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Are Open Radio Access Networks Merely a 5G Fad? Or Will They Spur Innovation and Lower Costs?

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Photo of Tareq Amin, chief technology officer of Rakuten

October 13, 2020 — Open radio access networks may be the next big trend in mobile networks across the globe, with network deployment projected to take place throughout the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and Brazil this year.

Open RAN promises to lower the cost of deploying 5G networks and drive competition in the telecom space, according to panelists participating at the 2020 Open RAN Forum on Tuesday.

Don’t miss the first event in “Broadband Breakfast’s ‘A No-Nonsense Guide to 5G’ Series,” on Wednesday, October 14, 2020, at 12 Noon ET: “The Hype and the Reality of 5G.”

The technology offers a new and interoperable model for building 5G networks in comparison to the tightly vertically-integrated model typically utilized to deploy both wired and wireless networks in the United States. Open RAN networks tout their disaggregated ability for multiple vendors to offer service.

“We wanted to embrace open RAN to drive the cost of deploying networks to a level that was unheard of,” said Tareq Amin, chief technology officer of Rakuten. According to Amin, competition spurred by open RAN propelled infrastructure building costs 47 percent lower than previously.

Amin updated audiences on Rakuten’s open RAN model, currently in the early stages of being deployed in Tokyo, Japan, saying the company has “invested enormously in automation” to enable the network to be installed using cloud-based technology.

Open RAN also gaining global prominence

Open RAN networks are being implemented globally, with Telefónica, a multinational telecom carrier, employing a host of hardware and software companies to advance O-RAN within their 4G and 5G wireless network. Yet challenges remain to scaling open RAN.

The panel discussed barriers currently inhibiting open RAN growth.

“Technology-wise, deploying open RAN is not complicated,” said Amin. “Rather, it is collaboration and creates an ecosystem that connects partners, which is difficult.”

In deploying multi-vendor networks, the classic carrier-vendor relationship takes a different form, and competitors sometimes have to roll up their sleeves and collaborate to deliver innovative new configurations.

“Collaboration is necessary in changing the industry ecosystem to support open RAN,” said Aaron Burnstein, director of connectivity ecosystems at Facebook.

“You have to help your partners or you will not succeed,” furthered John Baker, senior vice president of business development at Mavenir.

Facebook is promoting open RAN

Burnstein detailed Facebook’s collaboration efforts with open RAN stakeholders. The company recently joined the Telecom Infra Project, partnering with over 500 global technology and telecom leaders to help design and build new telecom technologies. In an attempt to increase connectivity, the company has been strategically locating data centers to further the deployment of open RAN.

On the topic of open RAN, Burnstein said Facebook focuses “on building the ‘muscles’ to build connectivity and lets operators decide what is best for consumers.”

Diane Rinaldo, executive director of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, called on the federal government to initiate the shift in the mobile industry.

“The government should get involved to help foster a vibrant supplier ecosystem,” said Rinaldo, saying the administration has the advantage of being able to pull the best of industry and federal employees to solve tough problems.

This summer, a bipartisan group of U.S. politicians, led by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, proposed legislation that would require the Federal Communications Commission to channel at least $750 million into open RAN technologies.

The group argued the move would spur innovation in U.S. software companies and provide alternatives to Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE.

The Tuesday event was hosted by RCR Wireless News.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

5G

CES 2022: 5G, Aviation Crisis a Problem of Federal Coordination, Observers Say

The hope is coordination problems will be relieved when the Senate confirms NTIA head.

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John Godfrey, senior vice president of public policy and acting head of U.S. public affairs at Samsung

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2022 – The possible near collision of 5G signals and aircraft altimeters emerged out of a lack of coordination on the federal government’s part to bring all relevant information to the Federal Communications Commission before it auctioned off the spectrum that has now been put on hold for safety precautions, observers said Thursday.

This week, Verizon and AT&T agreed to delay the rollout of their 5G services using the C-band spectrum surrounding airports after the Federal Aviation Administration raised the alarm for months about possible interference of the wireless signals with aircraft, which use their own radios to safely land planes.

But the issue could’ve been resolved back in 2020, when the FCC proposed to repurpose a portion of the band to allow for wireless use, some said on a panel discussing 5G Thursday in Las Vegas.

“After the FCC had adopted the rules, auctioned off the spectrum, raised over $80 billion and deployment began and then additional information that apparently had not been brought to the FCC before comes over…that’s not good for the country,” said John Godfrey, senior vice president of public policy and acting head of U.S. public affairs at Samsung, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

“The time to have that information be disclosed and discussed and analyzed is when the FCC is conducting the rulemaking,” Godfrey said, adding the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration should, as federal telecom rep, be spearheading coordination efforts between the FAA and the FCC on telecommunications matters.

