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TIP discusses its mission to open up the telecoms industry

At a briefing in central London the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) offered some insights into what it’s up do leading up to Mobile World Congress

Scott Bicheno

February 17, 2023

5 Min Read
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At a briefing in central London the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) offered some insights into what it’s up to leading up to Mobile World Congress

TIP started life as a side project of Meta (Facebook) but seems to have morphed into a kind of industry association dedicated to facilitating and coordinating emerging telecoms technology. The main speaker at the event attended by journalists and analysts was Executive Director Kristian Toivo, who wasted little time in getting to the topic of Open RAN.

The elephant in the room when it comes to Open RAN is the US state, which has taken a very active interest in the technology ever since it banned its allies from using Chinese kit vendors, hence creating a duopoly of Ericsson and Nokia. One of the USPs of Open RAN is that it‘s designed to let any old vendor provide some or all of the kit and software that goes into the radio access network.

The latest development in this area is the US Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, which amounts to $1.5 billion and is being doshed out by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). At the start of this month the NTIA called for input from the market on how that public cash could be best spent and you can read TIP’s response here. Apparently the money will be handed out this summer.

Toivo said there was a fair bit of consensus among the NTIA respondents, with radio R&D apparently a popular cause. But we got the impression that TIP wants the whole Open RAN scene to be a bit more coherent and coordinated. The standards and specifications side of things it not TIP’s business; it is more concerned with interoperability, system integration and trying to get its members all singing from the same hymn sheet.

One of the ways to achieved this, said Toivo, is for “a more disciplined certification regime put into place”. One TIP initiative is ‘badging’ which seems to be a kind of graded quality control scheme in which operators are accredited with bronze, silver and gold badges depending on how far down the road to Open RAN utopia they are. This seems like a good idea but potentially places a lot of power in TIP’s, but hands, so the process needs to be transparent.

There followed a flood of questions about Open RAN, with Telecoms.com asking about the desirability of the US state poking its nose into this stuff. Toivo and his team (Chief Engineers David Hutton and Head of Comms Rudolph Moncrieff) were fairly cagey on this matter and were reluctant to make public comment one way or the other. That’s understandable with a billion and a half bucks on the line, but it left us wondering what strings the US state is attaching to the cash.

The TIP team were also keen to flag up some of the other stuff the organisation is involved in facilitating, with frequent reference to its inaugural Fyuz event last October. These include open Optical and Packet Transport, and open wifi. Can you see a pattern emerging? TIP, these days, is all about opening up the various telecoms technology paradigms to enable more vendors to get involved. The assumption is that will result in greater competition and innovation.

Nonetheless, the extensive Q&A soon reverted back to Open RAN because that’s what attendees were most interested in. Ultimately, TIP is trying to catalyse “a mindset change away from how it was done in the past, between an operator and a big kit vendor.” While Nokia can be found among TIP members, Ericsson Huawei and ZTE are conspicuously absent.

As previously mentioned, TIP reckons its coordination of testing and quality assurance is one of the most effective ways it can go about this. “With RAN there will be an 80-85% commonality in what will be needed,” said Toivo, suggesting that if the testing of that bit can be done uniformly among members then the industry will be most of the way towards achieving total technological consensus on Open RAN.

The assembled TIP execs came over as being honest and committed to fulfilling TIP’s many self-appointed tasks. They acknowledged they have a communications challenge on their hands due to the varied and complex matters at hand, which was one of the reasons for this briefing. But on the whole its easy to believe that TIP genuinely wants to help drive the technological evolution of the telecoms industry.

There remain lingering questions, however, about who else is involved behind the scenes. We weren’t able to find any public account of how TIP is funded but we do know it’s keen on getting hold of some of that US cash. That, in turn, begs the question of the extent to which the evolution of Open RAN will be influenced by geopolitical considerations. But those concerns aside, TIP seems to be a force for positive progress in our industry and it was good to get to know it better.

 

UPDATE – 12:00 17/2/23: In response to our emailed query regarding TIP’s funding and Meta’s ongoing involvement we received the following from TIP’s representatives:

“As a 501c6 non-profit and membership organization, TIP sustains its programs through membership fees, event sponsorships, and grant contributions. Members of TIP have a common business interest (development and deployment of open and disaggregated solutions) and pay membership dues to fund this combined goal.

“TIP is an independent industry organization, comprised of its participant members. Meta is one of TIP’s “Sponsor Participants” and as such may appoint an individual to serve on TIP’s Board of Directors. As a Sponsor Participant, Meta contributes membership fees at the Sponsor level, and also provides grants for certain TIP projects and activities, in accordance with TIP’s bylaws.”

 

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About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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