial intelligence and immersive entertainment, as well as a 5G demonstration with Ericsson and Intel.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, AT&T conducted a 28 GHz demo to give gamers an up-close look at how a 5G connection can give them a live gaming experience virtually anywhere there’s network coverage. That demo also involved Ericsson, Intel and ESL.
Also in June, there was the 2018 5G demo at the U.S. Open, which took place at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Tuckahoe, New York. Ericsson, Intel and Fox Sports were also participated in that demo.
Capital expenditures (CAPEX) at AT&T and Verizon will rise slightly more than had been expected for 2018, according to Oppenheimer analysts. In a research note, analysts cited “5G” investments in upping their capex estimates for Verizon by 2%, and they raised their AT&T outlook by 3% because of FirstNet.
“For FY2018E we increase our total capex estimates [for Verizon] by 2% to $18.2B, due to wireless and our position that 5G deployments will accelerate,” the Oppenheimer analysts wrote in a report today. “We increase our FY2018E capex estimates [for AT&T] by ~3% to $25.0B due to FirstNet.”
According to Fierce Wireless, both Verizon and AT&T spent more on their networks in the first quarter of this year than some Wall Street analysts had expected.
“The biggest delta, or upside surprise vs. our estimates thus far has come from higher capex numbers at both Verizon and AT&T,” wrote the Wall Street analysts at Deutsche Bank Markets Research in a May report to investors, following the carriers’ first-quarter earnings reports. They pointed out that Verizon spent fully $4.6 billion on its network during the first quarter, which they said was 29% more than they had been expecting and almost 50% more than what Verizon spent on its network during the same quarter last year.
Overall, the nation’s top carriers are expected to significantly raise their capex spending this year in advance of 5G launches. Barclays in February said it expects capex among the “big four” (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint) to rise by 10% this year, which it said would be the largest increase in the past five years.
Many of the company’s capital-intensive projects are well under way or are near completion, which will support AT&T’s de-levering goals. The company now markets its 100% fiber network to 9 million locations, well on its way to the 12.5 million commitment it made as part of the DIRECTV acquisition. In fact, AT&T expects to reach 14 million customer locations by mid-2019. Also within the next year, the company expects to be in the 40% to 50% range of its FirstNet buildout commitment. And AT&T’s 4G LTE build in Mexico is nearly complete. AT&T also expects continuing benefits from its software defined network (SDN) investments.
High-speed networks. These networks must be able to deliver premium content to whatever screen the customer demands at the lowest cost per megabyte possible. This can include delivering content to homes, mobile devices and cars, and AT&T is investing in wireless build, fiber and new technologies like 5G to deliver a great viewing experience as demand continues to grow for 4K video and virtual and augmented reality.
AT&T Communications provides mobile, broadband, video and other communications services to U.S.-based consumers and nearly 3.5 million companies – from the smallest business to nearly all the Fortune 1000 – with highly secure, smart solutions. Revenues from these services totaled more than $150 billion in 2017.
- Continued solid growth in its Mexico wireless operations in the second quarter of 2018 with as many as 700,000 net adds and improving churn. However, the strengthening U.S. dollar and volatility in foreign exchange rates are expected to pressure International segment results.
- Wireless service revenue growth for full-year 2018, on a comparable basis. The company expects wireless service revenues will be essentially flat in the second quarter of 2018.
- The transition of the video market to continue to negatively impact revenues and margins in the Entertainment Group. For the quarter, the company expects total video and broadband subscribers to increase, with DIRECTV NOW subscribers more than offsetting continued declines in traditional TV subscribers. Stephenson said that the mix will continue to shift to over-the-top video. Earlier today, the company announced new unlimited wireless plans — AT&T Unlimited &More Premium starting at $80 for the first line and AT&T Unlimited &More for $70 for one line or $40 per line for four lines— that include access to AT&T’s WatchTV service, the company’s newest video offering featuring 30+ live channels and more than 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand.2 Stephenson said the new product comes with attractive margins.
Disclaimer: The author has been an AT&T customer for over 50 consecutive years (Ma Bell, Pac Bell with AT&T long distance, SBC, AT&T Broadband (now Comcast), and the current AT&T). He currently subscribes to AT&T: U-verse “high speed” Internet , U-verse pay TV, POTS and wireless voice/data services.
Judge Richard Leon of the the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled today that AT&T and Time Warner can merge, without any concessions or strings attached. This was a huge rebuke for the US Justice Department, which had argued that the deal would be anti-competitive (See Author’s Opinion below). The judge’s 200-page opinion permits the $85.4 billion (or $108.7 billion including debt) deal to go forward with no conditions imposed. The transaction will close on or before June 20, AT&T’s lead lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, told reporters after the ruling. AT&T will now own pay TV channels such as HBO, TNT, TBS, and CNN which it currently distributes on it’s U-verse, DirecTV, and DirecTV Now pay TV platforms. It will also own Warner Brothers which includes DC Entertainment.
The merger, including debt, would be the fourth largest deal ever attempted in the global telecom, media and entertainment space, according to Thomson Reuters data. AT&T will take on a large amount of additional debt to clinch the Time Warner pact, with its long-term debt rising from $134 billion to more than $175 billion.
The Department of Justice released a statement after the decision, saying, “We are disappointed with the Court’s decision today. We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. We will closely review the court’s opinion and consider the next steps in light of our commitment to preserving competition for the benefit of American consumers.”
On the other hand, AT&T General Counsel David McAtee said in a statement: “We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the Court has categorically rejected the government’s lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner. We thank the Court for its thorough and timely examination of the evidence, and we compliment our colleagues at the Department of Justice on their dedicated representation of the government. We look forward to closing the merger on or before June 20 so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile, and innovative.”
In a scathing opinion, Judge Leon urged the U.S. Department of Justice not to seek a stay of his ruling, saying it would be “manifestly unjust” to do so and not likely to succeed. If the Justice Department can’t win an emergency stay during appellate litigation, AT&T and Time Warner will be free to go ahead and close their deal.
“That’s a legal shocker.” said J.B. Heaton, an attorney and consultant on litigation and regulatory proceedings. “I think we’ll see now that companies will be much more confident about vertical mergers,” he added, referring to acquisitions which tie together different parts of a business, such as production and distribution.
