Technology Blog

Chances are you expect a lot more from your phone today than you did 5 or 10 years ago. Streaming and downloading videos, hailing rides, playing games, uploading photos. Your phone is now much more than a voice and text machine.

Your network made all that possible.

And if we want to keep expanding that mobile capability over the next few years, then we need to upgrade the network. The network is the invisible element of the connected world, but it’s the oxygen that allows every app, every video, every game, and every song to fly on your device.

With the 5G era almost upon us, the demands on the network are about to get much heavier.

So we need to make sure it’s ready. And we’re doing this in several ways, as I’m outlining today at the Open Networking Foundation’s Connect conference in California.

One major element is the equipment that goes into the more than 60,000 cell towers in our wireless network. In these towers we have high-powered routers directing the data traffic flowing back and forth between our customers and the internet.

Traditionally, we bought these routers from a handful of vendors, and the equipment was highly specialized and came with specialized software. The hardware and software functioned as a single unit. Being dependent on a single vendor makes upgrades slower, increases cost, and hampers innovation.

So, much like we’ve done in other parts of our network, we’re changing the model.

Rather than buying a single, closed package, we’re designing our own hardware specs for these routers and encouraging any manufacturer to build to those specifications. This is known as the “white box” model. In addition, we’re writing our own software for these machines, and we’ll release parts of it into open source, so any other service provider can use it.

We first announced our plans for white box routers earlier this year. What’s new is that we have our first routers now installed carrying live network traffic. This is ready for prime time. So starting next year, we’re going to start installing these routers in several thousand towers. We think this approach will help support and accelerate the mobile 5G era.

And speaking of open source, early last year, we committed ECOMP to open source, which led to the creation of ONAP. This is essentially the operating system for a software-defined network. Since then, ONAP has evolved into a game-changing open source initiative, and its member carriers serve almost 70% of the world’s mobile subscribers.

We’re excited to announce the next iteration of ONAP, the Casablanca release. Casablanca brings additional support for cross-stack deployments across new and existing use cases such as 5G and Cross-Carrier VPN. These developments wouldn’t be possible without the support of the community and the contributing members of the Linux Foundation. We saw this collaboration first-hand recently at an ONAP Academic Summit we hosted in NYC, which brought together students from universities around the world to learn more about ONAP and the integral role it can play in academia.

The goal is to make the network not just better for our customers, but for every mobile user. These platforms and templates are roadmaps for any service provider that needs to be ready for the next-generation mobile demands that are about to become a reality. 

Andre Fuetsch
Andre Fuetsch President – AT&T Labs and Chief Technology Officer