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open RAN

Open RAN lobbying goes global

Some of the world's biggest telecom organizations are banding together to promote policies friendly to the open RAN technology trend.

"As nations begin to deploy next-generation networks, our goal is to make certain that a healthy, robust ecosystem exists to ensure competition and consumer quality," wrote the US-based Open RAN Policy Coalition in a release. "Our organizations are united by the need for responsible policy action in support of open RAN, and we look forward to working together on this important objective."

The Open RAN Policy Coalition is joining with software alliance BSA, cable technology development association CableLabs, mobile industry trade group GSMA, and software development association Telecom Infra Project (TIP) in the new effort.

The goals of the new "coalition of coalitions" are unclear. For example, executives from some of the participating organizations offered vague supportive quotes: "As TIP members develop and deploy open RAN and open and interoperable solutions across the network, we are pleased to work with ORPC and coalition members to ensure strong foundations for a robust and diverse telecom ecosystem that can deliver the high quality connectivity the world needs," said Attilio Zani, TIP's executive director, in a statement.

Nonetheless, the reasoning behind the new teaming is clear: Government officials around the world are increasingly discussing open RAN from a geopolitical standpoint, including whether to devote funding to it.

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone announced just last week they will "seek funding from European governments" to develop the open RAN ecosystem. Some officials even suggested COVID-19 recovery funds be earmarked for the technology.

In the US, open RAN continues to generate interest among policymakers who see it as a way to avoid using competitive, traditional telecom gear from Huawei and other Chinese vendors. The US Department of Defense recently announced it will look at ways to accelerate "open" 5G products and services.

Such developments are not a surprise. The Open RAN Policy Coalition launched early last year under the leadership of Diane Rinaldo, a former US civil servant and advisor to the US government. The group quickly began calling for $1 billion from Congress to "spur research and development and deployment towards open-architecture, software-based wireless technologies" as a path toward "improving security."

Whether the open RAN technology trend – which promises to allow operators to mix and match networking components from a variety of suppliers – will live up to those goals remains to be seen. After all, the technology traces part of its ancestry to a group led by Chinese operators, and some major equipment vendors have issued public warnings about the security situation around open RAN. Moreover, top executives at some US operators have cautioned that the open RAN trend remains in its infancy, with some major issues still to be ironed out.

Nonetheless, groups like CableLabs and the GSMA undoubtedly see benefits in conversations with government officials around the world, and clearly want to make sure their voices are heard.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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