Tension between the carriers and the tower companies seems to be easing a bit. At least in the case of AT&T and Crown Castle International. The two have signed a new agreement simplifying and expanding their long-term leasing deal for wireless network infrastructure.
Under the new agreement, leasing management and operations are streamlined to improve the efficiency and flexibility under which AT&T can deploy new technologies and increase network capacity. These changes will enable AT&T to speed up the deployment of 5G technologies and the execution of our FirstNet build.
“This agreement marks a significant milestone in our relationship with Crown Castle,” said Susan Johnson, executive vice president – global connections and supply chain, AT&T. “It establishes a market-based framework and simplifies the lease management and administration process. This will allow us to streamline network projects to better serve our customers.”
The agreement aligns with AT&T’s commitment to provide customers with better speed, reliability and overall performance. In addition to macro sites, the new agreement covers small cell deployments. Small cells are necessary to improve wireless networks, keep up with increasing mobile data usage and lay the foundation for 5G.
“We are pleased to expand our longstanding strategic relationship with AT&T,” said Mike Kavanagh, chief commercial officer, Crown Castle. “We look forward to continuing to support AT&T’s growth by providing our infrastructure assets to meet their network needs for years to come.”
More than 60,000 white box routers will be installed over the next several years at cell towers as AT&T continues to virtualize its network, while rolling out mobile 5G in the United States.
“To power our new network this year and beyond, we’re building our towers and small cells in a radically new way. We’re going with white box,” Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer and president, AT&T Labs, said in a statement provided by the company. “What does that mean? It means we’re transitioning from the traditional, proprietary routers that sit inside these structures to new hardware that’s built around open standards and can be quickly upgraded via software. We expect to roll out over 60,000 of these white box routers over the next several years across the United States.”
A year ago, AT&T announced its first successful trial with white box equipment and it expanded on that trial this year.
“White box represents a radical realignment of the traditional service provider model,” Fuetsch said. “We’re no longer constrained by the capabilities of proprietary silicon and feature roadmaps of traditional vendors. We’re writing open hardware specifications for these machines, and developing the open source software that powers these boxes. This means faster hardware upgrades, since anyone can build to these specs. And software upgrades that move at internet speed. We’re doing this all while keeping costs low so we can focus on expanding our nationwide mobile 5G footprint for our customers as quickly as possible.”
These machines will use open hardware designs so anyone can build to our specifications, according to Fuetsch.
dNOS on White Box
The white box routers run what is known as a “Disaggregated Network Operating System,” or dNOS. The carrier built this platform in part using technology and expertise we acquired with the Vyatta unit it bought last year.
“dNOS is the network operating system for white boxes,” Fuetsch said. “We hope to see it adopted as open source software across our industry. We recently published a whitepaper outlining the program. We intend to release it into open source via the Linux Foundation.”
ONAP and dNOS
Orchestrating these dNOS-powered white box machines is ONAP, or Open Network Automation Platform. ONAP is an operating system for the network cloud.
“We’ve committed to virtualizing 75 percent of our core network functions by 2020. We hit our 55 percent goal in 2017. We’re announcing today that our goal for 2018 is 65 percent. We’ll be providing additional context at the Open Networking Summit in Los Angeles this week,” Fuetsch said.
Tools like ONAP are vital to deploying and managing the next generation of broadband speeds.
“For example, we are working to integrate the Open Networking Foundation’s work on VOLTHA, the software powering our future XGS-PON broadband network, into ONAP,” he said. “Passive optical networks like XGS-PON promise internet speeds up to 10 Gbps. By integrating VOLTHA within ONAP, we can expand trials into more cities and bring the service to customers more quickly.”
And ONAP will be vital to managing AT&T’s future nationwide mobile 5G network.
“Mobile 5G will be about more than just speed. It will also bring much lower latency. Latency is the time between when you press play on your favorite video streaming app and the moment your show appears on the screen. For some applications, latency is critical. For example, with augmented reality or self-driving cars, it needs to be near real-time for any applications running in the cloud,” Fuetsch said.
But to run those applications in the cloud, you need a network and a platform that can host those applications at the cell towers and small cells in close physical proximity to users, known as “edge computing.” Running those apps in data centers thousands of miles away from users adds latency.
“Using white box routers and other hardware in our towers and small cells helps those types of edge applications smoothly,” Fuetsch said. “And it means we can update and upgrade them at the push of a button. We recently announced Akraino, a software stack to improve the state of edge cloud infrastructure for carrier, provider, and IoT networks. That project is also being released into open source via the Linux Foundation.”
The First Responder Network Authority has given AT&T the go-ahead to build out FirstNet, the nationwide public safety broadband network. This includes deploying public safety’s dedicated spectrum – Band 14 – across statewide radio access networks in states and territories across the country.
In the next five years, AT&T will be putting Band 14 on tens of thousands of new and existing sites nationwide.
“We are implementing the state plans and delivering on our commitment to first responders in each state and territory,” said First Responder Network Authority CEO Mike Poth. “We haven’t wasted any time in getting started. We plan to touch about a third of our cell sites this year alone.”
Band 14 is nationwide spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet, allowing dedicated priority access to and preemption.
