AT&T plans to install more than 60,000 open source, software-powered white boxes across its network over the next several years in support of its aggressive 5G plans. The carrier today stated those white box routers are part of a “radical realignment” of its network architecture and key to supporting 5G services.
“White box represents a radical realignment of the traditional service provider model,” said Andre Fuetsch, CTO and president of AT&T Labs, in a statement. “We’re no longer constrained by the capabilities of proprietary silicon and feature roadmaps of traditional vendors. We’re writing open hardware specifications for these machines, and developing the open source software that powers these boxes.”
Fuetsch explained that the open specifications allow for faster hardware upgrades “since anyone can build to these specs.” This also supports software upgrades “that move at internet speed.”
5G This Year
AT&T earlier this year said it will have 5G service in up to 12 markets by year-end. The carrier has already announced three of those markets: Atlanta, Dallas and Waco, Texas.
As part of those deployment plans, the carrier is enhancing its current cell sites and building new sites using small cells. These enhancements and new sites will use white box routers powered by the carrier’s recently announced Disaggregated Network Operating System (dNOS).
AT&T first announced its dNOS plans late last year. DNOS will basically be used as the operating system within the white boxes deployed at cell sites in support of 5G.
In a white paper, AT&T explained dNOS will separate a router’s operating system software from the router’s underlying hardware; provide standard interfaces and APIs for a framework within the base operating system, control and management plane, and data planes; and standard interfaces/APIs that provide a clean separation of control plane from data plane.
Chris Rice, senior vice president of AT&T Labs and the carrier’s Domain 2.0 Architecture, told SDxCentral that the dNOS efforts — and corresponding white paper — were a culmination of ongoing white box work inside the carrier.
“Switches are Layer 2 and much simpler; routers are Layer 3 and support a lot more protocols,” Rice said. “DNOS can apply to both. But frankly, it’s going to be much simpler to do in switches. We talked about routers in the white paper because we think it’s much harder.”
The dNOS efforts build on AT&T’s acquisition last year of Brocade Communication’s Vyatta assets. The carrier plans to release the dNOS code into the open source community through the Linux Foundation.
MEC and ONAP
The dNOS software being deployed into the more than 60,000 white box routers will also be part of AT&T’s efforts around multi-access edge computing (MEC). In combination with 5G technology, this will allow support for applications that require low latency like augmented reality and autonomous vehicles.
AT&T has been pushing its MEC efforts as a way to garner more efficiency and network support for 5G. The carrier last month donated some of those efforts into the Linux Foundation as part of the newly created Akraino project.
Akraino is an open source software stack that can support carrier availability and performance needs in cloud services optimized for edge computing systems and applications. The AT&T code is targeted at developing carrier-grade computing applications running in virtual machines (VMs) and containers.
Akraino also continues AT&T’s work in tapping the broader Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) as a way to automate services from the edge to the core of the network.
ONAP started as part of AT&T’s ECOMP platform before being merged with the similar Open-O project within the Linux Foundation. AT&T is looking to ONAP as a key component of its broader network virtualization plans.
“Ultimately, instead of deploying islands of technology that have SDN [software-defined networking] control, we want to orchestrate the entire end-to-end network through ONAP,” explained Eddy Barker, assistant vice president for access architecture and design at AT&T.