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NTIA Launching $1.5B Innovation Fund to Explore Alternative Wireless Equipment

A comment period on the new fund will run through January 23.

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Photo of NTIA head Alan Davidson

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2022 – The federal government plans to leverage funding from the Chips and Science Act to put toward diversifying the country’s supply of equipment for its cellular networks, according to reporting from Axios and confirmed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The news site reports that $1.5 billion from the $280-billion research and manufacturing legislation will go toward domestic alternatives to current wireless equipment, the bulk of which is supplied by foreign companies including Finland’s Nokia, Sweden’s Ericsson, and China’s Huawei. A rip-and-replace fund has been set up to remove Huawei’s equipment from existing networks due to national security concerns.

The Innovation Fund program will be launched by the NTIA, Alan Davidson, head of the Commerce agency, said on Twitter. There will be a public comment period lasting until January 2023, Axios reports.

“The highly consolidated global market for wireless equipment creates serious risks for both consumers and U.S. companies,” Davidson told Axios.

The money could bolster the open radio access network industry, Axios reports, which advocates for equipment standards that are interoperable with each other, instead of the industry relying on proprietary technologies from a handful of dominant suppliers.

The Federal Communications Commissions has already been leaning favorably toward ORAN technologies. Last year, the commission launched its first inquiry into the technology.

“If we can unlock the [radio access network] and diversify the equipment in this part of our networks, we may be able to increase security, reduce our exposure to any single foreign vendor, [and] lower costs,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel after the announcement of the inquiry.

Huawei, one of the world’s largest suppliers of telecommunications equipment, is popular globally because it is less expensive than its large competitors.

A report released in October by Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology said that, due to the low cost of Chinese equipment, public schools and local governments will purchase from the third-party entities that are unknowingly selling the prohibited equipment, leaving government agencies and community anchor institutions vulnerable to security breaches.

At least six state governments had their networks breached by a state-sponsored Chinese hacking group between May 2021 and February 2022, the report said.

Reporter Zoey Howell-Brown studied at Coppin State University and Node Center for Curatorial Practices. Her work has appeared in The Real News Network, The Odyssey, Terse Magazine and Broadband.Money. When she’s not reporting on telecom news, you can find her at the latest exhibition opening, film festival, or on LinkedIn.

5G

CES 2023: Commissioner Starks Highlights Environmental Benefits of 5G Connectivity

Starks also said federal housing support should be linked to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (left) and CTA’s J. David Grossman

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show Saturday, touting connectivity assistance for individuals who benefit from housing assistance as well as the potential environmental benefits of 5G.

The FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes monthly internet bills and one-time devices purchases for low-income Americans. Although many groups are eligible – e.g., Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees – Starks said his attention is primarily on those who rely on housing support.

“If you are having trouble putting food on your table, you should not have to worry about connectivity as well,” Starks said. “If we are helping you to get housed, we should be able to connect that house,” he added.

Environmental benefits of 5G

In addition to economic benefits, 5G-enabled technologies will offer many environmental benefits, Starks argued. He said the FCC should consider how to “ensure folks do more while using less,” particularly in the spheres of spectral and energy efficiency.

“This is going to take a whole-of-nation (approach),” Starks said. “When you talk to your local folks – mayors – state and other federal partners, making sure that they know smart cities (and) smart grid technology…making sure that we’re all unified on thinking about this is exactly where we need to go to in order to drive down the carbon emissions.”

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5G

CES 2023: 5G Will Drive Safer Transportation

More comprehensive data-sharing is made possible by the reduced latency of 5G, CES hears.

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Photo of Aruna Anand, Durga Malladi, and Derek Peterson (left to right)

LAS VEGAS, January 5, 2023 – Panelists at the Consumer Electronics Show 2023 on Thursday touted the potential for 5G to make transportation safer by enabling information sharing between vehicles and with infrastructure.

5G is expected to expand connectivity by attaching small cell connectivity equipment on various city infrastructure, including traffic lights and bus shelters. 

More comprehensive data-sharing is made possible by the reduced latency of 5G, said Aruna Anand, president and CEO of Continental Automotive Systems Inc., referring to connectivity communications times. Anand argued that making relevant information available to multiple vehicles is key to improving safety.

“We give more information about the surroundings of the vehicle to the car to enable [it] to make better decisions,” Anand said.

Durga Malladi, senior vice president and general manager for cellular modems and infrastructure at chip maker Qualcomm, described a 5G-enabled “true ubiquitous data space solution” in which vehicles and smart infrastructure – e.g., traffic lights and stop signs – communicate with one another.

Asked for predictions, Malladi forecasted an increased “blend” of communications and artificial intelligence technologies. Anand said 6G is expected to emerge by 2028 and make its way to vehicle technology by 2031.

Both realized and predicted innovations in 5G-enabled technologies have driven calls for expanded spectrum access, from private and public sectors alike. The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the respective overseers of non-federally and federally-used spectrum, in August agreed to an updated memorandum of understanding on spectrum management

Although relatively new, this agreement has already been touted by officials.

The FCC, whose spectrum auction authority Congress extended in December, made several moves last year to expand spectrum access.

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Spectrum

FCC Seeking Comments on Licensed Spectrum Allocation for Unmanned Aircraft

Amazon began launch of drone deliveries in two U.S. cities late last month.

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Screenshot of Amazon Drone via Amazon

WASHINGTON, January 4, 2023 – More than two years after its urging, the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it is seeking comment on crafting rules for opening up the lower 5 Gigahertz spectrum band to unmanned aircraft systems, days after Amazon Prime Air began deliveries in two cities using drone technology.

The commission is seeking comments on providing these operators with access to licensed spectrum in the 5030-5091 MHz band for “safety-critical” wireless communications, on whether the commission’s rules on flexible-use spectrum bands are adequate to ensure “co-existence” of ground mobile operations and unmanned aircraft system use, and on a proposal to require such operators to get a license to communicate with air traffic control and other aircraft.

Currently, such unmanned systems operate primarily under unlicensed and low-power wireless communications rules or experimental licenses, according to the FCC. “Given the important current and potential uses for these systems, the Commission will consider ways to improve the reliability of their operations,” the commission said in a release.

“It is past time that we assess the availability of wireless communications resources for the increasingly important remote-piloted aircraft activity we rely on today,” added Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in the release. “The FCC must ensure that our spectrum rules meet the current – and future – spectrum needs of evolving technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems, which can be critical to disaster recovery, first responder rescue efforts, and wildfire management.”

Because it involves flying machines, the rules implicate the Federal Aviation Administration, and because it possibly implicates federal spectrum, it brings in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which governs the federal use of spectrum.

“Accordingly, a whole-of-government approach is needed to ensure that this proceeding addresses the relevant concerns and issues within the responsibility of each stakeholder agency and that our efforts in this area work in complement with those of our federal partners to support and promote the safe and productive operation of UAS,” the FCC said in its notice of proposed rulemaking.

The support for wireless communications with UAS in the 5030-5091 MHz band is not new. In 2020, the FCC released a report – mandated by Congress in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 – that found that “alternative frequencies licensed under flexible-use service rules are a promising option for UAS communications,” and that the commission “begin a rulemaking to develop service and licensing rules enabling UAS use of that band.”

The request for comments come after Amazon, which began deliveries of packages using drones in California and Texas last week, asked the FCC in November to allow near-ground level drones to utilize the 60-64 GHz band to facilitate safe operations of the drone.

Amazon had asked the commission to adopt a new perspective on drones, saying a “drone package delivery operating near ground level operates much more like a last-mile delivery truck than a cargo plane.”

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