March 14, 2019
Laying the Foundation of Our Network
By Amy Wheelus, Patrick Hamrock, Mazin Gilbert
“Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”
From when the first words were spoken over a telephone to more than 143 years later, our Network remains the technology foundation of AT&T.
While Alexander Graham Bell innovated over copper, our network today is one that includes fiber, wireless spectrum, software, and data insights – a foundation of technology assets that is unrivaled in the industry.
Here is a quick look at each of these critical elements of our underlying network technology:
It all begins with fiber optics— the connecting threads weaving together the population centers around the country. These high-capacity lines deliver today’s communications and will enable tomorrow’s new products and services.
We’ve made and continue to make a significant investment in pushing fiber deeper and closer to our customers. In 2018 alone, we deployed enough fiber cable to circle the earth more than two times!
Our fiber optic assets provide more than just wireline connections. Fiber is also the high-speed, low-latency transport for our wireless network, connecting cell towers to the core network – and ultimately your mobile phone.
Spectrum blankets the country and is the lifeblood of mobility. Our holdings cover high, medium and low bands, positioning us well in the marketplace. This includes key millimeterWave and sub-6 gigahertz holdings that enable 5G.
Spectrum is also a key component of FirstNet.
Band 14 is high-quality spectrum provided by the First Responder Network Authority – an independent agency within the federal government – to build and manage a communication platform that gives first responders greater access to the connectivity they need, where they need it. Its signal covers larger geographic areas with less infrastructure to better support rural communities, and it can better penetrate buildings and walls in more urban areas as compared to higher-MHz spectrum.
But, this spectrum isn’t just improving connectivity for public safety. It’s helping connect communities and individuals on AT&T across the country. When not in use by FirstNet subscribers, AT&T customers can utilize Band 14’s added coverage and capacity. It’s a unique, public-private partnership that is evolving quickly to deliver on the promise of connectivity.
With our strong foundation, extensive footprint, and software enabled network, we have a competitive advantage to meet the growing needs of customers across the nation and world where they live, work and play.
Just as you’ve replaced your alarm clock, music player, game console and other standalone hardware devices with apps on your phone or tablet, so we’re turning our network gear into apps running on standard servers and other hardware. It’s faster, more efficient, and more upgradeable. We exceeded virtualizing 65% of our core network functions in 2018 and plan to reach75% by 2020.. We’re using open source software and open interfaces to power these new capabilities and effectively meet exploding demand. Just in the past 2 years alone, AT&T has contributed over 10 Million lines of code into open source.
For example, our ECOMP orchestration platform is the foundation for open source ONAP.
Our Network Cloud platform – the platform on which our mobile 5G network core runs – uses open source tools including OpenStack, Akraino, and AirShip. And our AI platform uses Acumos. Our open source model allows us to quickly adopt and share new ideas with the broader developer ecosystem.
Applying data insights – such as capacity and equipment status – to the front end of network design and planning saves times and drives efficiency, ultimately improving the customer experience.
On average, more than 242 PB of daily traffic flows through our network, a 470,000% increase since 2007. New technologies, such as 5G, will continue to drive massive volumes of data use.
To efficiently and effectively manage such a robust and growing system requires continuous process improvement and the use of enhanced data automation tools. All this paired with an unwavering focus on delivering the best possible customer experience.
We’ve evolved significantly since Alexander Graham Bell’s first words reverberated over a single wire. Even now more than 143 years later, it’s still all about enabling the connections that matter most.