Michael Dell is the 25th richest person in the world, as calculated by Forbes. That means he's probably the single richest individual supporter of the open RAN trend.
"Open RAN allows the US innovation in software and interoperable hardware to create a United States-based 5G telecom equipment lead in the world," Dell said in keynote comments at the recent virtual Incompass trade show. "Connectivity is economic opportunity."
To be clear, Dell isn't necessarily a new name in the open RAN discussion. Dell, along with Microsoft and AT&T, in February voiced public support for Larry Kudlow's open RAN proposals for 5G. Kudlow is President Trump's economic adviser.
And more recently, Dell issued filings with the FCC encouraging the agency to use "open standards-based compatible equipment, including open-architecture, software-based 5G Open Radio Access Network (RAN)" in its Huawei "rip and replace" program.
In his Incompass comments, Dell (the billionaire) left no doubt about where he stands on the topic. "These new technologies like open RAN are going to allow for faster deployment, particularly in rural networks," he said.
Dell added: "It's not pie in the sky, it's actually here now." That's likely a reference to a separate 5G proposal from another Trump appointee, US Attorney General William Barr, who famously referred to open RAN as a "pie in the sky" technology. Barr, for his part, is recommending the US government purchase Nokia or Ericsson as a counter against China in 5G – which apparently is not a pie-in-the-sky concept.
To be clear, Dell isn't approaching the open RAN topic from a neutral standpoint. Dell (the company) sells equipment and services that can be used in a 5G open RAN network. And Dell (the billionaire) owns a private money management firm called MSD Capital that is backing a company called RS Access that owns 12GHz licenses.
"More spectrum is going to be needed for 5G," Dell said in his Incompass appearance, arguing that the FCC should pave the way for 5G operations in the 12GHz band. "There's no technical reason why it can't be used for two-way services."
Dell's basic, top-line message in his Incompass remarks is that the US government should take a more active role in 5G. "We need a partnership between government and industry focused on 5G for standards, supply chain and to address the security issues, so the US can get it right," he said.
"I worry about the economic implications of losing out in this super important priority," he added.
Dell (the billionaire and the company) aren't alone in supporting open RAN. Although the relatively obscure technology promises only to create interoperable connections between various RAN components like radios and baseband units, it's being seen as a way to shore up Western markets against Chinese security threats, to open the sector to more diverse equipment suppliers, and to create more secure networks, among other elements. As a result, a range of policymakers, startups, operators and other suppliers are supporting the open RAN trend.
It's unclear how exactly the US government might engage in the open RAN scene. However, some analysts believe the technology is already having a significant impact on the mobile sector, regardless of political interventions. For example, research and consulting firm Mobile Experts recently wrote that open RAN technologies can cut 34% out of the cost of deploying a network for coverage in a rural area. However, the firm said open RAN is not mature enough to be used to improve network capacity in urban areas.