Judge Leon previously approved Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011. In that case, he added a list of conditions the new entity was required to follow. Among those, Comcast agreed not to gouge competitors who wanted to carry NBC content and not to create a service entirely made up of Comcast or NBC content. Not so for this deal. The Justice Department had pressured Time Warner to , which includes the cable news operation CNN, or other segments of the business, which both companies resisted. But Judge Leon rejected that argument.
In his opinion, Leon cited the “tectonic changes” brought about by the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon and other OTT content providers which has enabled many video consumers to cut the cable cord. “AT&T and Time Warner concluded that each had a problem the other could solve,” he wrote. “Together, AT&T and Time Warner concluded that both companies could stop ‘chasing taillights’ and catch up with the competition.”
Other Media Deals Brewing:
On Monday, CNBC reported that Comcast was preparing to bid for 21st Century Fox if the AT&T deal went through, playing off a more permissive judicial atmosphere for major content acquisitions. Disney has already bid for the studio, and it’s still unclear which company will actually end up owning it, but the overall point is hard to miss. The only question is how they’re planning to press their new advantage.
It will be interesting to see if there’s now a bidding war between Comcast and Disney which both want to acquire 21st Century Fox. One can certainly expect the pace of mergers and acquisitions to accelerate due to this “green light” ruling.
At the root of almost all mergers is a quest for more market power, or simply put, the ability to knock out competitors and raise prices. Pricing power is something AT&T and the other distributors of media have been losing as consumers flock to cheaper online streaming services (like Netflix Inc, Hulu, You Tube, etx) where the profit margins are much tighter. That’s after intense competition from T-Mobile US Inc. drove other wireless carriers to lower the cost of mobile-data plans. The struggle to find growth also isn’t something unique to the media giants, which is why once unthinkable mega- mergers are being considered.
The end of net neutrality, which became official this past Monday, makes this kind of content creator/distributor merger more alarming for consumers. AT&T already controls DirecTV and offers a zero-rating deal for AT&T Wireless customers who want to stream DirecTV content directly to their device without hitting data caps. With no restrictions on throttling or paid prioritization, those deals can get broader and more aggressive over time. AT&T is investing heavily in DirecTV Now as their flagship OTT video service. Now they can add all the Time Warner channels at lower cost and with no data caps for their broadband and wireless customers. And provide a fast lane (prioritized Internet traffic) for an expanded DirecTV Now! AT&T will now also own HBO Go streaming service, which might continue as a stand alone OTT service and/or be folded into DirecTV Now.
While the net neutrality issues are well-known, there’s less focus on the content side of the business, which has been particularly affected by the latest round of pending acquisitions. The output of the conventional studio system is increasingly concentrated in the hands of just a few mega-corporations like Disney (ABC, ESPN, Disney channels, etc), Comcast (NBC Universal), and AT&T (Time Warner). So while Netflix and Amazon are dealing with the post-net-neutrality challenges of streaming video over someone else’s network, they’ll also have to worry about where they get the content from. Everyone knows Netflix and Amazon have created quality video content, but that alone won’t be sufficient to compete with the mega media/ ISP companies (Comcast is the largest ISP in the U.S.).
With the end of net neutrality, AT&T and Verizon can prioritize their own movies and TV shows, to the likely disadvantage of rivals such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube and future startups.
When Disney’s long-planned streaming service launches next year, the company will stop licensing Marvel and Star Wars movies to Netflix and show them exclusively on its new service instead. If AT&T follows suit, the forthcoming DC Universe streaming service could end up tied to HBO Go or DirecTV Now. Or they all could be folded into DirecTV Now. We think that video content studios and talent will start to line up behind their sister streaming services, and it will get harder and harder for OTT content providers to enter the video streaming market.
If AT&T wants to withhold “must have” programming from a rival telecom company, or charge more for it, that company cannot readily replace it. That was the crux of the government’s case — that vertical mergers, at least in this context, can reduce competition and harm consumers.
On the consumer side, less competition almost always causes prices to be raised. Also, with less competition, companies have less incentive to provide good customer service and better products — because consumers have few options about where to take our business if we’re unhappy. Finally, companies also are less motivated to innovate when there isn’t a lot of competition. The implication here is that AT&T may invest less in mass market “5G” infrastructure (based on ITU-R IMT 2020 recommendations) and more on Direct TV Now streaming service and related video content.
Rob McDowell, former commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission and partner at Cooley LLP:
“The decision shows that the court recognizes that the marketplace is changing and business models are converging. Yesterday’s definitions of old channels of commerce are quickly becoming obsolete.”
Gene Kimmelman, a Justice Department antitrust official under the Obama administration and president of public-interest group Public Knowledge:
The ruling is a “very dangerous development for consumers. This enables the content and transmission companies to further consolidate and maintain their control over large bundles and high prices whether delivered on cable satellite or broadband.” Mr. Kimmelman predicted “an avalanche” of new transactions that would further consolidate the video and entertainment industries.
Mike White, former CEO DirecTV:
“This is just another major move in an industry undergoing profound change and disruption.”
“This merger will only accelerate the explosion of video streaming options at the further expense of traditional linear television.”
Gigi Sohn, former counselor to Tom Wheeler, ex-chairman of the FCC, and distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy:
The deal is likely to raise the price of Time Warner products and reduce programming choices, Ms. Sohn said. “I’ve never seen a media merger that’s had any benefit to consumers and this one is certainly no different. I think you’re going to see every cable and broadband provider looking to pair up with Hollywood studio programmers.”
Larry Downes, project director of the Center for Business and Public Policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business:
Mr. Downes said he expects to see a flurry of deal making, starting with Comcast formalizing its bid for 21st Century Fox assets. “What’s really going on here is the incumbents on the content and distribution side are so far fighting a losing battle against the new entrants. These deals are not signs of strength, they are almost desperate efforts to come up with new combinations of assets they can use to compete with Netflix and Hulu.”
“It really was a stunning rebuke of the Department of Justice,” said media analyst Craig Moffett. “Judge Leon was wholly unpersuaded by their case.”
Author David Dayan wrote: “While Judge Leon took pains to say in his ruling that “the temptation by some to view this decision as being something more than a resolution of this specific case should be resisted by one and all,” it’s hard to disassociate this smackdown from the cases to come. Any companies looking to merge can likely be confident that, even if they don’t intimidate the antitrust agencies out of challenging them, the courts will have their back. The champagne must be flowing in boardrooms tonight.”
