AT&T is planning to phase out Cisco's equipment from a significant portion of its infrastructure with an in-house switch meant to route data traffic coming through its network, The Information reported Thursday, citing sources familiar with the project. Besides allowing AT&T to replace a large volume of Cisco's own solutions and save "millions of dollars" on an annual basis, the switch would also provide AT&T with the ability to customize its devices, whereas Cisco's hardware cannot run modified operating system versions, one insider claims. The project is understood to be progressing according to plans and should lead to the deployment of "thousands" of such switches in 2019, whereas the first prototypes are meant to be completed by this June.
The reported move is an extension of AT&T's shift to "white box," i.e. unbranded hardware, with the company already announcing a similar initiative several days back, having said it's planning to deploy 60,000 branding-free routers in the coming years so as to improve the capacity of its network while simultaneously slashing its operating costs. The rollout will directly benefit its 5G ambitions and the newly reported switch is likely to do the same, providing the company with more infrastructural flexibility while simultaneously lowering its spending bill in the long term, freeing it up for other initiatives or even just increased dividends for shareholders without making any networking compromises. Cutting costs still isn't AT&T's main motivation for replacing Cisco's network traffic switches with its own solutions, with the prospect of relatively burden-free customization being a much larger contributor to that decision, one source claims. The transition to white box hardware already allowed AT&T to slash its spending on Cisco-made network solutions to $400 million in 2017, down from $2 billion in 2013, as per the same report.
The device AT&T is developing is said to be similar to Facebook's modular switches, the second one of which was launched in late 2016 as the "Backpack." Cisco already announced plans to separate its networking switches from the software and sell them independently of one another even though the majority of its customers still don't have the technical expertise to implement white box solutions into their infrastructure and will likely continue purchasing them bundled. AT&T's device is reportedly being made in collaboration with several firms, including Barefoot Networks and Edgecore Networks. Such unbranded hardware generally offers better performance and more straightforward, cheaper maintenance due to a much lighter operating system it runs.