AT&T's Chris Rice: Virtualization efforts 'now much more mature'

AT&T is closing in on its stated goal of having 75% of its network functions virtualized by 2020. After virtualizing more than 55% of its network functions last year, AT&T is taking aim at reaching 65% virtualized by the end of this year.

AT&T CFO John Stephens provided the virtualization update during Wednesday's first-quarter earnings call. AT&T's virtualization efforts date back to 2013 when it first outlined its goals in its Domain 2.0 white paper.

"(It's) similar to work that has been done over the past three years," said Chris Rice, senior vice president of AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design, via email when asked what virtualization was completed so far this year. "It is now much more mature—in areas wider, such as consumer, business, and mobility business areas, and deeper, including SKUs of similar VNFs in different parts of the network across switches, routers and applications with more automation in place."

He added: "For 5G, for instance, that service will be 'born in the cloud.' We are fortunate to have three years of SDN/NFV experience to apply to our 5G network build."

During the earnings call, Stephens said AT&T was "beginning to see operating savings from our move to a software-defined network."

"We track this internally, but we do not share it publicly," Rice said in regards to how much AT&T has saved by using virtualization. "In addition to savings, new customer-facing offerings have been enabled, with features not available in our legacy services. Flexware is one example that allows our customers to use best in class VNFs to provide intelligent edge capabilities in a SDN/NFV environment on a flexible universal CPE device."

A capstone of AT&T's virtualization effort has been the telco's internal development of ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management & Policy), which has more than 8.5 million lines of code. After putting ECOMP into open source with the Linux Foundation last year, it was subsequently combined with OPEN-O (Open Orchestrator Project) to form Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP).

The goal of ONAP is to become the de facto automation platform for the telecom industry, but ETSI's Open Source MANO is pursuing some of the same aspects as ONAP.