AT&T releases white box specifications into Open Compute Project

Ahead of deploying white boxes into thousands of its cell sites over the coming years, AT&T has released its white box specifications into the OCP.

While AT&T has been working with several vendors on its white box implementations, putting its specifications into the Open Compute Project will bring even more companies into the developmental fold. Instead of working with a few proprietary vendors, the white box blueprints are a reference design that provides guidelines to any hardware vendor that wants to build a white box gateway router.

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.

AT&T is a veteran of spurring innovation efforts forward by putting projects into open source, including ONAP and Acumos. In March, the Linux Foundation announced the Disaggregated Network Operating System (DANOS) project to enable community collaboration across network hardware, forwarding and operating system layers. DANOS is based on AT&T’s “dNOS” software framework.

Also 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. By putting its white box specifications into OCP, AT&T is speeding up the development of white boxes ahead of its planned launch of 5G.

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At some point, the white box routers will not only connect phones and tablets to AT&T's 5G network, but also new technologies such as autonomous cars, drones, augmented reality, virtual reality and smart factories, among other use cases.

“This transformation is about meeting the surging data demands of our customers as we head into this 5G world,” said Chris Rice, senior vice president, Network Cloud and Infrastructure at AT&T, in a prepared statement. “Data traffic on our wireless network has grown 360,000% since 2007. We now carry more than 222 petabytes of data on an average business day. The old hardware model simply can’t keep up, and we need to get faster and more efficient.

"We believe this white box approach helps us meet that demand while allowing us and others now to innovate faster than ever before."

AT&T's open hardware specification allows the software to be split, or disaggregated, away from the hardware, which in turns allows service providers to pick and choose the best combinations of hardware and software that suits their need.

The hardware specification uses the Broadcom Qumran-AX switching chip with deep buffers to support advanced features and QOS. There's also a baseboard management controller for monitoring and recovery, and a high-powered CPU for networking operating software.

AT&T said it was using the DANOS operating system software, which stems from last year's acquisition of Vyatta, to control and manage the white box hardware.

"The Vyatta Network Operating System (NOS) stack is production-hardened and an excellent match for the demanding functional and reliability requirements of the cell site gateway router,” said Robert Bays, assistant vice president of Vyatta Development at AT&T Labs, in a prepared statement. "

Early last year, AT&T announced a coast-to-coast trial of white box switching that took less than three months to implement. AT&T teamed up with Barefoot Networks, Broadcom, Delta Electronics, Edgecore Networks, Intel, and SnapRoute on the white box switching trial.

In May, Verizon announced it was working with Juniper Networks and Cisco to decouple those vendors' software from hardware to create a multiservice edge platform.

The Verizon edge router use case had Cisco and Juniper pulling their software from their routers and then putting them onto the common compute x86 boxes, which would speed up deployment times while also lowering capex and opex, according to Verizon.