New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote about the end of net neutrality in two separate pieces::
“Today, the internet is run by giants. A handful of American tech behemoths — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — control the most important digital infrastructure, while a handful of broadband companies — AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon — control most of the internet connections in the United States.”
“As I’ve noted often in the last few years, big companies have been crushing small ones over and over again for much of the last decade. One lesson from everything that has happened online recently — Facebook, the Russians and Cambridge Analytica; bots and misinformation everywhere — is that, in the absence stringent rules and enforcement, everything on the internet turns sour. Removing the last barriers to unfair competition will only hasten that process.
It’s not going to be pretty.”
With AT&T acquiring Time Warmer, big tech and media companies will likely get bigger via mergers and acquisitions. That means more control, less competition, and little or no regulatory oversight. Let us know how you feel about that by posting a comment in the box below.
AT&T reported first-quarter 2018 results after markets closed on Wednesday April 25th. The telecom goliath reported adjusted diluted quarterly earnings per share (EPS) of $0.85 on revenues of $38.04 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $0.74 on revenues of $39.37 billion. First-quarter results were a bit below the consensus estimates for EPS of $0.87 on revenues of $39.31 billion.
Operating cash flow totaled $8.9 billion and capital expenditures totaled $6.1 billion in the first quarter. Free cash flow totaled $2.8 billion.
AT&T reported total mobile subscribers and connections of 143.83 million for the quarter, of which 77.43 million were postpaid (contract) subscribers. That amounts to a loss of 78,000 postpaid customers, more than the 68,000 loss analysts were expecting. Postpaid net additions totaled 49,000, far better than the 194,000 subscribers lost in the first quarter of 2017, but less than 10% of the 558,000 net adds in the fourth quarter of last year. The company had a big surge in subscribers for its core wireless business during the quarter before this one, but analysts from New Street Research LLP are questioning the quality of those gains.
That’s largely due to aggressive promotions, like AT&T’s buy-one-get-one-free iPhone offer, which required customers who took advantage of the promo to add another wireless subscription. New Street’s analysts are concerned that if customers were prompted “to add lines they don’t need to get free or cheap devices,” a portion of those lines “will be disconnected in due course.” This means investors should watch for higher churn rates down the road. Already the benefits of such promos may be waning, with AT&T adding just 49,000 wireless postpaid customers in the first quarter, versus more than 550,000 in the fourth quarter.
The DirecTV business lost 187,000 subscribers in the quarter, less than analysts’ estimate for a loss of 257,000. The DirecTV Now streaming service added 312,000 new subscribers.
AT&T saw declining business revenue in the first quarter (see Analysis below), as increased wireless sales to businesses and improved strategic service revenues failed to offset the decline in legacy services.
AT&T saw declining business revenue in the first quarter, as increased wireless sales to businesses and improved strategic service revenues failed to offset the decline in legacy services. However, its chief financial officer pointed to an improving trend in business revenues, with slower declines, and said the move to a software-defined network is beginning to pay off.
Total business wireline revenues were $6.8 billion, down 7.9% year over year, or down 3.3% on a comparable accounting basis, according to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). Wireless business revenues were up nearly 4%, but wireline revenues were down 3% year over year, for an overall decline of 1.6% on a comparable basis.
This decline is “an improvement over recent quarters and similar to what we saw in the fourth quarter,” John Stephens, AT&T CFO, told analysts in the earnings conference call. “This improving trend in wireline is encouraging, and this comes before any expected bump from business activity we might see as the result of tax reform.”
AT&T saw a “significant improvement in business wireline margins where EBITDA grew year over year and margins were up 190 basis points on a comparative basis,” he noted, crediting the AT&T Business Solutions team with doing “a great job in driving cost management initiatives.”
Some of those operating expense savings came from the move to a software-defined network, Stephens said, as 55% of network functions were virtualized by the end of 2017.
AT&T also touted gains in what it calls “strategic business services,” which are the wireline offerings including virtual private networks, Ethernet, cloud, hosting IP conferencing, voice over IP, dedicated Internet, IP broadband and security services. Revenues in those areas grew about 6% or $166 million and represented 44% of total business wireline revenues and an annual revenue stream of $12 billion.
That growth could not offset a $440 million decline in legacy business revenues, however, as AT&T, like other telecom operators, continues to see businesses either move to competing carriers or replace legacy services with more cost-efficient offerings.
Without the deal, AT&T’s weaknesses will be more pronounced and its next chapter will be left open-ended—not to mention that nearly two years of planning, negotiations, adviser fees and legals costs will have been for nothing. If the deal does get done, the wireless-service and pay-TV provider’s bundling opportunities and bargaining power will be greatly enhanced, though it will also have to contend with an unprecedented level of debt that must be balanced against a dividend-hungry investor crowd and a costly but crucial 5G-network build. Interpreting the company’s quarterly results depends on which of these scenarios ultimately plays out.
This is week six of the merger trial, in which attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department are trying to make the case that a combined AT&T-Time Warner would be harmful to the industry and result in higher prices for consumers. While it’s still not clear how the judge will rule, shareholders are becoming more confident that the transaction will survive court. If it doesn’t, those shareholders may be forced to see two key operational metrics in a different light.
With Time Warner’s assets—namely HBO, Turner Broadcasting and the Warner Bros. film studio—AT&T will look like an entirely different company. It will look a lot like Comcast, and that’s part of the problem from the Justice Department’s standpoint. Time Warner will face its own challenges around advertising trends and trying to stuff its array of networks into limited streaming packages. But there’s no question that it will help make sense of Randall Stephenson’s expansion of AT&T into the pay-TV market and improve AT&T’s positioning and value proposition.
Should the Time Warner acquisition get blocked, it will mark a third deal disappointment for Stephenson. The first was AT&T’s attempt to buy T-Mobile back in 2011, which also faced regulatory opposition. DirecTV was the second—it got done, but it’s clear now that AT&T overpaid.
At the Deutsche Bank Media, Telecom and Business Services Conference, John Stephens, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer, AT&T discussed the company’s plans for 2018 and beyond. Mr. Stephens said AT&T remains confident that it is on the right track to get its wireline business services back to positive growth as more customers transition to next-generation strategic services like SD-WAN and Carrier Ethernet. However, the drag from legacy services will continue to be an issue for the near term. He then outlined the company’s priorities for 2018, which include closing its pending acquisition of Time Warner and investing $23 billion in capital to build the best gigabit network in the United States.
