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US tries to boost Open RAN with $42 million given to AT&T and Verizon-led group

The US government has awarded US$42.3 million in funding for Open RAN research to a group of industry players and academic institutions led by operator heavyweights AT&T and Verizon.

Mary Lennighan

February 13, 2024

3 Min Read

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) made the award under its Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, a 10-year, $1.5 billion grant programme designed to drive the development of Open RAN in mobile.

This particular funding award, the last to be made in the first round of grants, provides financial backing to a project that will create an Open RAN testing, evaluation and R&D centre in Dallas, Texas, and a similar satellite facility in the Washington DC area. The scheme has been snappily dubbed the Acceleration of Compatibility and Commercialization for Open RAN Deployments (ACCoRD) project.

Dallas-headquartered AT&T and Verizon, which of course hails from the east coast, will lead the project. They will be joined by universities and equipment makers, plus two international telcos: Japan's NTT DoCoMo and Indian player Reliance Jio. However, the NTIA made it very clear that DoCoMo and Jio will not receive any funding. The innovation fund is all about pushing the development of homegrown Open RAN, after all.

"5G is a dynamic technology, but today's market for wireless equipment is static and highly consolidated," said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator. "Our Wireless Innovation Fund aims to change that. With today's grant, we have awarded more than $140 million to foster an open, resilient and secure mobile ecosystem."

It is noteworthy that the NTIA's Open RAN cash is starting to find its way to the telcos. Dish Wireless was the first operator to secure a slice of the action last month, picking up $50 million for a new testing and evaluation facility – the Open RAN Center for Integration and Deployment, or ORCID – working with Fujitsu, Mavenir and VMWare. Now AT&T and Verizon are on the scene too.

Both have made Open RAN headlines recently. In December AT&T caused ripples in the industry when it selected Ericsson to lead a $14 billion Open RAN deployment, leaving Nokia to lick its wounds and lower its guidance for the next couple of years. Meanwhile, just last week Verizon shared an Open RAN update, noting that it has now deployed more than 130,000 O-RAN capable radios in its commercial network. It now appears that the timing of that announcement was probably not a coincidence.

"The transition to Open RAN has the potential to bring many benefits in terms of deployment flexibility, faster innovation in an open environment, and greater service options by increasing the opportunity for new entrants to provide competitive and advanced solutions," said Joe Russo, EVP & President, Global Network and Technology at Verizon. "The work resulting from this grant will drive the evolution of multi-vendor ORAN capabilities to a level of reliability and performance our customers have come to expect. More competition, more innovation, exceptional performance, and increased supplier diversity will all be net benefits to operators and customers."

AT&T shared a similar message.

"Evaluating how different products integrate with one another is a crucial part of facilitating the more diverse vendor ecosystem that many in the industry and government envision," Robert Soni VP of RAN Technology, at AT&T wrote in a blog post.

"Operators need to have confidence that different vendors' products will work together at scale before adding them to their network. And this testing is especially important to us, since it creates an opportunity to build on our work with Ericsson and discuss with a broader group the technical details of building an Open RAN platform that will enable us to incorporate products from alternative vendors in the future," Soni said.

Indeed, the NTIA shared a lengthy list of vendors that will be suppliers for the ACCoRD project: Microsoft, Nokia, Radisys, Airspan, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Rakuten, Samsung, Mavenir, VMWare, RedHat, Wind River, Ciena, Cisco, Dell, Intel, Amdocs, Keysight, and VIAVI.

The US is certainly making all the right noises about Open RAN, and the arrival of its big two telcos to the NTIA funding party sends a strong message. And there will be plenty more to come, with the NTIA already planning its next round of grants under the Wireless Innovation Fund.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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