AT&T is Deploying White Box Hardware in Cell Towers to Power Mobile 5G Era
Via AT&T News Room
Mar 25, 2018
Dallas, Texas, 25 March 2018
Over 60,000 White Box Routers Will Be Installed Over the Next Several Years, Enabling New Customer Experiences at Lower Cost
AT&T* plans to be the first to mobile 5G in the United States. To power our new network this year and beyond, we’re building our towers and small cells in a radically new way.
We’re going with white box.
What does that mean? It means we’re transitioning from the traditional, proprietary routers that sit inside these structures to new hardware that’s built around open standards and can be quickly upgraded via software. We expect to roll out over 60,000 of these white box routers over the next several years across the U.S.
This isn’t a vision. It’s a plan that we are committed to.
A year ago, we announced our first successful trial with white box equipment. We expanded on that trial this year.
“White box represents a radical realignment of the traditional service provider model,” said Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer and president, AT&T Labs. “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. This means faster hardware upgrades, since anyone can build to these specs. And software upgrades that move at internet speed. We’re doing this all while keeping costs low so we can focus on expanding our nationwide mobile 5G footprint for our customers as quickly as possible.”
These machines will use open hardware designs so anyone can build to our specifications.
dNOS on white box
These white box routers run what we call our “Disaggregated Network Operating System,” or dNOS. We built this platform in part using technology and expertise we acquired with the Vyatta unit we bought last year. dNOS is the network operating system for white boxes. We hope to see it adopted as open source software across our industry. We recently published a whitepaper outlining the program. We intend to release it into open source via the Linux Foundation.
ONAP and dNOS
Orchestrating these dNOS-powered white box machines is ONAP, or Open Network Automation Platform. ONAP is an operating system for the network cloud.
We’ve committed to virtualizing 75% of our core network functions by 2020. We hit our 55% goal in 2017. We’re announcing today that our goal for 2018 is 65%. We’ll be providing additional context at the Open Networking Summit in Los Angeles this week.
Tools like ONAP are vital to deploying and managing the next generation of ultra-fast broadband speeds for our customers.
For example, we are working to integrate the Open Networking Foundation’s work on VOLTHA, the software powering our future XGS-PON broadband network, into ONAP. Passive optical networks like XGS-PON promise internet speeds up to 10 Gbps. By integrating VOLTHA within ONAP, we can expand trials into more cities and bring the service to customers more quickly.
And ONAP will be vital to managing our future nationwide mobile 5G network.
Why it all matters
We believe that a virtualized, open-source, white box approach is the best way to go.
Mobile 5G will be about more than just speed. It will also bring much lower latency. Latency is the time between when you press play on your favorite video streaming app and the moment your show appears on the screen. For some applications, latency is critical. For example, with augmented reality or self-driving cars, it needs to be near real-time for any applications running in the cloud.
Mobile 5G can make that super-low latency possible. But to run those applications in the cloud, you need a network and a platform that can host those applications at the cell towers and small cells in close physical proximity to users. This is known as “edge computing”. Running those apps in data centers thousands of miles away from users doesn’t work. Distance adds latency.
Using white box routers and other hardware in our towers and small cells help those types of edge applications smoothly. And it means we can update and upgrade them at the push of a button. We recently announced Akraino, a software stack to improve the state of edge cloud infrastructure for carrier, provider, and IoT networks. That project is also being released into open source via The Linux Foundation.
They all work together. ONAP, dNOS and white box will help make them a reality.
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