CES 2024: NTIA Announces $50 Million Grant for DISH from Wireless Innovation Fund

The money will fund a testing facility for open RAN equipment.

CES 2024: NTIA Announces $50 Million Grant for DISH from Wireless Innovation Fund
NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson announcing the grant at a DISH 5G open RAN site in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS, January 10, 2024 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced on Wednesday a $50-million grant to DISH Wireless from the agency’s Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund.

The money will go to the establishment of the company’s Open RAN Center for Integration and Deployment, or ORCID.

The Cheyenne, Wyoming-based testing facility will allow companies to test equipment and software to ensure their technology works with existing 5G networks. The funding for ORCID is an attempt to allow smaller vendors to enter the market. 

“Today’s market for wireless equipment is static and highly consolidated. Just a few firms today provide the full set of radios and computers that power mobile phones,” NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson said at an announcement event in Las Vegas. 

Some of those providers Davidson noted, “pose national security risks to the U.S. and our allies around the world.” That’s in part a reference to Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, who are barred from federally subsidized networks by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act. 

That law provided $1.9 billion to reimburse providers for the replacement of the companies’ equipment, but the effort has stalled amid a funding shortfall and other supply chain issues – the Commission told Congress last week that just five companies have completed their replacements.

The ORCID facility is set to use open RAN hardware and spectrum bands owned by DISH, now a subsidiary of EchoStar, as a test bed for vendors to ensure the interoperability of their equipment. Open RAN refers to open radio access networks, or networks built with generic components rather than proprietary ones produced by a handful of large suppliers.

The company’s experience with its existing open RAN network puts it in a good position to help companies looking to enter the space, said Charlie Ergen, EchoStar co-founder and chairman.

“We learned some hard lessons regarding how to best deploy open RAN, lessons we will bring to and leverage at ORCID,” he said.The NTIA also announced $30 million in Innovation Fund grants to five additional recipients. The agency has now awarded a total of more than $98 million from the $1.5 billion CHIPS Act program. Up to $140 million is set to be made available through the first round of funding.

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