On the entertainment side of the business, AT&T plans to launch the next generation of its DIRECTV Now video streaming service in the first half of 2018. The new platform will include features like cloud DVR and a third video stream. Additional features expected to launch later in 2018 include pay-per-view functionality and more video on demand. Note that DIRECT TV Now can operate over a wireline or wireless network with sufficient bandwidth to support video streaming. Stephens said during the interview:
“……Giving us this opportunity to come up with a new platform later in this first half of this year, the second-generation plant for giving customers Cloud DVR, additional ability to pay per view and most sporting events and movies, and all kinds of other capabilities is what we’re seeing here, that’s what we want to do with regard to that entertain business and transitioning and we’re confident that we’re on the right track and it’s going quite well.”
The company’s 2018 plans also include improved profitability in its wireless operations in Mexico and, after the Time Warner acquisition closes, deployment of a new advertising and analytics platform that will use the company’s customer data to bring new, data-driven advertising capabilities within premium video. And, as always, AT&T remains laser-focused on maintaining an industry-leading cost structure.
AT&T’s investment plans include deployment of the FirstNet network, America’s first nationwide public safety broadband network specifically designed for our nation’s police, firefighters, EMS and other first responders.
“We were 56 out of 56, 50 states, 5 territories and the districts, probably all choose to put their public safety network, their FirstNet, their first responder network with AT&T, so that’s thrilling for us, that gives us the full funding of the program, it gives us the full authority to be the public service provider for the country, we’re really proud of that, and only because of the business aspects that’s serving our fellow citizens and being able to participate in the honorable job of saving lives and protecting people. So we’re really jazzed up about that.
Secondly, our plans were made last year for how to build out, and we’ve now been given the authority and the official build plans, approved build plans from the FirstNet authority. We spend last year investing in the core network, I think if people filed us in the fourth quarter; they said we actually got a $300 million reimbursement from the FirstNet authority for the expenditures we incurred last year. So the relentless preemption, the prioritized service refers to prices for police and fire and handling some emergency medical personal; all of that’s been done and now we’re out deploying the network, not only the 700 but also our AWS and WCS, our inventoried network that we now get to put into service on a very economic basis because we can do one tower client, we have the crane out there once, we have the people out there once and they’ve put all three pieces of spectrum at it once.”
The company will also enhance wireless network quality and capacity and plans to be the first to launch mobile “5G” service in 12 cities by the end of the year. AT&T announced in February that Atlanta, GA; Dallas and Waco, TX. will be among its first “5G” markets.
“We think about 5G is 5G evolution and I say that because it’s really important to put it all in perspective. So we think FirstNet, put WCS, AWS with 700 band 14 [ph], and use carrier aggregation and you use forward [indiscernible]; we’ve done that kind of test without the 700, we did that in San Francisco, we got 750 mag speeds in the City of San Francisco on this new network, this new 5G evolution; it’s using the LTE technology, it’s using the existing network but all this new technology. So if you think about that evolution now, when you lower that network hub, those 750 theoretical speeds might go down to 150 or 100 or somewhere down but tremendous speed even on a loaded network; so that’s the first step, we’re doing that now extensively and we’re going to do more of that as we build the first step that work out and put the 700 band in. So that’s the first step for us in this evolution.
Second, people might not think about this way but for us absolutely critical is the fiber bill. We’re taking a lot of fiber out to the Prime [ph], we’re taking a lot of fiber out to business locations, currently we have about 15 million locations with fiber between business and consumer, and by July next year, we’ll have about 22 million, about 8 million business, about 14 million to the Prime if you will, for consumers. So fiber is the key, and it’s a key not only delivering to the home or to the business but for the backhaul support. So if you’re an integrated carrier like we are and you’re building this fiber to go to the home, you’re going to pass the tower, you’re going to get fiber to that tower, you’re going to pass the business location, shopping mall, strip center, you’re going to build out to those.
So 5G is the second stage, we’ve got to think all the inter-gig this is the ability to deliver broadband overall electrical power lines, we’re testing that, we’ll see how that goes, that’s another step. If you think about using millimeter wave to do backhaul for small cells in really congested areas, we have high traffic volumes, you want to take a lot of traffic off, we have tested that, we have used millimeter wave to do that, we can do that. If you think about millimeter wave to do fixed wireless; so from the ally to my home, we have tested that we have the capability to do that, the challenges on that is where do you take it from the ally, where do you offload it, give it on to the network at what those costs are, but we can do that.
Lastly, you will see us put 5G into the core network. All of those things that were going to have to be measured by one of the chipsets ready for the handsets, we expect the chipsets might be next year, handset will come after that but we’re looking at the historically slow upgrade timeframe for phones. We had a couple of quarters last year that the upgrade rates were about 4%, that would equate the 25 quarters before your phone base turned over in an extreme example; so suggesting that things are going to be in the core network, it’s going to take a while, we’ll have pucks [ph] out by the end of the year, that will help but you have to have balance with regard to this.
When you think about those business cases, you think about those augmented reality and virtual reality and robotics and autonomous cars and things on the edge, those are going to be really important, that’s where the business cases will take us but we’ve got a long way to go before we get there. As we build FirstNet, we have been good fortunate being able to so to speak build the network house and leave the room for our 5G capability so that when it’s ready, we can just plug it in to do it with software defined network design, we had a great advantage for that but we’re going to have to make sure we have all of the equipment, not only switching equipment, the radio, the antenna but also the handset equipment before we start — if you will over-indexing on the revenues opportunities, they will be there, we will lead in the gigabit network.
We’ll have the best one because what FirstNet provides us and what the technology developments have allowed us and we will use 5G in that network but I want to be careful about how we think about when it’s going to be — you’re going to have a device in your hand and walking around on a normal kind of usage basis using 5G.”
Stephens said that AT&T reaches about 15 million customer locations with fiber. This includes more than 7 million consumer customer locations and more than 8 million business customer locations within 1,000 feet of AT&T’s fiber footprint. He expects this to increase to about 22 million locations by mid-2019.
For 2018, AT&T expects organic adjusted earnings per share growth in the low single digits, driven by improvements in wireless service revenue trends, improving profitability from its international operations, cost structure improvements from its software defined network/network function virtualization efforts and lower depreciation versus 2017.
