Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking once again at All Things Open 2018. If you’re not familiar with All Things Open (ATO), you should be! Billed as “a conference exploring open source, open tech and the open web in the enterprise,” this was the sixth iteration of ATO—and wow, has it ever grown!

The Raleigh Convention Center was packed with over 200 speakers and close to 4,000 attendees learning about DevOps, cloud, networking, UI/UX/Design, machine learning, programming languages, IOT, security, databases, open government and more. The conference also places great emphasis on diversity and inclusion, with a free day-long inclusion event to kick off and keynotes from speakers from diverse backgrounds and nationalities.

I was excited to share some of what we’re working on with a talk on Open Source in the Era of 5G. The 5G build-out happening now has been described by VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger as “potentially the largest capital build-out of the remainder of our careers.”  But more than that, it has the potential to touch our daily lives in all sorts of exciting ways—many of which we haven’t even dreamed up yet.

Believe it or not, it was only 10 years ago when we got the first iPhone that was truly useful on mobile networks (the iPhone 3G). Since then, mobile connectivity has become essential to many of us—in fact, 2016 mobile internet usage surpassed desktop browser access and the cost per megabyte of data has dropped by 99.7% since 2006. 5G sets the stage for the next big evolution of mobile networks and it has some high bars to meet. We’re aiming for speeds up to 10Gbps, latency dropping from 50ms down to 1ms, up to a million connections per square kilometer, and cost will continue to be driven down.

We’ll get there in part by expanding the networks to many more edges—both classic big towers and small cells—and by expanding compute capacity out from the central data centers to many of those edges. When servers are in the cell towers, a lot of processing that used to happen many miles away can happen much closer to where people are located.

A ubiquitous network with these characteristics will bring many benefits, including:

  • Control of critical systems in real-time from afar
  • Truly useful and immersive AR and VR
  • Massively enhanced transportation
  • Entire fleets of systems managing themselves without us by communicating with each other
  • Replacement of Wi-Fi networks
  • Access to high definition media anywhere.

All of this is important because the way we use the network is changing fast, too. The computer you use every day is no longer just your laptop, tablet or phone. Your car is a mobile computer on wheels (I literally have a service appointment for mine next week due to a software bug!). Airplanes are basically connected computers with wings, with tons of connected computers inside showing movies to passengers, connected to even more computers on the ground keeping them safe and on time. Most of us consume our entertainment through connected devices. Even our power grid can increasingly be thought of as a network of computers that also happens to transmit electricity. All of these connected technologies will be touched by new generations of telco networks.

Much of the 5G buildout’s promise rests on a fundamental shift from special-purpose hardware to software-defined infrastructure. To quote Pat again (hi boss!) on the subject of projects pushing forward 5G: “We’ll have two types: those built on NFV, and those that won’t work.” The shift to software is already moving the needle on flexibility, speeding delivery and enhancing both quality and manageability. And it’s all being built with an amazing array of open source technologies!

Much of the technology that we’ve used to pool together resources into clouds under common APIs is now moving out to widely dispersed telco networks that arc across continents. Even if you may not be personally bringing up infrastructure with OpenStack, orchestrating nationwide deployments with ONAP or running edge sites with Kubernetes, you’ll soon be taking advantage of those and many more open source projects without even knowing it.

Yet as amazing as the 5G buildout is shaping up to be, it’s my belief that all of this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s the thing: if we do this right, the biggest changes are yet to come. If we build it with the right mix of software; if we successfully virtualize network functionality; if we can keep a lid on complexity, it’s my belief that we may see the next generation of mobile networks arrive a lot sooner than the 10-year cycles we’re used to seeing. They might not even arrive as a big-bang event—in many cases, new functionality that we can use every day might simply land as a patch.

“Carrier grade” is the new bar for software.  At VMware, we believe that “Open Wins When Open Works. Open Works Here.” That’s why we’re proud to be a sponsor of All Things Open and proud to be building open source for everyone. See you next year!