AT&T taps Metaswitch for session border controller in software-centric network

As part of its mission to virtualize 75 percent of its network by 2020, AT&T (NYSE: T) is using Metaswitch's Perimeta session border controller (SBC) to power a portion of its software-centric network.

Metaswitch representatives say that by embracing virtual network functions (VNFs) like the Perimeta SBC, AT&T can offer its customers a variety of differentiated services on a cost-effective, flexible and programmable basis. The Perimeta SBC will allow AT&T to connect its LTE network traffic with other carriers' networks via SBCs.

Metaswitch was selected last year as an initial vendor for AT&T's user-defined network cloud concept, along with Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC), Tail-F Systems and Affirmed Networks.

As the telecom world moves to software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), AT&T has been one of the most vocal about its plans, saying it's well on its way to virtualize 5 percent of its network functions by the end of this year.

At AT&T's analyst day event last week, John Donovan, senior EVP of AT&T's technology and operations, said the carrier is rapidly moving to deploy SDN into its mobile network to lower the company's networking costs. Its first foray into SDN was its mobile packet core. He also said AT&T is being "very aggressive" in its efforts to install Ethernet connections to its cell towers for backhaul.

The session border controller started out as a product allowing VoIP to get through firewalls, but it seemed to take on a life of its own and became a product that effectively secures access to any media session, including video, and allows for analyzing in terms of how signaling is being routed when calls are set up, according to Steve Gleave, senior vice president of marketing at Metaswitch.

Gleave told FierceWirelessTech that Metaswitch considers itself disruptive in the sense that it's a network software provider as opposed to an equipment provider and it's always written its software as running off the shelf, noting that the "commercial off the shelf" trend has been all the rage these days in telecom.

"We see ourselves as a network software provider and we see the operators who are most likely to thrive in the new world as being very software-centric themselves," and embracing virtualized network functions and putting them in the cloud, he said.

How fast are other operators following AT&T? "It's a big change. The way you're building these networks is going to be a combination of software assets put in geographically agnostic data centers. You're going to chain these assets together to deliver services. It offers huge amounts of flexibility, cost efficiency, intelligence, programmability, but it's also a big change," he said. "It's happening across the industry, but these guys [AT&T] are definitely positioning themselves out in front."

Research firm IHS says service providers are still early in the 10- to 15-year transformation to virtualized networks, and it forecasts revenue from outsourced services for NFV projects to grow at a 71 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2014 to 2019. IHS also predicts service providers around the world will increase their spending on SDN software by 15 times from 2015 to 2019.

Supporting open source is another big commitment AT&T has made. Metaswitch made a foray into open-source projects in 2013 when it launched Project Clearwater to provide a free IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) core for the cloud. Its Project Calico, which rolled out last year, is its second open-source effort. It aims to shift connectivity for large-scale NFV and cloud implementations from Layer 2 to Layer 3, enabling the connection model to work directly at the IP level.

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