AT&T is expanding its 5G standalone (SA) core through edge zones that can more quickly connect to hyperscalers like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
AT&T CTO Jeremy Legg noted in a blog post that the carrier currently has 10 of these edge zones up and running across the U.S., with plans to add at least two more of these “localized 5G network capabilities” before the end of the year. These edge zones are powered by AT&T’s regional 5G SA network cores and are located near connection points that can quickly access cloud provider data centers.
“Our standalone network cores and software-defined network capabilities will be located in network data centers close to cross-connect facilities that have fast connections to nearby cloud facilities run by the ‘hyperscaler’ cloud providers,” Legg wrote.
The carrier uses Equinix’s cross-connect facilities to link AT&T’s data centers to nearby cloud computing services from hyperscalers like Azure, AWS, and GCP. AT&T is also building out its own edge zones to meet specific use cases and as it further extends the reach of its SA core.
This edge push allows AT&T to better support low-latency applications like autonomous vehicles or more basic applications like voice traffic.
AT&T is also looking to open access to these edge zones to developers that can create new applications running on the platform. Legg explained this could be “through the hyperscalers’ app stores and other interfaces or through software development kits.”
“We believe that giving them localized, hands-on access to our 5G network will be a foundational building block for tomorrow’s inventors,” Legg wrote.
AT&T 5G SA Slow Roll
AT&T’s 5G SA plans have lagged behind rivals. The carrier initially planned to launch its 5G SA core in 2020, but pushed those plans due to technology maturity. A company executive recently noted that AT&T was continuing to test the technology in lab environments.
“We’ve always said we’re going to deploy this 5G when the ecosystem is ready,” Marachel Knight, SVP of technology and planning operations at AT&T Communications, said during a fireside chat at the recent ConnectX event. “Are there devices there to take advantage of that? So, it’s a very methodical approach for us.”
T-Mobile US was the world’s first, launching its 5G SA core in mid-2020, and just beating out SK Telecom. T-Mobile US has since expanded that SA network to support voice traffic.
Dish launched its multivendor, greenfield 5G SA core network and commercial service in June.
Verizon more recently began moving commercial traffic to its cloud-native 5G SA core network following extensive delays.
A recent report from LightCounting Market Research noted that ongoing “headwinds” have limited the deployment of 5G SA networks to just 20 at the end of last year. This was just 10% of the 200 5G non-standalone (NSA) commercial networks deployed worldwide.
The research firm explained those headwinds are fueled by “the lack of 5G business cases beyond enhanced mobile broadband combined with some network architecture issues” that continue “to inhibit 5GC SBA [5G core service-based architecture] rollouts.”
“Communications service providers are just sweating their EPC/vEPC [evolved packet core/virtualized evolved packet core] assets, in such conditions, there is no rush to move to 5GC SBA,” the firm wrote. sdxcentral