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On March 26, AT&T announced plans to deploy white-box routers to replace legacy routers at 60,000 cell sites. AT&T’s direction provides an open programmable router at most macro cell sites allowing migration of edge computing resources closer to the subscriber. AT&T can offer new innovative services by using the open source development community.

AT&T pushes white-box routers toward carrier grade

With this announcement, AT&T is signaling to the existing vendors that they need to disaggregate their router solution based on AT&T whitepaper “Towards an Open, Disaggregated Network Operating System”. AT&T cell site router is using commodity network processors and open Disaggregated Network Operating system (dNOS), which AT&T plans to release to the Linux Foundation. Migration of cell site router to white-box represents low-hanging fruit based on the routing protocols required. Routers deeper in the network require support for additional protocols, different types of traffic, and security, which will require supplemental development from the open source community to address the larger infrastructure investment. Ovum estimates that cell site routers are less than 10% of AT&T’s overall switch and routing spending, but it provides a strong foothold for white-box technology. Another implication of this announcement is that AT&T is shifting edge computing toward macro cells as opposed to centralizing cell site technology deeper into the core. This direction was driven by the latency requirements of 5G applications. AT&T’s earlier announcements have system vendors developing white-box routers including Coriant’s Vibe, and disaggregated software like Cisco IOS XR on select white-box routers. In 2015, Juniper began supporting white-box solutions with minimal success, but commodity network processors and white-box vendors continue to improve. Service providers need to watch how the ecosystem develops between legacy equipment manufacturers and the white-box and open source development community to see if this will bear fruit.


Further reading

Service Provider Switching & Routing Forecast Report: 2017–22, TE0006-001412 (August 2017)
Service Provider Switching & Routing Forecast Spreadsheet: 2017–22, TE0006-001411 (June 2017)
Mobile Backhaul and Fronthaul Forecast: 2017–22, TE0006-001413 (June 2017)
Market Share Report: 4Q17 and 2017 SP Switching & Routing, SPT002-000052 (March 2018)


Don Frey, Principal Analyst, Transport and Routing
[email protected]

Ovum Consulting

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