ATIS keeps its open RAN standards work decidedly vague

ATIS said it will begin work on a 'Minimum Viable Profile' for open RAN. However, the standards group declined to say which companies it will work with to develop its open RAN specification profile.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

February 23, 2024

4 Min Read
Handshake over global network link connection illustration
(Source: Vittaya Sinlapasart/Alamy Stock Photo)

ATIS, a North American standards group, said it will begin work on a "Minimum Viable Profile" for open RAN. The association said it would take up the MVP effort after it was initially introduced by a White House agency, the NTIA, last year.

However, ATIS declined to say which companies it will work with to develop its open RAN specification profile.

"At this early stage of the initiative, the complete roster of company participants is not yet available, but it is driven by the North American operators," ATIS President and CEO Susan Miller wrote in response to questions from Light Reading.

"Given the focus of this initiative is to define the MVP, the key stakeholders are the MNOs [mobile network operators] and system developers for the US/North American market," Miller continued. "Participating stakeholders were identified to advance the focus, efficiency and effectiveness of the initiative given the short time frame for developing and defining the MVP. Participants include both ATIS members and non-members. US government representatives have also been invited to this industry-led initiative."

Miller added that ATIS would not favor one flavor of open RAN over another. "It is not based on any particular vendor variation but will be a profile based off the O-RAN Alliance and other associated specifications (such as 3GPP)," she wrote.

Those comments are noteworthy, considering there are growing fears among open RAN proponents that O-RAN Alliance standards could fracture among various proposals. For example, Ericsson recently began backing a new iteration of open RAN that some worry could lead to fragmentation.

Picking up after the NTIA

Top officials in the Biden administration disclosed last year that they were looking to standardize on a subset of open radio access network (RAN) specifications – a "profile" – that they could use to promote the technology in the US and internationally. According to officials and executives involved in the early discussions, Microsoft, Dell, Intel and Mavenir were among the companies pushing the effort inside the NTIA, a White House agency.

Amanda Toman, the director of NTIA's Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, discussed the MVP effort at the MWC Las Vegas trade show last year. The NTIA is in the early stages of passing out $1.5 billion in grants through the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, designed to foster the development of open RAN networks domestically and internationally. The NTIA is an agency of the US Department of Commerce that serves as President Biden's principal adviser on telecommunications policies.

The NTIA's MVP proposal has both proponents and opponents. Some executives, including those involved with the NTIA, argue it makes sense for the agency to create an open RAN definition. However, opponents of the MVP concept worry that it could stymie the development of open RAN technologies not included in the profile. Moreover, they fear that the companies involved in creating the MVP might play favorites, moving to eliminate standards that would create an advantage for rivals.

ATIS to the rescue

"The MVP will identify MNOs' common requirements, including architecture, feature/function definition, and associated performance and interoperability requirements, needed to develop, integrate, and simplify baseline open RAN solutions," ATIS explained in a release.

ATIS has worked to organize the North American wireless industry across several other topics. For example, the Next G Alliance sprang from a 6G "call to action" by ATIS. The association has also addressed topics including secure supply chains, robocalls and hearing aid compatibility for cell phones. Meaning, ATIS is often the place where major North American telecom companies go to solve real-world problems.

"This is an ATIS effort carrying on the NTIA MVP effort," Miller, the ATIS CEO, wrote to Light Reading. "NTIA has always had an interest in having the industry undertake defining the MVP and, as such, ATIS' MVP Initiative reflects the US government focus and the desire that 'trusted private sector partners' develop the profile."

ATIS' new involvement in open RAN comes as little surprise. Big US operators like AT&T and Verizon have recently made various open RAN announcements. AT&T and Verizon recently announced they're getting $42 million from the NTIA to test open RAN equipment from the likes of Fujitsu, Mavenir, Dell Technologies, Intel, Radisys, Rakuten, Red Hat, VMWare by Broadcom and Wind River Systems.

However, open RAN is nothing new to the US market. Dish Network's 5G network runs on open RAN specifications. AT&T tested open RAN designs in 2020. In 2021, the company told the FCC it would introduce open RAN equipment into its network "within the next year." Similarly, a top Verizon official told Light Reading in 2021 the company would deploy open RAN-compliant equipment that year.

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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