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AT&T to deploy 60,000 white box routers

by Martha DeGrasse

Carriers sets goal of 65% virtualization


When mobile network operators talk about network virtualization, they often describe changes that will come to central offices and data centers. But virtualization is also coming to the network edge, as evidenced by AT&T's plan to replace the routers at 60,000 cell towers with white box hardware over the next several years.


“White box represents a radical realignment of the traditional service provider model,” said Andre Fuetsch, AT&T Labs CTO and president. “We’re no longer constrained by the capabilities of proprietary silicon and feature roadmaps of traditional vendors.”


Traditional vendors like Ericsson and Nokia may play a smaller role in emerging 5G networks than they have in LTE networks. AT&T did not name any vendors or suppliers for the white box router project, but the carrier did name several partners last year when it announced a related white box switch project. The company said Barefoot Networks, Broadcom, Delta Electronics, Edgecore Networks, Intel Corporation, and SnapRoute provided the standardized hardware and open source software for that trial.


The new routers are being deployed at cell tower locations in order to bring more flexible compute power to the network edge, where operators expect more and more data processing to occur. Self-driving cars, virtual reality and other low latency applications that require mobility will rely on servers placed close to the network endpoints rather than in a distant data center.



Open source software
AT&T said its white box routers will use its disaggregated network operating
system, or dNOS. The carrier acquired some of this technology when it bought Brocade’s Vyatta unit last year. AT&T will make dNOS widely available to developers by releasing it to the Linux Foundation, just as it released its ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy) software last year.


AT&T’s news dropped on the first day of the Open Networking Summit, and the carrier said it will provide additional news at the conference about its plans to move more network functions into software. Last year AT&T said it has virtualized 55% of its core network functions and today it said that it will virtualize 65% by the end of this year.


Orchestration of edge routers is one core function that the carrier plans to move to open source software in the near future. AT&T’s white box routers will be coordinated using the Open Network Automation Platform, or ONAP.


AT&T said its new software-driven architecture will extend to small cells as well as to towers, and will be a cornerstone of its commitment to be the first U.S. carrier to offer a mobile 5G network.


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Small Cell Market Forecast

Profiles of 19 small cell vendors plus total addressable market forecasts and predictions of the numbers of actual nodes that have been and will be deployed. Explanations of fronthaul, backhaul, CPRI, eICIC, and mobile network architecture. Discussion of the different types of small cell architectures, including outdoor distributed antenna systems (DAS.). Report produced by iGR Research.


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