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And the Winner is Software.

Mar 6, 2015

Dan Pitt offers his remarks regarding AT&T’s announcement at the Mobile World Congress. 

At the Mobile World Congress this week, one of the world’s largest wireless carriers – AT&T – proclaimed its goal to become a software company. I was in the room when John Donovan delivered that talk at the beginning of the session my panel was in. That’s a bold statement but it follows naturally from AT&T’s messages of the last year and a half since they announced Domain 2.0. It doesn’t mean they won’t own hardware and transmission gear but it does mean they will have taken ownership of the software that governs the operation of the hardware. We predicted that network operators would be forced to make significant changes to their technology, their thinking, and their business structure to extract value from their networks. These companies are no longer working to support networks whose limitations dictate how they conduct their business; instead, they are making changes to take control of and bring programmability to their networks. When ONF was founded four years ago, we envisioned fundamental change in the networking world. We are seeing those changes taking place today.

The shift to software was one of many encouraging announcements from both network operators and vendors. In fact, our industry predictions last year foretold many of the changes AT&T is now implementing. We noted that vendors and operators would leverage open-source software as the desirable route to network standards, and turn to open-source software to reduce development expenses. Network operators like AT&T are beginning to adopt and even demand open-source software for common building blocks, and this is an essential pivot toward progress in networking.

With AT&T’s announcement, the company noted that it would be experiencing a cultural shift and changing its hiring and training practices to include more software engineers. Donovan mentioned specifically their cultivation of real-time distributed software skills. This shift further demonstrates the industry’s move from hardware to software, and the need for skills training to keep engineers at the forefront of this sea change.

AT&T is planning to virtualize 75 percent of its network applications by 2020, with five percent virtualized by the end of this year. While network virtualization and network functions virtualization are not identical to SDN, SDN is a great enabler of them and AT&T expressly mentioned its embrace of SDN. I am encouraged to see operators recognizing the value of SDN for the betterment of their networks – and their businesses. AT&T has put a stake in the ground – it’s not just a call to action for its own network, but – as an industry bellwether – for the networks of every operator around the world.

We applaud AT&T for its commitment to take its networks to the next level. We look forward to hearing more concrete updates from AT&T and to seeing more operators follow suit, including the many we work with directly.

- Dan Pitt, Executive Director

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Dan Pitt