“I think it’s their job as the leaders of telecom policy in the administration to facilitate bringing the full federal government to the table in a timely manner,” Godfrey added.

Asad Ramzanali, legislative director for Democratic California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, said that the fallout of the aviation issue has shown that, “Looking backwards, I do think this is a failure. This is a failure in government to be able to coordinate at the right time…when there’s a process, those impacted should be participating — that is the role of the NTIA.”

NTIA head confirmation ‘should be a priority’

And the hope is that such coordination issues can be averted in the future with the confirmation of a permanent head of the NTIA, said Ramzanali. President Joe Biden nominated Alan Davidson in October to be the next permanent head of the agency, which has had temporary figures fill in the role since the resignation in May 2019 of the last full-time head, David Redl.

“That should be a priority,” Ramzanali said of pushing Davidson through. “The NTIA is doling out $42.5 billion of that $65 billion [from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act]. The NTIA is supposed to deal with those types of issues. They have brilliant people there, but this is the kind of leadership that they should be in the middle of.

“And this isn’t a recent NTIA thing,” Ramzanali added. “This has lasted many years, especially in the prior administration where the NTIA wasn’t doing this part of it — coordinating with other agencies.

“I’m hopeful with Alan Davidson presumably getting in soon that we won’t see that kind of issue.”

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CES 2022: Educating Consumers About 5G Will Encourage Wider Adoption

Currently, consumers are not being provided the information they need to make the leap, a consultant said.

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Sally Lange Witkowski, founder of business consulting firm Slang Consulting

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2021 – Educating consumers about 5G is necessary to achieving wider adoption in its upcoming deployment in the United States.

At Wednesday’s CES “Path to A Better 5G World” session, industry leaders discussed how 5G will change the digital landscape by offering new experiences for businesses and consumers.

Sally Lange Witkowski, founder of business consulting firm Slang Consulting, said that companies should educate consumers about the benefits of 5G.

“Some consumers don’t even know 5G exists,” she said. “They believe faster is better,” but said that consumers don’t know about 5G’s wider applications. “Consumers should want to have [5G] because of how innovators and entrepreneurs will use the technology.”

Slang’s research shows that consumers are only willing to pay up to $5 more per month for 5G service. “It’s not about the hype, it’s about the usability,” Witkowski added. She noted that people are living longer and older Americans are growing old without the necessary digital skills to thrive in our new ecosystem.

“A child born today has a one in two chance of living till 100,” she said.  Educating consumers about 5G’s benefits can help the elderly prepare to participate in the revolution.

Witkowski also said closed hardware software ecosystems, sometimes referred to as “walled gardens,” prevent consumers from discovering new experiences.

“The really large organizations have a hard time innovating. Big corporations are built to scale. The ability to reach out to entrepreneurs to access creative thinking is important,” Witkowski added. “The pandemic changed a lot [for technology companies]. They are going to have to embrace something they don’t normally embrace,” like the fact that another company may be better positioned to create solutions.

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FCC Commissioner Carr Details Steps Needed for 5G, Says Talk of 6G ‘Almost Too Early’

The commissioner also said he thinks Biden will support Big Tech contributions to the Universal Service Fund.

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Commissioner Brendan Carr

WASHINGTON, December 9, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr says that proper planning on increased spectrum release and infrastructure reform is necessary for the FCC to ensure a smooth rollout of 5G technology.

Carr specifically critiqued the current infrastructure reform approaches of President Joe Biden’s administration, saying that the administration’s current plan seems to be to make large sums of funding available without planning extensively for infrastructure modernization.

At Thursday’s Media Institute event during which Carr spoke, the commissioner also said he thinks it is “almost too early” to start thinking about 6G rollout that newly re-confirmed Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has said is on the table sooner rather than later. Carr emphasized that focusing on 6G too early could distract from planning necessary for 5G’s success.

Regardless, Carr expressed that the U.S. is in a good shape to effectively harness 5G and compete with China’s use of the technology, owing to an American 5G platform that he called the strongest in the world as well as to American innovation in the area.

In terms of what else is unresolved with regard to 5G, Carr says it is not yet clear what the flagship new application development will be with 5G. He believes this may become much clearer as very low power Wi-Fi technology begins to allow for creative uses of 5G.

Big Tech contribution to Universal Service Fund?

Also during Thursday’s event, Carr said that he believes the Biden administration will support requiring big tech corporations to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, citing lead Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee Sen. Ben Ray Luján’s support for the proposal. Carr as well as key Republicans have also demonstrated support for this proposal in the past, which would provide monetary support for a fund that provides basic telecommunications services to remote and low-income communities.

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