Monday 11 December 2023

AT&T's Plans on Open RAN and 6G

AT&T was in news recently for their announcement about acceleration of Open and Interoperable Radio Access Networks (RAN) in the United States. According to their press release

This industry-leading move, in collaboration with Ericsson, will further the telecommunications industry efforts and help build a more robust ecosystem of network infrastructure providers and suppliers. AT&T’s spend could approach roughly $14 billion over the 5-year term of the contract with Ericsson. 

AT&T’s Open RAN plan is for 70% of its wireless network traffic to flow across open-capable platforms by late 2026. The company expects to have fully integrated open RAN sites operating in coordination with Ericsson and Fujitsu, starting in 2024. This move away from closed proprietary interfaces will enable rapid scaling and management of mixed supplier hardware at each cell site.  Beginning in 2025, the company will scale this Open RAN environment throughout its wireless network in coordination with multiple suppliers such as Corning Incorporated, Dell Technologies, Ericsson, Fujitsu, and Intel.

At the Brooklyn 6G Summit (B6GS), Chris Sambar, who leads AT&T’s Network organization and teams responsible for designing, engineering, building, and operating AT&T’s next generation mobile and fiber networks, gave a keynote on "Network: The Innovation Platform". The narrative of the talk says: 

Today’s 5G build is the foundation of 6G. Flexible and open architecture being developed and fine-tuned with 5G will be central to 6G, and maintaining a customer-centric, forward-looking mindset will be critical as we scale and deploy technologies such as Stand Alone core, edge computing, AI, and NTN integration. Implementing the lessons learned in the 5G era and ensuring we have end-to-end alignment across the 6 pillars of our architecture will be vital to making 6G a success.

RCR Wireless provides a concise summary of the talk here:

AT&T has spent $40 billion on spectrum in the last few years; Verizon has spent more than $50 billion; and T-Mobile US had to acquire another major operator to get its spectrum holdings. With 5G not even at its midway point and the industry already trying to figure out what they might have to spend on 6G, “it can’t be a bottomless-pit industry,” he said.

That said, Sambar did also discuss the promise of 6G for extended and virtual-reality immersive experience for training public safety and military members, and the potential of better network-focused AI and ML to save network operators “hundreds of millions or billions of dollars” if things like self-optimization of networks can be done better and faster. That in itself represents a major challenge. Sambar says that he has thousands of employees in network operations, between AT&T’s wireline and wireless networks and “hundreds” of algorithms that do very simple if-then work and essentially send tickets to humans when a scenario comes up that fits its if-then criteria. If one of those algorithms breaks, he said, “we have to go figure out where it is, what server it’s sitting on, what’s wrong with it and how do we fix it. I would love a machine to manage that for me”—or even better, to stitch the capabilities of multiple algorithms together for more efficient and effective AI/ML applicability to network operations.

The video of the talk is embedded below, thanks to IEEE TV:

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