A new coalition called the Open RAN Policy Coalition – made of companies including Microsoft, Google, Qaulcomm, Verizon, and Vodafone – has been formed to lobby for more open access to the 5G supply chain.
The new organisation already has more than 30 companies signed up, and will join the ORAN Alliance and TIP OpenRAN in lobbying for 5G openness (although it will apparently have no liaison or cooperation with other groups, according to the IEEE). And the Open RAN Policy Coalition will push for multi-vendor deployments, which it hopes will enable a more competitive marketplace.
“As evidenced by the current global pandemic, vendor choice and flexibility in next-generation network deployments are necessary from a security and performance standpoint,” said Open RAN Policy Coalition Executive Director Diane Rinaldo. “By promoting policies that standardize and develop open interfaces, we can ensure interoperability and security across different players and potentially lower the barrier to entry for new innovators.”
Moving beyond a closed system
Traditionally, for the likes of 3G and 4G RAN installations, the radios, hardware and software would be provided by a single manufacturer as a closed system, which is why banning suppliers such as Huawei has had such a significant effect in some markets. But now the industry is working towards Open RAN standards and technical specifications that define open interfaces between the radios, hardware and software so that networks can be deployed using multiple vendors.
“The lack of supplier diversity for network equipment lies at the heart of the concerns over the resilience and security of critical national infrastructure,” said Johan Wibergh, Chief Technology Officer, Vodafone Group. “Vodafone is focused on expanding our supply chain options through engaging with open RAN vendors and encouraging newer network providers, to ensure the optimal balance across suppliers. Our industry leading trials of open RAN have underlined that this is the most promising route to advance niche suppliers, to supplement the large vendors, especially for radio equipment and software.”
Opening up the 5G RAN would give mobile network operators (MNOs) a greater ability to manage their networks and, according to the launch statement for the Open RAN Policy Coalition, the “flexibility to draw on the innovations of multiple suppliers to upgrade their infrastructure with the latest technology”.
Using multiple interoperable suppliers also allows operators to potentially move more quickly to replace or address vulnerable network equipment when reacting to threats, and shift network capacity on demand.
According to the launch statement from the coalition, it believes that the U.S. Federal Government has an important role to play in facilitating and fostering an open, diverse and secure supply chain for advanced wireless technologies, including 5G, “such as by funding research and development, and testing open and interoperable networks and solutions, and incentivizing supply chain diversity”.
A global pressure group
Although the group has a core of US companies backing it, the Open RAN Policy Coalition will be a global organisation, which will lobby not just in the United States, but around the world.
“We encourage authorities – not least in Europe – to include open RAN deployments as part of their future industrial strategies and provide support for R&D, piloting and deployment of open RAN as well as to start-ups in radio software,” said Joakim Reiter, External Affairs Director, Vodafone Group. “In Africa, we would encourage open RAN as part of international financial institutions’ assistance to bridge digital divides and ensure far more people enjoy the benefits of connectivity, which in light of Covid-19 has never been more urgent.”
The founding members of the coalition are Airspan, Altiostar, AT&T, AWS, Cisco, CommScope, Dell, Dish Network, Facebook, Fujitsu, Google, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, Mavenir, Microsoft, NEC, NewEdge Signal Solutions, NTT, Oracle, Parallel Wireless, Qualcomm, Rakuten, Samsung Electronics America, Telefonica, US Ignite, Verizon, VMWare, Vodafone, World Wide Technology, and XCOM-Labs.