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open RAN

Tiny Montana operator voices support for open RAN

A wireless network operator in Montana said it is looking at deploying open RAN technology.

"Triangle is currently investigating, and has an interest in acquiring, O-RAN equipment," the operator told the FCC. "Triangle's research has found O-RAN equipment to be competitively priced and fully functional compared to legacy vendors' equipment options which lock you into always using their equipment."

Triangle Telephone Cooperative (TTC) is based in Central Montana and counts around 17,000 subscribers across 23,000 square miles. The company is one of dozens that purchased equipment from China's Huawei and is now looking for government money to tear that equipment out of its network in the name of national security.

"Triangle is eligible to receive 'rip and replace' funding which Congress made available in December 2020 for the purpose of replacing Triangle's Huawei manufactured core networking and related equipment and software which has been determined to pose a national security risk," the operator told the FCC. "The national security issues which arose regarding Huawei's, and other Chinese-manufactured, networking equipment is, to Triangle's knowledge, unprecedented in the history of telecom equipment suppliers."

Although Congress recently allocated around $1.9 billion for the "rip and replace" program – roughly double initial estimates – some companies are already warning that the program might need even more money.

"RWA recommends that the FCC consider seeking additional funding from Congress for the [rip and replace] reimbursement program given its expansion to include parties that have not submitted estimated costs to the FCC and the increased number of eligible advanced service providers," argued the Rural Wireless Association in a filing to the FCC.

As the FCC works on finalizing the contours of its "rip and replace" program – which covers equipment from Huawei, ZTE and other "unsecure" providers, the agency is also looking at what role open RAN technology might play in replacing equipment deemed insecure.

"We seek comment on whether providers of advanced communications services, especially small providers, are adopting open RAN or virtualized solutions as they replace covered equipment in their networks," the agency wrote of its newest proceeding on the matter.

Triangle said it's looking at doing just that.

Interestingly, the Montana operator also wrote that it's not worried about the integration complexities surrounding open RAN technology. That's noteworthy considering T-Mobile's networking chief Neville Ray specifically pointed to such issues when questioned about open RAN: "If something goes wrong, I know where to go. In an O-RAN environment, you have to do a lot more heavy lifting as the operator," he said last year.

"A concern in the background of Triangle's O-RAN equipment investigation was that by mixing equipment suppliers, the effort to troubleshoot network issues might become problematic as differing vendors pointed the finger at other vendors as 'source of the problem,'" Triangle wrote. "However ... Triangle has concluded that this is not a substantial concern."

The company argued that it has encountered similar problems when working with a "sole-source proprietary vendor" (SSPV) that's not using open RAN.

"When a network problem arises, the situation invariably devolves into intra-company, inter-divisional finger pointing as the cause of the problem is investigated. At the end of the day, Triangle chases down the various finger points to locate the cause of the problem," the company wrote. "Triangle understands this to be the nature of the beast, the equipment and connections are immensely complex, and Triangle does not mean to imply any level of dissatisfaction with this process or with any SSPV. Triangle's point is that Triangle does not see how working with multiple O-RAN vendors would differ materially in this regard."

The FCC is still working on an allocation process for the "rip and replace" program.

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

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