US dangles $1.5bn in front of Open RAN community

The Biden administration is ramping up its efforts to grow the US' open RAN ecosystem.

Nick Wood

April 13, 2023

3 Min Read

The Biden administration is ramping up its efforts to grow the US’ open RAN ecosystem.

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) this week officially launched its Wireless Innovation Fund, which has a budget of $1.5 billion and a mandate to spend it on stimulating the development of new and exciting telco tech.

On Wednesday, it announced its first notice of funding opportunity (NOFO), which invites interested parties to apply for some of that money. This first tranche of grants, worth up to $140.5 million, has been earmarked for projects focused on Open RAN R&D.

More specifically, the NTIA is interested in expanding testing and evaluation (T&E) activities to assess and facilitate the interoperability, performance, and/or security of open and interoperable, standards-based 5G radio access networks. It will also fund new or improved testing methodologies to evaluate and validate the interoperability, performance, and/or security of these networks, including their component parts.

The NTIA said it hopes that later NOFOs will build upon the foundations laid by this one, creating an ecosystem for wireless innovation that encompasses not just Open RAN but AI and IoT as well.

This being the US, there is a heavy emphasis on national security and how it relates to the telecoms supply chain. To put it bluntly: this ecosystem is strictly for the US, its allies, and nobody else.

“With the investments from this initiative, the US can help facilitate much-needed competition in the global wireless market and create a more resilient and secure wireless supply chain,” said assistant secretary of commerce Alan Davidson, in a statement.

“Today’s announcement marks critical new progress toward strengthening the security of our wireless networks,” added energy and commerce committee ranking member Frank Pallone. “This programme is a win for both US national security and innovation, and with it, we will help level the playing field against untrusted actors attempting to use our communications networks against us.”

Virginia senator Mark Warner said the fund is “a critical down-payment on our efforts to reshape the global wireless infrastructure supply chain towards secure and trusted vendors.”

It comes the same week as the US moved forward with its plan to name and shame any ally that permits the use of network equipment developed by Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. The ‘Countering Untrusted Telecommunications Abroad Act’ is reportedly due to have its second reading this week.

Meanwhile, the NOFO announcement came a day after the UK unveiled its own strategy for driving innovation in the telecoms sector. It has allocated up to £148 million of funding to boost digital connectivity, with the lion’s share – up to £100 million – going towards 6G research. £40 million has been earmarked for promoting 5G adoption by business and public services, and the remaining £8 million will fund satellite broadband connectivity in remote areas.

Interestingly, the government seems to have also suggested that it wouldn’t necessarily oppose consolidation in the mobile market, insisting that there is no magic number of operators.

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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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