Like earlier quarters, the challenges in the fourth quarter for AT&T came from declines in legacy services like Frame Relay and ATM. The company noted that fourth-quarter declines in legacy products were partially offset by continued growth in strategic business services. Total business wireline revenues were $7.4 billion, down 3.5% year-over-year but up sequentially.
Stephens said that more AT&T customers are adopting next-gen services, creating a new foundation for wireline business revenue growth.
“What’s happened is our customers have embraced the strategic services,” Stephens said. “Strategic services are over a $12 billion annual business and are over 42% or so of our revenue and are still growing quickly.”
Indeed, AT&T’s fourth-quarter strategic business services revenues grew by nearly 6%, or $176 million, versus the year-earlier quarter. These services represent 42% of total business wireline revenues and more than 70% of wireline data revenues and have an annualized revenue stream of more than $12 billion. This growth helped offset a decline of more than $400 million in legacy service revenues in the quarter.
Stopping short of forecasting overall wireline business service revenue growth, Stephens said that AT&T will eventually see a point where strategic services will surpass legacy declines.
“As we get past this inflection point where strategic services are growing at a faster than the degradation of legacy, we can get to a point where we are growing revenues,” Stephens said. “We’re not predicting that but we see the opportunity to do that.”
To achieve these business services revenue goals, AT&T’s business sales team is taking a two-pronged approach: retaining legacy services or converting them to strategic services.
While wireline business services continue to be a key focus for AT&T, the service provider is not surprisingly looking at ways to leverage its wireless network to help customers solve issues in their business. The wireless network can be used to support a business customer’s employee base while enabling IoT applications like monitoring of a manufacturing plant or a trucking fleet. Stephens expanded on the role of IoT to close out the interview:
“…you (‘ve) got to realize that if you build this FirstNet network out, things like IoT, things like coverage for business customers, things like the ability to connect factories that are automated, the robotics that have to have wireless connectivity to a controlled center for business customers, all improves dramatically and with that comes this opportunity to sell these wireless services. When you’re in — with the CIO and you can solve his security business, you can solve his big pipe of strategic services but you can also solve some wireless issues that his HR guy has for his connectivity for his employees, you can solve some issues that his engineering department has because they want to get real-time information about how their products are working out, whether it’s a car or a jet engine or a tractor, how it’s working in the field in real-time or you can give them new product and services demand for their internal sources like their pipelines or their shipping fleet.
This IoT capability can solve a lot of issues, you can make that CIO as the success factor for all his related peers, that’s a great thing to great solutions approach to business and that’s what we’re trying to do. Our team is trying to provide solutions for the business customers and we think having those two things together are really important.”
AT&T announced on Tuesday three cities to get its so called “5G” mobile network this year. The three cities are: Atlanta, Georgia; Dallas, Texas; and Waco, Texas. The U.S. mega carrier plans on deploying its version of “5G” over mmWave in a total of 12 cities by the end of 2018, as we previously reported. The remaining cities will be announced at a later date.
Several carriers have been trialing various versions of non standardized 5G networks for some time. AT&T says this rollout will be based on the 3GPP release 15 New Radio specification (which will not by itself be presented as a contribution to ITU-R WP5D for IMT 2020 radio aspects- see Closing Comment below).
This AT&T version of “5G” is said to offer theoretical peak speeds of several gigabits a second at much lower latency than existing 4G-LTE wireless networks. The combination of faster speeds and lower latency is thought to help speed adoption of real time control of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and electric utilities that require a persistent Internet connection.
“After significantly contributing to the first phase of 5G standards, conducting multi-city trials, and literally transforming our network for the future, we’re planning to be the first carrier to deliver standards-based mobile 5G — and do it much sooner than most people thought possible,” said Igal Elbaz, SVP of Wireless Network Architecture and Design at AT&T.
The AT&T “5G” rollout is ahead of availability of consumer “5G” devices. Both device makers and wireless carriers need to closely time launching “5G” devices and networks so the return on investment is maximized. If one launches significantly early or late, the other will suffer.
There’s a good chance major hardware makers will announced some of the first “5G” devices next week at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain. Let’s hope there’s not a proliferation of “5G” device versions- one for each wireless carrier!
From the previously referenced AT&T press release:
We believe 5G and SDN go hand in hand. A virtualized and software-defined network lets you develop, deploy, and protect new network applications faster than with a hardware-based model.
We’re on the most aggressive network virtualization path that we know of in our industry. We plan to virtualize 75% of our network by 2020. Our goal in 2017 was 55%, and we hit that mark.
The experience we’ve gained by leading the industry transformation to network virtualization and software control will help our customers to get the most out of 5G.
Ultimately, we expect to reach theoretical peak speeds of multiple gigabits per second on devices through mobile 5G. While speed is important, we also expect to see much lower latency rates. With higher speeds and lower latency rates, our mobile 5G network will eventually unlock a number of new, exciting experiences for our customers.
For these experiences to become reality, you need mobile 5G powered by SDN and edge computing. We’re making the cloud smarter, faster and local.
Let’s carefully examine this quote from the press release:
“This is standards-based, mobile 5G we’re talking about. AT&T is the only U.S. carrier that’s announced plans to deliver this ground-breaking technology to its customers in 2018.”
AT&T will likely be the first U.S. carrier to deploy mobile “5G” based on millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum and technology. Sprint’s rollout is expected in 2019, T-Mobile only anticipates national mobile coverage by 2020, and Verizon has focused on fixed access “5G” for its early deployments (also not standardized).
However, AT&T’s mobile “5G” initial deployment is NOT close to being “standards-based mobile 5G,” as the company claims. That’s because the only true 5G standards will be the ITU-R WP5D IMT 2020 recommendations, which won’t be completed till the end of 2020 (as we’ve pointed out countless times). ITU-R won’t even start their detailed Radio Interface Technology (RIT) evaluation process till 2019! Further, 3GPP won’t even submit the initial templates for their proposed IMT 2020 RIT till the January 30 to February 7, 2019 ITU-R WP 5D meeting with their final WP 5D submission in July, 2019.
From the 3GPP website:
The final and fully comprehensive 3GPP IMT-2020 submission (encompassing both Release 15 and Release 16) is planned for July 2019 (to be presented at the July 9-17, 2019 ITU-R WP 5D meeting).
