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AT&T says it is on track with SDN 2020 plan

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Telecoms.com caught up with AT&T’s Chief Marketing Officer of Business Solutions, Steve McGaw, at Mobile World Congress 2015 to discuss the US operator’s biggest focus areas, particularly on the enterprise side. The telco said it is on track with its plan to transform the large majority of its network to software-defined by 2020.

According to McGaw, there are currently three key areas that represent a great opportunity. “The internet of things is one of the biggest trends occurring, and I feel like we’re just at the base of Mount Everest in terms of what the growth rates are going be for that,” he said.

“The second major theme on the business side is collaboration, voice, data messaging – all in one suite of services over a mobile connection. But they [businesses] want it to be location-independent so they can use it when they travel, and they want it to be device-independent so that they can do it on their desktop, or laptop or mobile device. And they want it for a predictable price per employee per month as opposed to having a contract with a carrier, a separate contract with the software company and a separate contract with the device manufacturer.

“So we’ve put all that together into something we call AT&T Mobile Office Suite that we announced yesterday. So this collaboration technology is really an explosive opportunity that we’re seeing.”

The third key focus for AT&T is virtualization, and McGaw said this is an area that also highlights the importance of security and trust. “There’s this over-arching theme with companies of security – making sure that their data is secure whether it’s secure in the data centre, secure in the device or secure in the connectivity between those two points.”

Having recently launched its Network on Demand service in two* US states, McGaw was keen to emphasise AT&T’s SDN strategy, claiming the telco is leading the game in this space in the US. “We’re on the leading edge of this. We have fully committed to this, our Head of Architecture and Technology John Donovan says 75% of our network will be software defined by year 2020.”

From the customer point of view, McGaw admits there are difficulties in making the transition from old network systems to software-defined, a process often further complicated by enterprises subscribing to services from several providers. But he says clients are moving in this direction regardless, and so is AT&T. “There’s a lot of embedded infrastructure that was not designed for this kind software-defined and software-controlled model. With our business customers, we also have to be pragmatic and recognise that they have hybrid networks served by multiple carriers that may not be on the same timetable that we are. So one of the challenges is how do we help transition our customers to software-defined businesses at the same time we transition ourselves.

“But the customers are already going there, and I’d like to say that our business customers typically didn’t get into telecom management… The more that we can take off their plate, they’re happy to give to us, but they want it secure, they want it well-managed, and that’s part of the value proposition that we’re trying to put through.”

*Updates on 04.03.2015: since first publishing this article, a representative of AT&T got in touch to correct the Network on Demand service has so far been launched in two states, not five as first told Telecoms.com during the interview.

Telecoms.com’s coverage of Mobile World Congress 2015 is sponsored by NEC.

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