AT&T powers up white box cell site gateways in production test

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—AT&T's Andre Fuetsch announced on Tuesday at the first ONF Connect conference that his company now has white box cell site gateway routers deployed in a large-scale production test.

Fuetsch, ONF chair, president of AT&T Labs and chief technology officer, said the white box cell site gateway routers were carrying live network traffic.

"This is a huge accomplishment," Fuetsch said. "This is really exciting. This is a first for us. We believe in our community of operators it’s a first for the industry."

Fuetsch offered kudos to Chris Rice, senior vice president of network cloud and infrastructure at AT&T, and his team for getting the white box cell site gateway routers out into the field for a production test run.

The cell site gateway router is designed to address the evolving needs of backhaul transport requirements as mobile service providers make the move from legacy technologies to new 5G RAN technologies.

The software stack running the white box cell site gateway routers is AT&T’s “dNOS” software framework, which AT&T put into open source back in March with the Linux Foundation under the Disaggregated Network Operating System (DANOS) project.

In March, AT&T said it would install more than 60,000 open source, software-designed white boxes at its cell tower locations over the next several years. 

RELATED: AT&T releases white box specifications into Open Compute Project

In October, AT&T released its white box router specifications into the Open Compute Project. By working with ONF and OCP, Fuetsch said AT&T was pushing the development of the ecosystem for benefit of the entire industry by working with other service providers and vendor partners.

"With DANOs coming shortly you will have the puzzle pieces that everyone can take and employ whether you are a large operator or small operator," Fuetsch said. "You can take this and make it happen. We think this is significant and a really critical component here."

"Next year we'll begin to deploy more of these routers. We expect to have several thousand cell sites deployed with these boxes and this is what is powering our 5G network that we're building right now. Our intent is to make this ubiquitous across our network over the next few years," he added.

In addition to cell tower sites, Fuetsch said AT&T was also deploying white boxes on top of rack switches.

"We're now using those into our disturbed core that we're now building for our network cloud, which will basically become 5G as it gets rolled out from the core," Fuetsch said. "As you can see, all of these implementations are beginning to take root on all of our locations big and small.

"Orchestrating all of this from above we have our ONAP platform that we're petty proud of. We're seeing some significant returns from that from the large ecosystem that has evolved around it. We're hoping do similar thing here with these projects we have at ONF," he added.

Fuetsch also said that AT&T has deployed white boxes in international sites including Toronto, Singapore and Amsterdam.

"We are expanding that to more than 70 other global locations, all with these white box routers to support our internet service offerings and other services," Fuetsch said. "These are accomplishments that really have been based on this industrywide transformation effort by all of the wired technology. What we're expecting here is to accelerate these efforts in the access space as well. That's really where the big money and big opportunity is."

Fuetsch also said that AT&T is trialing the ONF's SDN Enabled Broadband Access (SEBA) reference design in Georgia and Texas. The SEBA reference design is a lightweight version of R-CORD (Residential Central Office Rearchitected as a Datacenter). SEBA supports access technologies, such as PON, G.Fast and DOCSIS, at the edge of service providers' networks. Deutsche Telekom and Turk Telecom are also planning SEBA deployments.

ONF's operator membership includes AT&T, China Unicom, Comcast, Google, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, NTT Group and Turk Telecom.