SANTA CLARA, California — AT&T says its cell-site white box routers are in a large-scale production test carrying live network traffic. “This is a first for us, and we believe a first for the industry,” said Andre Fuetsch, CTO at AT&T. “Next year, we’re going to start installing these routers in several thousand towers. We think this approach will help support and accelerate the mobile 5G era.”
At the Open Networking Foundation’s (ONF’s) Connect conference today, Fuetsch explained that the routers will be installed at cell towers in AT&T’s wireless network, where they will direct the data traffic flowing back and forth between customers and the internet.
Traditionally, AT&T bought these routers from a handful of vendors, and the equipment was highly specialized and came with specialized software. But the company decided to change the model, designing its own open hardware to create white box routers that would run open source software. Going live with these white box routers is the culmination of work that AT&T has been doing throughout 2018.
In March, the company announced 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 5G plans. Around the same time, the operator contributed its disaggregated network operating system to the Linux Foundation as part of the DANOS open source project. DANOS is the operating system that runs on these white box routers. Some of the DANOS code originally came from AT&T’s purchase of the Vyatta assets from Brocade.
And in October AT&T released detailed specifications for the white box routers, which it said are specifically cell-site white box gateway routers. The open specifications enable any hardware maker to build the routers.
AT&T is on a tight deadline to deliver on 5G. It’s been saying that it will launch mobile, standards-based 5G in 12 cities by the end of this year. “As we go to 2019, you’re going to hear more cities,” said Fuetsch. He added that coupling white box hardware with open disaggregated software on top is a key component in accelerating 5G.
He also mentioned AT&T’s white box top-of-rack switches, which the company first announced in 2017. He said those switches are being used in AT&T’s Network Cloud, “which will basically be powering 5G.” And he said: “We have our ONAP platform orchestrating this all from above.”