To help the Evaluation Groups in their work, 3GPP is currently planning a workshop to present the 5G solutions to interested external bodies – specifically the Evaluation Groups – to allow a better understanding of the 3GPP technologies for 5G. More news will follow soon – on the date and place of the 3GPP Workshop.
AT&T should know better than to call it’s 2018 (3GPP New Radio based/mmWave spectrum) wireless roll-outs “standards-based mobile 5G.” That’s because Stephen Blust (firstname.lastname@example.org) of AT&T chairs the ITU-R WP5D standards committee! AT&T also sends other delegates to WP 5D meetings, so the company is totally on top of the real 5G/IMT 2020 standards effort which we’ve shared with IEEE techblog readers for several years now.
Also note that neither ITU-R or ITU-T have any serious standards project(s) underway for SDN or network virtualization or NFV aspects of IMT 2020 (standardized 5G). Those are considered out of scope for ITU. That leaves it up to Open Source Consortium(s) to develop those related specifications.
From the February 2018 ITU-R WP 5D Meeting in Seoul, Korea:
Addendum 1. High-level scopes for Working Party 5D working and Ad hoc Groups:
|WG GENERAL ASPECTS||– To develop deliverables on services, forecasts, and also convergence of services of fixed and mobile networks which take account the needs of end users, and the demand for IMT capabilities and supported services. This includes aspects regarding the continued deployment of IMT, other general topics of IMT and overall objectives for the long-term development of IMT. To update the relevant IMT Recommendations/Reports.
– To ensure that the requirements and needs of the developing countries are reflected in the work and deliverables of WP 5D in the development of IMT. This includes coordination of work with ITU-D Sector on deployments of IMT systems and transition to IMT system.
|WG TECHNOLOGY ASPECTS||– To provide the technology related aspects of IMT through development of Recommendations and Reports. To update the relevant IMT‑2000 and IMT-Advanced Recommendations. To work on key elements of IMT technologies including requirements, evaluation, and evolution. To develop liaison with external research and standardization forums, and to coordinate the external and internal activities related to the IMT-2020 process.
– To manage the research topics website and its findings.
|WG SPECTRUM ASPECTS||– To undertake co-existence studies, develop spectrum plans, and channel/frequency arrangements for IMT. This includes spectrum sharing between IMT and other radio services/systems coordinating as appropriate with other Working Parties in ITU-R.||A. JAMIESON
|AD HOC WORKPLAN||– To coordinate the work of WP 5D to facilitate efficient and timely progress of work items.||H. OHLSEN
Addendum 2. Agreed overall deliverables/workplan of ITU-R WP 5D:
The following table provides the schedule of when approval of the planned major deliverables will be achieved following the procedures of WP 5D.
|June 2018||Mexico WP 5D #30||• Finalize CPM text on WRC-19 agenda item 9.1, Issue 9.1.8 (MTC)
• Finalize draft new Report ITU-R M.[IMT.EXPERIENCES]
• Finalize draft new Report ITU-R M.[IMT. MTC]
• Further update/Finalize draft new Report/Recommendation ITU-R
• Finalize draft CPM text on WRC-19 agenda item 9.1, Issue 9.1.1, and send input to WP 4C
• Finalize draft CPM text on WRC-19 agenda item 9.1, Issue 9.1.2, and send input to WP 4A
|October 2018||[Japan] WP 5D #31||• Finalize draft new Report ITU-R M.[IMT.MS/MSS.2GHz]
• Finalize draft new Report ITU-R M.[IMT.1 452-1 492MHz]
• Finalize draft new Report/Recommendation ITU-R M.[IMT.3300 MHz RLS]
• Finalize draft new Recommendation ITU-R M.[MT.3300 MHz FSS]
• Finalize draft new Report/Recommendation ITU-R M.[IMT.COEXISTENCE.AMS]
• Finalize draft revision of Report ITU-R M.2373
• Finalize revision of Recommendation ITU-R M.1036
• Finalize draft new Report ITU-R M.[IMT.BY.INDUSTRIES]
• Finalize revision of Recommendation ITU-R M.1457
|February 2019||Geneva WP 5D #31’bis’|
|July 2019||[Geneva] WP 5D #32||• Finalize Doc. IMT-2020/YYY Input Submissions Summary
• Finalize revision of Recommendation M.2012
• Finalize draft new Report M.[IMT.AAS]
• Finalize Addendum 4 to Circular Letter IMT‑2020
|December 2019||[Geneva] WP 5D #33|
|February 2020||[TBD] WP 5D #34||• Finalize Doc. IMT-2020/ZZZ Evaluation Reports Summary
• Finalize Doc. IMT-2020/VVV Process and use of GCS
• Finalize Addendum 5 to Circular Letter IMT‑2020
|June 2020||[TBD] WP 5D #35||• Finalize draft new Report ITU-R M.[IMT-2020.OUTCOME]
• Finalize Addendum 6 to Circular Letter IMT‑2020
|October 2020||[TBD] WP 5D #36||• Finalize draft new Recommendation ITU-R M.[IMT‑2020.SPECS]
• Finalize Addendum 7 to Circular Letter IMT‑2020
AT&T says it will use small cells for its mobile “5G” service planned for 12 U.S. cities this year. The company’s first of these roll outs will use millimeter wave  spectrum, which offers higher capacity rates than low-band spectrum but does not propagate over large distances. That requires transmit/receive radios need to closer together than they are in LTE deployments.
Note 1. Millimeter wave (also millimeter band) is the band of spectrum between 30 gigahertz (Ghz) and 300 Ghz.
“Millimeter wave is more associated with small cell-like ranges and heights,” said AT&T’s Hank Kafka, VP of network architecture. “It can be on telephone poles or light poles or building rooftops or on towers, but generally if you’re putting it on towers it’s at a lower height than you would put a high-powered macrocell, because of the propagation characteristics.”
“5G will change the way we live, work and enjoy entertainment,” said Melissa Arnoldi, president, AT&T Technology and Operations. “We’re moving quickly to begin deploying mobile 5G this year and start unlocking the future of connectivity for consumers and businesses. With faster speeds and ultra-low latency, 5G will ultimately deliver and enhance experiences like virtual reality, future driverless cars, immersive 4K video and more.”
