AT&T’s Fuetsch talks about Airship and the telco cloud

Speaking at the Open Networking and Edge Summit (ONES) this week, AT&T Chief Technology Officer of Network Services Andre Fuetsch said that AT&T has deployed its Network Cloud 315 times to date.

AT&T uses Airship software for its 5G Network Cloud infrastructure. AT&T, along with SKT, Intel and the OpenStack Foundation, formed the Airship open source project in 2018. The goal was, and still is, to create open infrastructure software for telco clouds so operators can run virtual network functions and cloud-native network functions (CNFs). The software also gives operators the agility to make real-time upgrades to their clouds with no downtime.

In a blog post earlier this year, AT&T VP of Network Cloud Ryan van Wyk said, “Airship is at the core of our 5G deployment.” 

Airship is a bit of a hybrid between virtual machines (VMs) and containers. The Airship project is managed by the OpenStack Foundation, a group that’s well-known for its open source VM-based virtualization platform. But Airship also integrates containers and uses the most popular container management platform, Kubernetes.

At the ONES virtual event yesterday, Fuetsch said AT&T’s Network Cloud is enabled by Airship software, which integrates container software from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). "Airship a purpose-built high performance network cloud infrastructure, integrating over 14 CNCF projects," said Fuetsch.

RELATED: OpenStack kicks off spring summit with 1.0 release of Project Airship, used by AT&T

Jonathan Bryce, executive director of the OpenStack Foundation said Airship's combination of containers and VMs is one of its "most useful elements." Bryce said, "It’s trying to bring together all of the infrastructure resources you need to run an advanced workload. Any standard environment has a mix that includes VMs and some containerized workloads and some elements on bare metal. The concept of Airship from the beginning as been to support all those modes and bring them together in a single system."

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At the same ONES event this week, AT&T also announced that DriveNets is providing the routing software for AT&T's next-gen core network.

AT&T has been on its virtualization journey longer than many other telcos. It started with VMs via OpenStack and is migrating to containers. Operators who have the luxury of building greenfield core networks are going straight to container-based infrastructure. For example, Dish Network recently chose Nokia for its core software for its new U.S. 5G network. Nokia’s 5G standalone core is cloud-native and based on containers. And Rakuten Mobile, a Japanese company that's building a new wireless network in Japan, is developing a container-based 5G core with NEC.

Other AT&T updates

In other updates, Fuetsch said AT&T has hit its goal of virtualizing 75% of its network. “The virtualization of our network, including our SDN controls, is the foundation of everything we do,” he said. “It enables us to respond rapidly to any new demand on the network.”

RELATED: AT&T on target for virtualizing 75% of its network by 2020

He added that AT&T’s network virtualization efforts really paid off during Covid-19.

AT&T’s voice over Wi-Fi was 100% virtualized prior to Covid-19. “That’s thanks to the work we began in 2019 when we began to roll out in production our own deployment of the virtualized evolved data packet gateway. These functions run on OpenStack on our network cloud,” said Fuetsch.

He said in the first few months of the crisis Wi-Fi calling peaked over 105% and averaged 90% higher than pre-Covid levels. The average call duration was over 75% longer than pre-Covid. “What would have taken us weeks and months to add this additional capacity now takes us minutes and hours thanks to the virtualization of our network,” he said.

AT&T also saw spikes in text messaging during the pandemic with customers twice setting records. During the March spring break time frame and during Easter weekend, AT&T customers sent more than 23,000 texts per second across AT&T’s network. The previous peak was about 15,000 texts per second. Fuetsch said, “We moved messaging traffic from our legacy infrastructure to our cloud infrastructure to assist offload and help meet this demand. Our software-enabled network allowed us to add more than 60% capacity to our message platform in one day.”

Wireless voice also soared during the height of the health crisis with about a 43% increase. However, mobile data volume slightly decreased during Covid-19 because many people weren’t out-and-about with their phones but were instead at home connected to Wi-Fi.

Finally, Fuetsch said AT&T’s global SD-WAN service helped enterprise customers to get their employees connected to the corporate network from their homes during the pandemic. AT&T saw a 16x demand surge in its SD-WAN service compared to the average usage in 2019. “Virtualization of this service allowed us to dynamically increase this capacity to meet the surging demand in weeks,” he said.