US earmarks $420 million to spur development of open radio units

The US government's ambition to foster a homegrown Open RAN ecosystem has taken aim at radio units.

Nick Wood

May 9, 2024

2 Min Read

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has launched its second notice of funding opportunity (NOFO), inviting aspiring Open RAN vendors to apply for their share of $420 million worth of grants.

There are two areas of focus for this funding round.

The first is centred on commercialisation, and aims to accelerate the development of radio units to the point where they are ready for commercial trials. The second targets innovation, and will provide funding for companies working to improve the performance and capabilities of open radio units through R&D.

The NTIA said it expects to dole out between $25 million and $45 million per company working on commercialisation, and $5 million-$10 million per company working on innovation.

Interested parties have until 10 July to apply.

"To secure our telecom supply chain, America and its allies need to build more innovative, affordable, and secure wireless equipment," said US secretary of commerce Gina Raimondo. "Thanks to President Biden's Investing in America agenda, we are fuelling the next generation of wireless innovation that will help ensure our national and economic security."

The money comes from the $1.5 billion Wireless Innovation Fund, which is itself funded by the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act.

The Wireless Innovation Fund was established to promote the development of open networking technology, thereby increasing competition in the infrastructure market and reducing US reliance on foreign imports.

The fund is also designed to indirectly help the US and its allies compete with China, as part of Washington's ongoing tech crusade against Beijing.

Eyebrows were raised earlier this week when the US revoked Intel's and Qualcomm's licences to supply chips to Huawei, after the Chinese kit maker unveiled a new laptop equipped with an Intel processor. The development begs the question: if the US government is so concerned with security, why did it continue to allow two of its biggest chip makers to export products to its adversary for such a long time?

On a related note, the US government is also scrambling for new funding for its rip-and-replace programme, which pays for the removal of Huawei and ZTE gear from US networks.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel last week warned of a $3 billion funding shortfall for rip-and-replace, urging Congress to get its act together.

As sister title Light Reading reported earlier this week, a bipartisan group of senators have introduced an amendment to a separate bill – the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorisation Act – that would give rip-and-replace the money it needs.

This same amendment also contains clauses that would rescue another struggling FCC initiative, the Affordable Connectivity Programme (ACP).

Launched in late 2021, the scheme offered discounts to low-income households that needed to get online. Its budget was $14.2 billion, and but that has now been spent. The ACP was due to stop paying out subsidies at the end of May, but if the FAA bill passes with these amendments, the ACP will get $6 billion to keep it going.

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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