FCC Seeks Comment On Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN)

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The Federal Communications Commission adopted a Notice of Inquiry to start a formal discussion on the opportunities and potential challenges presented by open and virtualized radio access networks, and how the FCC might leverage these concepts to support network security and 5G leadership.

The FCC seeks comment on the current status of development and deployment, whether and how the FCC might foster the success of these technologies, and how to support competitiveness and new entrant access to this emerging market.

The Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN) concept promotes the use of open interface
standards in the portion of the telecommunications network that connects wireless devices —
like mobile phones— to the core of the network. This can be implemented in vendor-neutral
hardware and software-defined technology based on open interfaces and standards. In
addition, Open RAN allows disaggregation of the radio access network, enabling interchangeable technologies that promote network security and public safety. The FCC
is seeking input from academics, industry, and the public on what steps are required to deploy
Open RAN networks broadly and at scale.

The Notice of Inquiry seeks comment on Open RAN development and
deployment in networks in the US and abroad. It asks about the role of established large
manufacturers and new entrants in setting standards for this new network architecture. It seeks
input on what steps should be taken by the FCC, federal partners, industry, academia, and
others to accelerate the timeline for Open RAN standards development. Further, it seeks
comment on any challenges or other considerations related to the deployment, integration, and
testing of systems based on Open RAN specifications. The NOI also requests comments on the
costs and benefits associated with Open RAN development and deployment.


The FCC’s Technological Advisory Committee, a group of industry representatives that
provides technical advice to the Commission, recently recommended that the Commission
encourage the development of the Open RAN ecosystem by supporting Open RAN innovation,
standardization, testing, and security and reliability.

One round of comments is in, and it’s mostly as one might expect: Open Radio Access Network (open RAN) is a good direction for the wireless industry, but the federal government should not mandate any particular technology on the road to open RAN. That’s one of the themes from the comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the agency’s inquiry into open RAN. In March.

Stakeholders as diverse as Google and Qualcomm submitted their thoughts, alongside AT&T, Dish Network, Verizon, T-Mobile, the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP), and many more.  Some commenters took the opportunity to opine at length. For example, Ericsson’s comments run over 40 pages. Ericsson was more or less on the sidelines until joining the O-RAN Alliance in early 2019. O-RAN ALLIANCE was founded in February 2018 by AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DOCOMO, and Orange. It was established as a German entity in August 2018.

O-RAN

O-RAN ALLIANCE’s mission is to re-shape the RAN industry towards more intelligent, open, virtualized, and fully interoperable mobile networks. The new O-RAN standards will enable a more competitive and vibrant RAN supplier ecosystem with faster innovation to improve user experience. O-RAN-based mobile networks will at the same time improve the efficiency of RAN deployments as well as operations by the mobile operators. More about O-RAN

Ericsson told the commission that it undertook its cloud RAN initiative when it did because “the time was right from a technology and business perspective. We urge the commission to recognize the openness evident in the marketplace today, and to forswear use of government mandates to drive the marketplace toward any particular vision of openness.”

Verizon reminded the FCC that a lot of work remains to be done by the technical groups within the O-RAN Alliance and standards bodies such as 3GPP. While there are numerous examples of open RAN being deployed around the world, there’s an important distinction to be made between greenfield networks and existing networks, the latter of which is going to take more time to implement.

After the C-band auction, Verizon announced that its suppliers will be providing open RAN equipment to support its C-band and millimeter wave 5G deployments by the end of this year.

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