“We’ll cover 95 percent or more of the U.S. population with Band 14, which will bring first responders access to even more coverage and capacity to help them support emergencies and day-to-day operations across the country – in rural and urban areas,” Poth said. “This is important as FirstNet will help to address rural coverage gaps, giving first responders greater access to the connectivity they need.”
FirstNet Public-Private Partnership Sees Momentum After One Year
As it turned one year old, FirstNet gave an update on its progress. More than 350 Agencies in more than 40 States and territories have subscribed to the nationwide public safety broadband network being built by AT&T in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority.
“We’ve been working hard to build something great for first responders,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T-FirstNet. “While we have made strong progress, we still have work to do to create the specialized experience that public safety is looking for. To already see this kind of momentum from the public safety community is encouraging, especially since first responders in many states have only recently been able to sign up for service.”
The agencies using FirstNet make up nearly 30,000 connections on the network. These connections range from smartphones to in-vehicle modems and more.
“We’re just under a year into building out FirstNet, and the platform is already giving first responders access to critical capabilities they’ve long demanded,” Sambar said. “These include unthrottled domestic data speeds as well as access to priority and preemption.”
Evolved Packet Network Core to Come Online
AT&T said it is on schedule and only weeks away from launching its nationwide, dedicated evolved packet network core specifically for FirstNet, giving public safety a highly secure environment.
“Bringing the core to life has been a priority since March 2017. And we’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars behind its build. Creating a separate network core for first responders isn’t quick, easy or cheap. But it’s necessary,” Sambar said.
Built on physically separate hardware, the FirstNet core completely separates public safety’s traffic from all commercial traffic. It is encrypted from end-to-end, using FIPS 140-2 compliant VPN solutions. It will be monitored at all times by a dedicated Security Operations Center. There will be multiple geographically distributed core sites nationwide for redundancy and performance.
The FirstNet core will connect into the state radio access networks, providing seamless interoperability from state to state.
The race to 5G continues.
AT&T plan to offer mobile 5G to customers in a dozen cities, including parts of Dallas, Atlanta and Waco, Texas, by the end of this year. It will announce additional cities in the coming months.
The deployments will be standards-based, mobile 5G, according to AT&T, which is the only U.S. carrier that’s announced plans to deliver this ground-breaking technology to its customers in 2018.
“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, senior vice president, Wireless Network Architecture and Design. “Our mobile 5G firsts will put our customers in the middle of it all.
“AT&T continues to build the foundation of 5G. We initially launched 5G Evolution last spring and plan to offer this technology broadly by the end of the year. Additionally, last fall we launched LTE-Licensed Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) technologies in parts of Indianapolis and are now live in parts of Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
The carrier’s initial mobile 5G deployments this year will be based on 3GPP standards and operate over mmWave spectrum. It will use mmWave to provide mobile 5G in some areas, and then deploy the technology on additional spectrum bands.
“The way we are implementing 5G in the initial deployments will also seamlessly integrate with current LTE technologies using the non-standalone configuration outlined in 3GPP release 15. The equipment we are deploying today on our LTE network will allow us to easily migrate to 5G,” Elbaz said. “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.”
The carrier plans to virtualize 75 percent of its network by 2020. It reached 55 percent in 2017.
AT&T is kicking off its largest 5G fixed wireless trial in Waco, Texas, in terms of mobile traffic at the Magnolia Market at the Silos, a shopping district that features home décor, gifts, games, a garden store, food trucks and a bakery.
“This is a meaningful and important step in bringing our 5G fixed wireless trials to Waco starting with the Silos,” said Marachel Knight, senior vice president, technology planning and engineering, AT&T. “Taking our 5G tests out of the lab and into real, high-traffic environments like the Silos will bring a fantastic customer experience while helping us learn even more about building a 5G network of the future for both consumers and businesses.”
The 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) system will distribute connections throughout the location of the Silos via Wi-Fi. The 5G trial service will be distributed through a number of Wi-Fi access points covering the entire grounds of the Silos, and it is expected to enable faster wireless speeds not just for visitors, but for employees and vendors who use mobile point of sale devices and wireless devices to manage their back-office operations.
“At Magnolia, we’re always looking for opportunities to implement innovative solutions,” said David Washburn, information technology manager, Magnolia. “We’re excited to see how this technology enhances efficiencies for vendor partners and employees alike.”
“The trial with Magnolia helps drive a path for businesses of all sizes to have access to massive capacity via 5G to serve their employees and their customers in ways we couldn’t have even dreamed of just a few years ago,” Mo Katibeh, chief marketing officer, AT&T business, said. “During 5G trials in Waco, AT&T will be testing mmWave spectrum and 5G radio and antenna prototypes. We’ll will use our network function virtualization platform, AT&T FlexWare, as the router for the 5G network.”
The 5G trial will be expanded to additional participants including small businesses, residential customers, churches and large educational institutions.
“It’s important for us to conduct 5G trials like this one and to learn how these technologies function in a real-world environment and help drive outcomes for businesses across all industries,” Katibeh said. “Results from these 5G trials will help speed up standards-based 5G deployment as soon as late 2018.”