AT&T has announced some details of their new 3.0 network upgrades, dubbed "Indigo", at a wireless industry event in San Francisco.

The highlight from a consumer angle is the news that they are in the process of expanding their 5G network from its current testbed in Austin, Texas to a live implementation with consumer access in Austin and Indianapolis, Indiana in the coming months. Additionally, they are building out two new 5G testbeds for AT&T labs in Austin to further test fixed wireless 5G connections and signal coverage for the 28GHz, 39GHz, and sub-6GHz frequency bands.

The initial network speeds for the new 5G locations will be a theoretical 400 Mbps, that will eventually incorporate carrier aggregation and LTE-License Assisted Access to enable theoretical peak speeds up to 1Gbps in some areas in 2017.

"We see Indigo as the third generation of modern networking," said John Donovan, chief strategy officer, and group president, Technology and Operations. "Indigo is our term for a world where it isn't just your connection speeds that are accelerating, but every element of the network becomes more seamless, efficient and capable. It is a living, evolving, upgradeable platform. Think of Indigo like the operating system on your phone. We're taking that model to the network."

But 5G isn't the only big change for Indigo. AT&T plans to extend their Software-Defined-Networking (their brand of network virtualization) to cover 55% percent of the customer base. Today, 35% of the network has been converted to SDN and the future goals are to have 75% of it converted by 2020.

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Powering it all is ECOMP. ECOMP is a computing platform specially designed to handle the needs of a stressful environment like a virtualized data network, and starting today ECOMP is now part of a larger open-source project in collaboration with the Linux Foundation. We're to learn more from the Linux Foundation in the coming weeks.

We also learned more about AT&T's push to build a trusted network where confidential data can be shared and doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities can collaborate while keeping patient records safe and HIPAA compliant. This opens the door for remote testing and clinical trials and could speed research to fight disease. We've already seen a 5G network go live in Australia and chips from Qualcomm that can use it, so this is something happening now, not years from now.

There's a lot of future thinking here. A virtualized 5G network is how AT&T envisions what's next, and seeing important changes in the way the network is built for both better management and user privacy is encouraging. When 5G becomes common, it would be nice to see it future-proof even if only for a short time.

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