AT&T set out to break the chains of closed hardware ecosystems, with plans to deploy 60,000 white box routers in its cell towers and small cells over the next few years.

CTO Andre Fuetsch said in a statement the white boxes will replace traditional hardware as the operator pivots toward a new open source network model. He noted the change will allow faster hardware and software upgrades by opening the ecosystem to more developers, while also saving the operator money as it embarks on a nationwide 5G build.

“We’re no longer constrained by the capabilities of proprietary silicon and feature roadmaps of traditional vendors. We’re writing open hardware specifications for these machines, and developing the open source software that powers these boxes.” Fuetsch explained.

The operator added deploying white box routers and other hardware at cell sites will also help it transition to an edge computing architecture which will enable ultra-low latency.

AT&T’s white box routers will run on a disaggregated network operating system, or dNOS, which the operator said it hopes to release into open source via The Linux Foundation. Orchestration will be managed by the operator’s software-based Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP). AT&T said ONAP will be a key tool in bringing next generation broadband to more customers and will be “vital to managing” it’s forthcoming mobile 5G network.

The push to incorporate dNOS and ONAP into its network forms part of AT&T’s ongoing network virtualisation effort. The operator hit its goal to virtualise 55 per cent of its core network functions in 2017, and announced it aims to increase the proportion to 65 per cent by the end of 2018.