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January 13, 2023
One of the premier standards-setting organizations in the US telecom industry this week announced a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the global O-RAN Alliance. The goal, according to US standards group ATIS, is to "further both organizations' mutual objectives to advance the industry towards more intelligent, open, virtualized and global standards-compliant mobile networks."
The move won't necessarily have an immediate impact on open RAN technology or the US market in general. After all, ATIS works on standards and technologies that then must be adopted by its member companies. However, the new pairing between ATIS and the O-RAN Alliance is certainly worth noting. After all, ATIS' board is composed of top executives from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Ciena and Comcast. It's the group that has previously addressed topics including secure supply chain, robocalls and hearing aid compatibility for cellphones. And it's also the association behind the new Next G Alliance, which is working to organize a comprehensive US strategy around future 6G technologies.
Meaning, ATIS is often the place where major US telecom companies often go to get things done.
And now ATIS has turned its sights on open RAN.
"This agreement with the O-RAN Alliance brings the power of ATIS' 3GPP leadership and its contributions to the continued evolution of 5G, coupled with ATIS' leadership for 6G and beyond as part of its Next G Alliance, to advance the development of open RAN technologies," said ATIS CEO Susan Miller in a release. "The MoU combines the forces of ATIS and the O-RAN Alliance to connect the present to the future for the open RAN ecosystem, advancing the promise of a robust open RAN marketplace."
According to ATIS' release, the organization's MoU with the global O-RAN Alliance also addresses "participation, by invitation, in meetings of each other's working groups where appropriate, and promoting and endorsing each other's events (e.g., conferences and plugfests) or activities (e.g., publication of work results) in areas of mutual interest and with prior consent of the other party."
"Standards-based open RAN will help create a more receptive marketplace for open RAN technology, advance its development and drive adoption in North America," added ATIS' VP of technology and solutions, Mike Nawrocki, in a statement to Light Reading.
Stops and starts
The announcement by ATIS comes at an important time in the open RAN trend. The technology promises to create interoperable interfaces between various wireless networking components, thereby allowing new vendors into the space. However, that represents a major change to traditional wireless networking designs and to the established vendors like Ericsson and Nokia that sell them.
As a result, open RAN has received a large amount of attention and interest in the global telecom industry in general and the US market specifically. Indeed, the Biden administration in the US is preparing to dole out $1.5 billion in research grants to American open RAN players – and that spending is on top of other, related open RAN efforts by the likes of the US National Science Foundation and the US Department of Defense.
But there's little indication that the US market's bigger players – Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile – have much interest in open RAN. The companies are finishing their big midband 5G spectrum buildouts and open RAN is generally nowhere to be found. Globally, open RAN is making progress but it's also nowhere near reaching widespread acceptance – and some forecasts indicate it might not do so even in the age of 6G.
However, there is one major open RAN proponent in the US: Dish Network. The company is in the midst of building a nationwide 5G network that adheres to open RAN principles, though it's unclear whether Dish will be able to profit from its embrace of open RAN.
Whether ATIS' pairing with the O-RAN Alliance will move the needle on open RAN remains to be seen. Another factor will be whether the 3GPP – the world's main standards body for 5G and 6G technologies – puts open RAN specifications into its core batch of standards.
Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading
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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