The status of the plan to remove untrusted equipment from wireless networks with secure gear is of great interest to CompetitIve Carriers Association members, many of whom will need financial help to accomplish the task. The status of so-called “rip & replace” was a big topic of discussion at the virtual CCA annual convention Wednesday.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) said Congress passed the Secure & Trusted Communications Network Act, which gives providers financial incentives to strip out Huawei equipment and replace it with secure alternatives. The FCC estimates the changes could cost between $1.6 to 1.8 billion dollars.
“I am working with my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to secure those funds in upcoming legislation,” he said.
Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) authored the bill specifically to help small, rural providers. He called it a “strong first step on our part but our work is not done. It will cost billions of dollars to replace all the gear in networks and Congress needs to provide the funds to make that happen as quickly as possible.”
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr discussed his hopes for Open RAN, or Open Radio Access Networks. With ORAN, cellular radio networks consist of hardware and software components from multiple vendors operating over network interfaces that are open and interoperable. Supporters like Carr say Open RAN will lead to more vendor diversity and better network security. He compared it to the unbundling of computers in the ‘80s and ‘90s “when prices dropped and the market exploded.”
“That’s what we will see in wireless as well,” said Carr, noting that more competition will bring down prices both in hardware and software. Plus, “we will get a far more secure network on the software level.”
In a question and answer session with Berry, the CCA leader said: “Our members are concerned about the supply chain issue. What can we do to speed the adoption of ORAN?”
Carr said funding issues are still being worked through. However, “I’m hopeful the timing on this is going to line up so that providers have a true choice in replacing [untrusted gear] with ORAN or ORAN-ready equipment. This investment we’re making to take insecure equipment out and put in secure equipment isn’t necessarily a one for one swap, but a swap that gives carriers a leg up on this transition to ORAN.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief