November 6, 2017 — DALLAS, Texas — AT&T is building an edge computing test zone in Palo Alto, California, where developers and other companies can test connected applications like self-driving cars, augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR), and drones.
The test zone will go live in early 2018. At launch, the zone will use a 4G LTE connection. We expect to upgrade it to 5G once the final standards and equipment are ready, perhaps as early as the end of 2018.
“Edge computing is the next step in the evolution of the network,” said Melissa Arnoldi, president, AT&T Technology and Operations. “As connectivity becomes ubiquitous and fast, it also needs to become smart. Edge computing puts a supercomputer in your pocket, on your wrist, in your car, and right in front of your eyes.”
Edge computing solves the challenge of how to offer high-performance, power-hungry applications on mobile devices. Today, an AR app on a smartphone, for example, can either offer high-end images or long battery life. Cranking up the visual detail burns through the battery. Reducing power consumption generally means graphics that aren’t as sharp.
Moving the processing to the cloud is the next logical step. But in today’s networks, the physical distance between you and the data center where the images are calculated and rendered creates latency as those requests and responses travels hundreds or thousands of miles. You can often notice a delay between when you turn your head or press a button and when the image on your headset responds.
So we have to move the data processing closer to you. With edge computing, we’ll install graphics processors and other computers in cell towers, small cells and other parts of our network that are never more than a few miles from our customers. This is what’s known as the edge of the network. In addition, low latency is being built into 5G from the get go. The result: you will be able to run high-end applications in the cloud, and it will feel like it’s all happening right on your device.
Our AT&T Foundry innovation centers in Silicon Valley and Atlanta are leading the creation of the Palo Alto test zone.
The goal of this edge test zone will be to invite developers and other third parties to rapidly test and innovate with us. While we don’t have specific projects up and running yet, we could see projects related to AR/VR, drones, and autonomous cars. We’ll help them get connected to our network and turn their concepts into prototypes. We’ll also explore potential business models for these new services. As with all AT&T Foundry projects, success is never guaranteed. But our rapid innovation model means we can move on quickly when an approach isn’t panning out and apply lessons learned to future projects.
“Our goal in this experiment is to find the right architecture, the right services and the right business value in this ecosystem,” said Igal Elbaz, head of the AT&T Foundry. “It’s all about moving quickly and collaborating closely with third-party innovators and developers.”
The Palo Alto edge computing test zone will be as much a learning experience for us as it will be for the developers and companies who come in. The initial test area will cover several miles and could expand over time. Being in the heart of Silicon Valley means we can work directly with both startups and big companies in one of the world’s most innovative communities.
In addition to the AT&T Foundry, AT&T Labs is leading a company-wide effort to architect and develop a large-scale, low-cost, and zero-touch edge computing platform that leverages open source edge stack. Today, we published a whitepaper on att.com/innovation outlining some of the technical elements behind edge computing and we encourage innovators interested in this technology to check it out.