AT&T has announced 23 cities that are getting its 5G Evolution infrastructure, which the company describes as “the foundation for mobile 5G.” Those cities are Atlanta; Austin; Boston; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Buffalo, New York; Chicago; Fresno, CA; Greenville, South Carolina; Hartford, Connecticut; Houston; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Louisville; Memphis; Nashville; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Pittsburgh; San Antonio; San Diego; San Francisco; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Sacramento, California.
AT&T’s deployment of small cells to support mobile 5G will be largely independent of another 2017 AT&T infrastructure initiative – the build-out of the 700 MHz spectrum for FirstNet.
“Where appropriate we’re always going to try and get as much synergy as we can … but there’s a difference between dealing with small cell sites and dealing with macro sites,” Kafka said.
“You’ll find that a lot of radios that suppliers are putting out now are going to be upgradeable to support 5G,” Kafka said. “Some of the radios we’re deploying now do have that capability in the hardware.”
Kafka said that in some instances, tower crews might be able to add “5G” equipment near the base of the tower at the same time they add 700 MHz radios to the top. But the synergies between the two deployments are limited.
In sharp contrast to AT&Ts endorsement of millimeter wave technology, Sprint’s CTO John Saw said last week that he is not sure that using millimeter waves to deliver 5G services is a practical economic use of the high-band spectrum and that Sprint will be focusing on using its existing bandwidth to initially deploy 5G.
“What is the cost to deliver a bit over millimeter waves? Where is the business case on that?” John Saw asked at the Citi conference in Las Vegas.
Verizon CTO Hans Vestberg told a CES panel last week that Verizon “will be first” to deploy 5G. Verizon is moving ahead with deployment of pre-standard fixed-wireless 5G service, starting with a rollout in Sacramento, California in the second half of this year. But Vestberg noted fixed-wireless is just one part of what Verizon plans to do with 5G.
“From 5G you can do different slices. We are now focusing on one slice, which is basically residential broadband to deliver superior performance quicker to market…That’s one use case, we can talk about many others.”
AT&T has introduced a high speed “4G” service in the form of LTE-Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) in Indianapolis, IN. LTE-LAA uses unlicensed spectrum. According to AT&T it will provide theoretical gigabit speeds to some areas of the city. LTE-LAA has reached a peak of 979 Mbps in a San Francisco, CA trial.
“Demand continues to grow at a rapid pace on our network,” the Bill Soards, President AT&T Indiana in a press release. That’s why offering customers the latest technologies and increased wireless capacity by combining licensed and unlicensed spectrum is an important milestone.”
The U.S. mega telco recently announced plans to roll out its 5G Evolution program in Minneapolis. That initiative – which aims to provide networks with the capability to support 5G when it is ready – already is in use in parts of Indianapolis and in Austin, TX. It features LTE Advanced features such as 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO and 3-way Carrier Aggregation.
AT&T says that it invested $350 million in its wired and wireless network infrastructure in Indianapolis between 2014 and 2016.
In her October 31st keynote at the Fog World Congress, Alicia Abella, PhD and Vice President – Advanced Technology Realization at AT&T, discussed the implications of edge computing (EC) for network service providers, emphasizing that it will make the business case for 5G realizable when low latency is essential for real time applications (see illustration below).
The important trends and key drivers for edge computing were described along with AT&T’s perspective of its “open network” edge computing architecture emphasizing open source software modules.
Author’s Note: Ms. Abella did not distinguish between edge and fog computing nor did she even mention the latter term during her talk. We tried to address definitions and fog network architecture in this post. An earlier blog post quoted AT&T as being “all in” for edge computing to address low latency next generation applications.
AT&T Presentation Highlights:
- Ms. Abella defined EC as the placement of processing and storage resources at the perimeter of a service provider’s network in order to deliver low latency applications to customers. That’s consistent with the accepted definition.
“Edge compute is the next step in getting more out of our network, and we are busy putting together an edge computing (network) architecture,” she said.
- “5G-like” applications will be the anchor tenant for network provider’s EC strategy. augmented reality/virtual reality, Multi-person real time video conferencing, and autonomous vehicles were a few applications cited in the illustration below:
Above illustration courtesy of AT&T.
“Size, location, configuration of EC resources will vary, depending on capacity demand and use cases,” said Ms. Abella.
- Benefits of EC to network service providers include:
- Reduce backhaul traffic
- Maintain quality of experience for customers
- Reduce cost by decomposing and disaggregating access function
- Optimize current central office infrastructure
- Improve reliability of the network by distributing content between the edge and centralized data centers
- Deliver innovative services not possible without edge compute, e.g. Industrial IoT autonomous vehicles, smart cities, etc
“In order to achieve some of the latency requirements of these [5G applications?] services a service provider needs to place IT resources at the edge of the network. Especially, when looking at autonomous vehicles where you have mission critical safety requirements. When we think about the edge, we’re looking at being able to serve these low latency requirements for those [real time] applications.”
- AT&T has “opened our network” to enable new services and reduce operational costs. The key attributes are the following:
- Modular architecture
- Robust network APIs
- Policy management
- Shared infrastructure for simplification and scaling
- Network Automation platform achieved using INDIGO on top of ONAP
- AT&T will offer increased network value and adaptability as traffic volumes change:
- Cost/performance leadership
- Improved speed to innovation
- Industry leading security, performance, reliability
“We are busy thinking about and putting together what that edge compute architecture would look like. It’s being driven by the need for low latency.”
In terms of where, physically, edge computing and storage is located:
“It depends on the use case. We have to be flexible when defining this edge compute architecture. There’s a lot of variables and a lot of constraints. We’re actually looking at optimization methods. We want to deploy edge compute nodes in mobile data centers, in buildings, at customers’ locations and in our central offices. Where it will be depends on where there is demand, where we have spectrum, we are developing methods for optimizing the locations. We want to be able to place those nodes in a place that will minimize cost to us (AT&T), while maintaining quality of experience. Size, location and configuration is going to depend on capacity demand and the use cases,” Alicia said.
- Optimization of EC processing to meet latency constraints may require GPUs and FPGAs in additional to conventional microprocessors. One such application cite was running video analytics for surveillance cameras.
- Real time control of autonomous vehicles would require a significant investment in roadside IT infrastructure but have an uncertain return-on-investment. AT&T now has 12 million smart cars on its network, a number growing by a million per quarter.
- We need to support different connectivity to the core network and use “SDN” within the site.
