There’s a lot of explaining to do around Open RAN, both in terms of what it is and what it is not, even as U.S. policymakers show keen interest in helping to drive Open RAN development.
Diane Rinaldo, executive director of OpenRAN Policy Coalition, said that the recently formed group of 56 companies often has to start with educating people about the basics, as well as the fact that the group doesn’t see Open RAN as one specific technology.
“Our message is simple: If you standardize the interfaces and the protocols, you allow for a mix-and-match, and when you do that you’re going to be able to drive competition and innovation,” Rinaldo said during yesterday’s Open RAN Forum virtual event.
The coalition, she said, aims to answer the questions that policy makers have already been asking for awhile: What kind of policies help drive a diverse and robust supply chain? The Open RAN Policy Coalition offers up three pillars, Rinaldo said: public-private partnerships, international cooperation and funding. The U.S. government has a long tradition to driving technical innovation and development through DARPA, IARPA, NTIA’s telecom labs and the Department of Energy’s labs, for example.
The international cooperation might seem a bit surprising, given that part of the attraction of Open RAN for U.S. policy makers is an interest in helping to drive a supply chain that is more domestic-focused or at least, doesn’t rely heavily on Chinese vendors, which have been a source of bipartisan concerns over security and largely been banned from use in government networks or networks subsidized by the federal government.
“When we first started five months ago, we were thinking just domestically, understanding there’s been a robust conversation in Washington about OpenRAN,” Rinaldo said, adding “Not trying to boil the ocean, but with the addition of a handful of our foreign members, we realized this conversation is truly global in nature and that [it’s] important to be part of the conversation, talking to counterparts in France, in the EU, in Brazil, in Tokyo. It’s been great to see people coalesce around the idea of driving more competition into the telecom space.”
Rinaldo also noted that funds for helping developing nations use Open RAN in their networks will also have an impact on both the overall development of Open RAN, as well as the breadth and strength of the ecosystem.
In a Q&A session on policy and Open RAN, John Baker, SVP of business development at Mavenir and a board member for the Open RAN Policy Coalition, noted that funding for standardization, building interoperability labs and test networks to prove out the concepts are other options for furthering the progress of Open RAN, where he says there is still much work to be done to fully specify and fully open the relevant interfaces.
“Everybody is convinced this is the way to go, but everybody is sitting on the edge, not being quite sure that it’s ready now, and I think from a Policy Coalition perspective, it’s really getting people to that point that they can feel comfortable about taking that big step forward and being part of the process and it’s all bout collaboration and working together to make sure there interfaces are tested,” Baker said, adding that, “If you go back in history, every ‘G’ that’s been launched, there’s always been technical issues and the industry has always moved through them, to the extent that subscribers have not seen many or any of the issues.”
Although Baker said that U.S. companies could “take the lead” on Open RAN, he also noted that the nature of the Open RAN ecosystem means an opportunity for new market entrants around the globe.
“We’re going into disaggregated networks and we’re going into a disaggregated supply chain, and the majority of the technology that is used in these network is certainly coming from U.S. companies,” he said. “But when you open up these interfaces, there’s absolutely no reason that start-up companies or smaller companies around the world couldn’t play in this, because it takes a lesser investment to actually get involved in the technology.”
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