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Intel scored a big partnership with AT&T — the telecom giant announced that it would move aggressively to Intel technology as it builds out its future network.

Diane Bryant, executive vice president of Intel’s Data Center Group, announced the partnership at the Intel Developer Forum today in San Francisco. The deal shows that communications networks are undergoing a transformation to cloud computing. AT&T and Intel are already partners, but now they’re getting even closer.

Bryant said that a virtualized network infrastructure, running on standard Intel chips, can be defined with software and enabled across the cloud. That could replace networks that used to require high-cost custom silicon solutions.

By moving to standard Intel Xeon chips in the servers for its data centers, AT&T will virtualize the functions across its network. Apps that previously ran on custom hardware will now run on the network function virtualization. AT&T wants to shift 75 percent of its workloads to this network virtualization technology by the year 2020.


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“This serves as a showcase use of cloud as an architecture and a business model,” said Jason Waxman, corporate vice president at Intel, in an interview with VentureBeat.

John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of AT&T technology and operations, said that Intel and AT&T have been collaborating for 12 years.

“You’ve been a great partner and have been talking about this for half a decade,” Donovan said. “Now here we are.”

Bryant said, “We are collaborating to accelerate this transition.”

In an earlier session on stage at IDF 2016, Tom Keathley, senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design at AT&T, said that Intel and AT&T are working together on 5G networks, which will bring much faster data speeds across the globe and be able to accommodate the Internet of Things, or making everyday objects smart and connected. 5G deployments will likely start deployments in 2017, with true 5G service in 2018, Keathley said.

Donovan said that 5G is the most tangible driver of the switch for AT&T to virtualized networks.

“The network has to be fast and low latency, and we have to be able to change it on the fly,” Donovan said. “What used to take weeks can now take seconds. You can add capacity to the networks and it takes 91 seconds. It used to take us 120 days.”

The aim is to make the edge of the network as competent at the center of the network over time, said Murthy Renduchintala, Intel’s president of the client, Internet of Things, and system architecture group.

“5g will not be a singular, homogeneous network,” Renduchintala said while on stage at IDF 2016. “It is a construct that integrates many different networks. Sensor technologies will have a diff network paradigm. Those networks have to be managed in a seamless manner.”

Verizon also said that 5G, smart cities, and other coming tech are forcing the shift to network virtualization. SK Telecom, NTT Docomo, Vodaphone, and others also talked about the importance of 5G and network virtualization.

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