2019 Open Network Summit: AT&T Virtualizes its Network; Deploys White Boxes in Toronto and London; 400G and Open ROADM

Last week at the 2019 Open Network Summit, AT&T  announced that its white box switch/routers, which  interconnect compute servers in the network cloud, are live and carrying 5G traffic. This is part of the company’s push to virtualize its network, which at the end of 2018 had 65% virtualized network functions.  AT&T’s goal is to virtualize 75 percent of its core network functions by 2020. “This year (2019) our goal is to get to 70 percent,” Fuetsch said in his Thursday morning keynote. “Why not faster progress this year?  We left all the hard stuff for last.”

AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch during his keynote address at 2019 Open Network Summit

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Sidebar:  AT&T 5G White Boxes

The radio access network (RAN) includes radios on towers, small cells and other types of equipment that traditionally “were specialized, expensive devices sold by a small number of (wireless network equipment) vendors,” said Fuetsch in a blog post. Those vendors “dictated costs, technical capabilities and upgrade schedules. They controlled the hardware and the software.”

This status quo no longer makes sense, now that carriers are deploying 5G wireless, which will support higher speeds and lower latency, Fuetsch argues. Wireless network traffic is expected to skyrocket, but carriers cannot afford to increase the price of service commensurately.

AT&T previously released specifications for a white box router for use in its 5G network and invited vendors to submit proposals to build the router. Feutsch’s blog post notes that the company is working on additional hardware specs with the O-RAN Alliance, an industry group focused on defining 5G white box requirements.

The other AT&T 5G white box initiative highlighted in Fuetsch’s blog post is something he calls the “network cloud white box,” which he said is now live in the AT&T network and carrying 5G traffic.  This device would be a switch that would interconnect servers in the edge data centers that AT&T is establishing to support low-latency 5G wireless applications. Some of these applications need more processing power than end-user devices can support, which dictates a cloud approach. But the cloud resources must be located near the end-user to provide low latency.

The servers in the edge data centers are powered by the ONAP open source network operating system that AT&T played a key role in developing.  The white box deployment uses a software stack that will be part of the open source Disaggregated Network Operating System (DANOS) Project, and AT&T plans to introduce its code contribution to the community soon

Also in the blog post, Fuetsch noted that AT&T has deployed white boxes in Toronto and London to support internet service for business customers and that the company plans to offer the devices in 76 countries by the end of the year. In addition, he  said AT&T is working on technology that would enable a single fiber optic wavelength to carry 400 Gbps.  For its 400G deployment, AT&T expects to use Open ROADM optical networking for interoperability, to achieve more competition, mix and match between vendors, and lower the barrier to entry for startup vendors, Fuetsch said.

“These white boxes and open source routing software that we’re deploying, the cell site router initiative that we’re putting in is going to 65,000 (domestic) cell sites over the coming years,” Fuetsch said.

AT&T contributed its white box specs to the Open Compute Project last year, which led to the development of the cell site router gateway that it’s showing at ONS this week. AT&T is demonstrating a white box router gateway from UfiSpace that was developed via the OCP specifications.

Fuetsch said AT&T planned to update 65,000 cell tower sites with the UfiSpace white boxes. While he didn’t provide a timeline, he said those efforts were ramping up this year.

“This is a hardware box that is based on Broadcom’s Qumran chipset, and it’s basically a cell site router that is a hardened for extreme environmental conditions,” Fuetsch said. “So think like negative 40 Celsius up to 65 degrees Celsius operating ranges. It’s also a box that basically can support interfaces from as low as 100 megs all the way up to 100 gig for both supporting our radio based RAN units as well as our backhaul needs.”

While AT&T hasn’t said which vendors it’s using for the internet white boxes, AT&T is running its Vyatta software stack on them, which Fuetsch said AT&T still planned to contribute into the Linux Foundation’s DANOS community at some point this year.  These open, white box systems allow AT&T to run 10 times as much traffic as the proprietary routers it previously bought at the same price. Fuetsch declined to give a time frame for when a majority of AT&T’s network might operate on open source-based hardware, but said certain aspects of it will in the coming years.

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Regarding AT&T’s motivations for open source, Fuetsch identified security, freedom of choice, flexibility, and interoperability. “As we shift from a hardware-centric network to a more software-centric network we needed a way to get our software to become more open, more flexible. We also were looking for software that’s more secure. Open source is inherently more secure because you have more eyeballs on it,” he said.

“We believe that not only having more open reference designs on the hardware level but also having more open source based projects in that ecosystem will drive more innovation, more economic solutions, more competition, thus a better experience and products and services for our customers,” he said. “Open source has really become a major foundation to a lot of our major network initiatives.”

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AT&T’s Network by the Numbers:

• 214 Countries & territories
• 1.1M+ Global fiber route miles
• 253 Petabytes per day

“5G” Deployment:

• 12 5G US cities launched (with pre-IMT 2020 standard, 3GPP Release 15 NR, NSA implementation)
• 9 additional 5G US cities coming soon
• Nationwide 5G early 2020 (IMT 2020 won’t be completed by then)

In the next 5 years [Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast & Trends 2/27/19]:

• 3x Increase global IP traffic
• 7x Increase mobile IP Traffic
• 71% Traffic from wireless devices

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References:

https://about.att.com/story/2019/open_networking_summit_2019.html

https://about.att.com/innovationblog/2019/04/open_source_and_white_box.html

https://events.linuxfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Fuetsch-ONS-2019-keynote-FINAL.pdf

One thought on “2019 Open Network Summit: AT&T Virtualizes its Network; Deploys White Boxes in Toronto and London; 400G and Open ROADM

  1. AT&T expands 5G+ network to California, Austin, Nashville, and Orlando

    Less than four months after launching a mobile 5G network in parts of 12 U.S. cities, AT&T today expanded the network’s footprint with seven additional locations. The expansion includes the carrier’s first four 5G offerings in the state of California, as well as single-city additions in Florida, Tennessee, and Texas.

    AT&T’s 5G+ coverage list now includes some of California’s most populous cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. The carrier has also added Florida’s most popular tourist destination, Orlando, plus the capitals of Texas and Tennessee, Austin and Nashville, respectively. As was the case before, AT&T says its service is available in “select areas” of the cities, rather than completely covering them.

    Unlike other carriers, AT&T is specifically marketing three different types of “5G” service. The company differentiates between 5G+ based on millimeter wave technology, a slower but nationwide blanket of 5G, and its controversial, lawsuit-provoking “5G Evolution,” which is actually just late-stage 4G technology using speed-enhancing features. Today’s expansions are all 5G+ specific.

    One notable omission from today’s list is Las Vegas, Nevada, which was on AT&T’s list of expected “early 2019” 5G+ cities last September. Its place appears to have been taken by Austin for the time being.

    AT&T currently offers 5G+ service using a single device: Netgear’s Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot. Unlike rival Verizon, which is now offering an early 5G smartphone option online and in select stores, AT&T’s Nighthawk sales page still doesn’t have a “buy now” link, instead asking customers “interested in trying out the Nighthawk” to provide contact information for an email or phone pitch.

    Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G is expected to become available for AT&T’s 5G+ network this spring, while a subsequent Samsung phone will connect to AT&T’s 5G+ and 5G towers. LG’s less expensive V50 ThinQ 5G phone is not yet expected to become available for AT&T 5G customers.

    https://venturebeat.com/2019/04/09/att-expands-5g-network-to-california-austin-nashville-and-orlando/

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