President Biden has said he plans to sign the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act into law. The legislation – now passed by both the House and Senate – is designed to strengthen the chip manufacturing industry in the US and also to finance scientific research.
Contained in the bill is $1.5 billion for open RAN funding. Dish Network, which is building a nationwide 5G network using open RAN, hopes to get some of that cash. It would do so by submitting a grant application under the program.
"Dish applauds the CHIPS Act's investment in O-RAN tech, which will help spur American job creation, enhance wireless network security, and foster a more US-centric supply chain for 5G," said Dish's legislative affairs chief Jeff Blum.
The CHIPS and Science Act provides the funds necessary to enact the USA Telecommunications Act, which became law in 2021 but didn't include any actual funding. The USA Telecommunications Act is designed to promote "the use of technology, including software, hardware, and microprocessing technology, that will enhance competitiveness in the supply chains of Open RAN 5G Networks" via grants administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
US government funding for open RAN represents the culmination of years of lobbying by the wireless industry.
"The Open RAN Policy Coalition applauds the US House of Representatives for its passage of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The funding for Open RAN research and development included in this legislation is critical to increasing supplier diversity and catapulting the next generation of telecommunications network innovation. Our Coalition believes that government support is essential for the ongoing development and deployment of Open RAN 5G (and future generation) technology. This investment by Congress now will foster the creation of a secure, sustainable and future-proof supply chain for wireless network technologies," said Open RAN Policy Coalition Executive Director Diane Rinaldo in a statement. The lobbying group was created in 2020 and includes the likes of Verizon, Nokia, Dell Technologies, Google, Dish and others as members.
Dish is one of many companies that can apply to the NTIA for open RAN funding. Other open RAN players in the US range from Mavenir to Samsung to Inland Cellular. AT&T, Verizon and other big US network operators have said they intend to explore open RAN technologies but have not committed to wide scale deployments of the technology.
US policymakers view open RAN as a way to support the development of domestic 5G equipment suppliers in order to stanch the rise of Chinese vendors like Huawei, which they view as a security threat. At its core, open RAN technology is intended to separate RAN components into interoperable pieces, thus allowing different suppliers to connect their products together like Lego blocks. Such an approach represents a sea change to traditional, classical RAN architecture, which is typically supplied solely by a single big vendor like Samsung, Huawei, Nokia or Ericsson.
However, there's plenty of debate over open RAN, both from policy and technological standpoints. For example, some have argued that open RAN technologies could create security concerns. And on the policy side, it's unclear whether open RAN technology will help foster US-based suppliers. Already US open RAN vendor Parallel Wireless announced significant job cuts. On the other hand, JMA Wireless has received accolades for its new 5G manufacturing facility in New York.
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