- Device empowerment at the edge must consider that while mobile devices (e.g. smart phones and tablets) are capable of executing complex tasks, they have been held back by battery life and low power requirements.
- Device complexity means higher cost to manufacturers and consumers.
- Future of EC may include “crowd sourcing computing power in your pocket.” The concept here is to distribute the computation needed over many people’s mobile devices and compensate them via Bitcoin, other crypto currency or asset class. Block chain may play a role here.
Timon Sloane of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) provided an update on project CORD on November 1st at the Telecom Council’s Carrier Connections (TC3) summit in Mt View, CA. The session was titled:
Spotlight on CORD: Transforming Operator Networks and Business Models
After the presentation, Sandhya Narayan of Verizon and Tom Tofigh of AT&T came up to the stage to answer a few audience member questions (there was no real panel session).
The basic premise of CORD is to re-architect a telco/MSO central office to have the same or similar architecture of a cloud resident data center. Not only the central office, but also remote networking equipment in the field (like an Optical Line Termination unit or OLT) are decomposed and disaggregated such that all but the most primitive functions are executed by open source software running on a compute server. The only hardware is the Physical layer transmission system which could be optical fiber, copper, or cellular/mobile.
Author’s Note: Mr. Sloane didn’t mention that ONF became involved in project CORD when it merged with ON.Labs earlier this year. At that time, the ONOS and CORD open source projects became ONF priorities. The Linux Foundation still lists CORD as one of their open source projects, but it appears the heavy lifting is being done by the new ONF as per this press release.
A reference implementation of CORD combines commodity servers, white-box switches, and disaggregated access technologies with open source software to provide an extensible service delivery platform. This gives network operators (telcos and MSOs) the means to configure, control, and extend CORD to meet their operational and business objectives. The reference implementation is sufficiently complete to support field trials.
Illustration above is from the OpenCord website
Highlights of Timon Sloane’s CORD Presentation at TC3:
- ONF has transformed over the last year to be a network operator led consortium.
- SDN, Open Flow, ONOS, and CORD are all important ONF projects.
- “70% of world wide network operators are planning to deploy CORD,” according to IHS-Markit senior analyst Michael Howard (who was in the audience- see his question to Verizon below).
- 80% of carrier spending is in the network edge (which includes the line terminating equipment and central office accessed).
- The central office (CO) is the most important network infrastructure for service providers (AKA telcos, carriers and network operators, MSO or cablecos, etc).
- The CO is the service provider’s gateway to customers.
- End to end user experience is controlled by the ingress and egress COs (local and remote) accessed.
- Transforming the outdated CO is a great opportunity for service providers. The challenge is to turn the CO into a cloud like data center.
- CORD mission is the enable the “edge cloud.” –>Note that mission differs from the OpenCord website which states:
“Our mission is to bring datacenter economies and cloud agility to service providers for their residential, enterprise, and mobile customers using an open reference implementation of CORD with an active participation of the community. The reference implementation of CORD will be built from commodity servers, white-box switches, disaggregated access technologies (e.g., vOLT, vBBU, vDOCSIS), and open source software (e.g., OpenStack, ONOS, XOS).”
- A CORD like CO infrastructure is built using commodity hardware, open source software, and white boxes (e.g. switch/routers and compute servers).
- The agility of a cloud service provider depends on software platforms that enable rapid creation of new services- in a “cloud-like” way. Network service providers need to adopt this same model.
- White boxes provide subscriber connections with control functions virtualized in cloud resident compute servers.
- A PON Optical Line Termination Unit (OLT) was the first candidate chosen for CORD. It’s at the “leaf of the cloud,” according to Timon.
- 3 markets for CORD are: Mobile (M-), Enterprise (E-), and Residential (R-). There is also the Multi-Service edge which is a new concept.
- CORD is projected to be a $300B market (source not stated).
- CORD provides opportunities for: application vendors (VNFs, network services, edge services, mobile edge computing, etc), white box suppliers (compute servers, switches, and storage), systems integrators (educate, design, deploy, support customers, etc).
- CORD Build Event was held November 7-9, 2017 in San Jose, CA. It explored CORD’s mission, market traction, use cases, and technical overview as per this schedule.
Service Providers active in CORD project:
- AT&T: R-Cord (PON and g.fast), Multi-service edge-CORD, vOLTHA (Virtual OLT Hardware Abstraction)
- Verizon: M-Cord
- Sprint: M-Cord
- Comcast: R-Cord
- Century Link: R-Cord
- Google: Multi-access CORD
Author’s Note: NTT (Japan) and Telefonica (Spain) have deployed CORD and presented their use cases at the CORD Build event. Deutsche Telekom, China Unicom, and Turk Telecom are active in the ONF and may have plans to deploy CORD?
- This author questioned the partitioning of CORD tasks and responsibility between ONF and Linux Foundation. No clear answer was given. Perhaps in a follow up comment?
- AT&T is bringing use cases into ONF for reference platform deployments.
- CORD is a reference architecture with systems integrators needed to put the pieces together (commodity hardware, white boxes, open source software modules).
- Michael Howard asked Verizon to provide commercial deployment status- number, location, use cases, etc. Verizon said they can’t talk about commercial deployments at this time.
- Biggest challenge for CORD: Dis-aggregating purpose built, vendor specific hardware that exist in COs today. Many COs are router/switch centric, but they have to be opened up if CORD is to gain market traction.
- Future tasks for project CORD include: virtualized Radio Access Network (RAN), open radio (perhaps “new radio” from 3GPP release 15?), systems integration, and inclusion of micro-services (which were discussed at the very next TC3 session).
Addendum from Marc Cohn, formerly with the Linux Foundation:Here’s an attempt to clarify the CORD project responsibilities:
- CORD is an open reference architecture. In that sense, CORD is similar to the ETSI NFV Architectural Framework, ONF SDN Architecture, and MEF LifeCycle Services Orchestration (LSO) reference architectures.
- As it is a reference architecture, it is not an implementation, and is maintained by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), which merged with ON.LAB towards the end of 2016.
- OpenCORD is a Linux Foundation project announced in the summer of 2016. It is focused on an open source implementation of the CORD architecture. OpenCord was derived from the work undertaken by ON.LAB, prior to the merger with ONF in 2016.
- For technical details, visit the OpenCORD Wiki
- Part of the confusion is that if one visits the Linux Foundation projects page, CORD is listed, but the link is to the OpenCord website.