AT&T EVP and CTO of network services Andre Fuetsch (pictured) told Mobile World Live (MWL) the operator plans to have 50 per cent of its core backbone traffic running on white box switches and open hardware by the end of 2022, advancing its goals around software-defined networking (SDN) and virtualisation.

Fuetsch noted the white box deployments are one element of AT&T’s overall commitment to SDN, virtualisation, disaggregation and openness.

AT&T began installing white boxes in its backbone in 2017. They employ standardised harware components and are designed to be controlled by network operating system software.

OEMS can employ common hardware reference designs to construct products using open software more quickly than proprietary systems, with operators then selecting the elements which meets their requirements.

“Operators around the world are now beginning to use those exact designs and then we have the flexibility to run whatever software on top of this we want,” Fuetsch noted.

The outgoing CTO credited the work of SVP of Engineering and Operations Igal Elbaz and his team for the decoupling of hardware and software on the core backbone.

AT&T named Elbaz as Fuetsch’s successor, a change scheduled to take place next month.

Fuetsch told MWL white box deployments and other work to virtualise AT&T’s network functions was all “part of a long journey to actually get us positioned for probably one of the biggest transformations that will come to the industry next and that’s the virtualisation of the RAN”.

He added AT&T’s move around this would happen in the “near future”.

Elbaz branded Fuetsch an “industry icon” and said AT&T will focus on converging its fibre and wireless networks, and building multi-service capabilities at the edge to provide low-latency services.

The executives explained AT&T remained committed to organisations including the Open Compute Project, Open Networking Foundation and the Linux Foundation, with Elbaz also set to take over Fuetsch’s role on the board of the O-RAN Alliance.