O-RAN Alliance begins search for new leadership
The chairman of the board of the O-RAN Alliance, AT&T's Andre Fuetsch, plans to step down from his position on Tuesday, August 30.
"Alex Jinsung Choi [a Deutsche Telekom executive] has been appointed as interim Chairman of the Board, until the next chair will be appointed according to procedures set in the O-RAN's constitution," wrote Zbynek Dalecky, of the O-RAN Alliance, in response to questions from Light Reading.
The association's constitution outlines the details of how the association might vote for a replacement for Fuetsch.
It's unclear whether the appointment of new leadership might spark geopolitical tensions. Current O-RAN Alliance board members include executives from the likes of Bharti Airtel, Dish Network, China Mobile and Deutsche Telekom. That's noteworthy considering some policymakers – particularly those in the US – see open RAN technology generally as a lever to use against the rise of Chinese vendors like Huawei.
Thus, the makeup of the leadership of the O-RAN Alliance – the primary group developing open RAN specifications – could become a political issue. Already the US government is looking to bulk up the American presence in the 3GPP, the standards group developing 5G specifications.
Telecom and politics
Indeed, global politics have already slipped into the selection of leadership at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). "Russia and China are seeking to move Internet governance to the ITU where bottom-up design of internet standards could be replaced with top-down decisions based on the politics of nation-states," warned Tom Wheeler, a former FCC chairman, in a recent article.
Wheeler noted that two top candidates for the ITU's leadership position are American Doreen Bogdan-Martin and Rashid Ismailov, a Russian.
"It is a competition between two visions of the Internet: an open Internet, or a kind of state-controlled Internet that resembles Russia's and China's," Wheeler said of the upcoming ITU leadership vote, scheduled for later next month.
Already the O-RAN Alliance's role on the world stage has been called into question. Nokia last year paused all technical activity in the group, apparently worried it was not compliant with US law. In response, the O-RAN Alliance "approved changes to O-RAN participation documents and procedures," according to Nokia, thus paving the way for Nokia to return to the group.
Nonetheless, the situation highlights the tightrope that top telecom executives must walk as they try to develop global technologies – and foster global economies of scale – while at the same time addressing political and regulatory concerns of security and technological independence.
Regardless, the departure of AT&T's Fuetsch from the O-RAN Alliance comes as no surprise. He announced his departure from AT&T in July; Igal Elbaz will take over Fuetsch's position at AT&T, reporting to CTO Jeremy Legg.
Whatever the result, the O-RAN Alliance won't be the only big wireless specifications group to see new leadership in recent years. For example, last year, Qualcomm's Wanshi Chen was selected by the 3GPP – the main standards group for 5G – to be the chairman of the prominent 3GPP RAN Plenary. And just this week, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) – another leading voice in the open RAN sector – said it hired former Parallel Wireless marketing VP Eugina Jordan as its first marketing chief, according to an announcement on LinkedIn.
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