AT&T's Mazin Gilbert discusses game plan for next-generation networks

"We are doing a lot of work in ONAP to drive more automated testing," says AT&T's Mazin Gilbert. (Pixabay)

Give AT&T's Mazin Gilbert a half an hour or less, and he will entirely lay out how his company is using artificial intelligence, machine learning and edge networks as just some of the building blocks for a next-generation network.

Gilbert, vice president of advanced technology and systems at AT&T Labs, gave FierceTelecom an overview of how all of the various pieces of AT&T's networking puzzle are coming together.

In a previous Q&A, Gilbert spoke about how AT&T was building towards an autonomous network using artificial intelligence and machine learning. In this interview, which was edited for clarity and length, he discusses edge networking, open platforms and open APIs.

FierceTelecom: Does the industry in general need more open APIs and more open platform developments?

Mazin Gilbert: Yes, certainly this whole movement is about adopting open platforms and open APIs. That's exactly the movement we're driving as AT&T and we are working with the entire industry to move in this direction. I think we are doing that for software-defined networking and moving more and more of our workloads to virtualization.

We're doing that in the AI space and the machine learning space and driving the community around that with the Acumos and the Deep Learning umbrella. We have now 15 members in the Deep Learning umbrella. We're making tremendous progress in that space. There are some big players who have already joined and contributed substantial code.

We are adopting that same principle, open platforms, open APIS and collaborations, in the edge cloud space. You've heard us announcing Akraino and Airship and with these capabilities we are really driving a community for open platforms and APIs in the edge.

I think what you're going to see is more of that in 5G. I think that's where the focus needs to now start looking at; bringing open platforms and open interfaces into 5G. We're starting to work heavily with the X-RAN and the O-RAN Alliance on adopting the same principles of open platform and open APIs. Bringing all those together is really what's going to allow us to create these ubiquitous mobile applications like AR and VR, autonomous cars, all the way to CDNs. It's about bringing those applications to completely different experience that we can't do today. I'm excited about all this coming together and what 5G brings into this mix.

FierceTelecom: Edge compute and edge networking seem to be hot items right now with carriers and enterprises wanting to move things close to the edge. What's AT&T's take on the edge?

Gilbert: This is obviously important to us, too. I consider the edge as a piece of the puzzle I just mentioned. It's not the puzzle. It's a piece of this puzzle. Bringing the edge includes all of the AI and machine learning that AT&T has talked about. It's bringing the intelligence and the data, and bringing the software-defined transformation, the physical network functions and VNFs and then 5G in the next generation access all together. It's really what we call at AT&T our network AI. The edge is a key piece of that. It's a key piece for several reasons. For us this is a game changer because first, we think of the edge as a continuum all the way from the customer device to our backbone, the core of our network and third-party clouds

It's a continuum, but in this continuum we have tremendous assets starting with the customer device. We've started aggressively enabling white boxes for enterprise customers and that's sort of an enterprise edge, with things like uCPE and AT&T's FlexWare. You see that from AT&T. Take that maybe a mile away and then you hit the network edge. We own thousands of COs, regional centers and national data centers. These are not just physical locations. These are physical locations that have fiber, networking power and infrastructure.

We now have these assets where you can abstract applications to start driving SLAs for applications, optimize how traffic moves, and where CPU and storage are located. We've invested in all of this across that continuum.

FierceTelcom: Right now with ONAP, we have a six-month cadence for the new software releases. Will the time between releases shorten going forward?

Gilbert: Ultimately, I want us to get to a point where we don't just talk about every-six-month releases for ONAP or Acumos or for any of these open source initiatives. Because we've adopted cloud technology automation, because  lot of the orchestration in the CI/CD environment, I can basically cut a release at any point in time. All my testing is automated. We are doing a lot of work in ONAP to drive more automated testing. This is now a criteria for every release. 

I'm very excited about all of these things coming together and how all of them include adopting this principle of open platform and open APIs. I'm excited about the community growing across all these sectors. Like I mentioned, I think inserting 5G into this mix is going to be a real game changer in the level and the types of applications we're going be able to support and offer going forward.