A group of over 30 companies has formed a new lobby group – the Open RAN Policy Coalition – to push Governments to take measures that would increase development and adoption of Open RAN technology.
The lobby group is headed up by ex-NTIA acting boss Diane Rinaldo. Rinaldo told TMN that the decision to establish the coalition came about in an ad-hoc way from a small group of companies that “kick-started the conversation”. She didn’t want to name the companies concerned. The Coalition is funded by its members, and is currently forming a Board, she added. More companies are likely to join and policy makers are already getting in touch requesting briefings, she said.
Although the initial focus will be on US policy maker relations, there are several international member companies and the Coalition will be hoping to engage in other jurisdictions too, Rinaldo added. Rinaldo herself will remain with Beacon Global Strategies, her current role, as she fulfils her duties for the Policy Coalition.
Member companies includes US telco operators AT&T, Verizon and DISH, as well as international players Vodafone, Telefonica, Rakuten and NTT.
The mighty cloud players Amazon AWS, Microsoft, Google are involved, as well as virtualisation infrastructure providers such as IBM and VMWare. Facebook, home of TIP and its Open RAN work groups, is also a member.
The rest of the list is formed of some now-familiar names from the Open RAN ecosystem, including Airspan, Altiostar, Mavenir, NEC, Parallel Wireless, Qualcomm and Samsung. Cisco, Juniper, Fujitsu, CommScope and plenty more are involved.
Educate, don’t regulate
The launch release calls for certain potential interventions, such as using Government procurement to support Open RAN, but the group has not yet formed any clear policies or detailed mechanisms it would like to see introduced as part of this enhanced level of Government support for Open RAN. Nor does it set a target or goal for Open RAN adoption, beyond a broadly defined desire to ask Governments “to promote policies that will advance the adoption of open and interoperable solutions in the Radio Access Network.”
Rinaldo said, “We are not looking for regulation. We want to educate policy makers about the current success and benefits of Open RAN, and that when they are pro-competition and pro-openneess then they get a good solution in the end.” There will be no call for “heavy-handed” interventions in the market, she added.
“We want to educate policy makers to be pro-innovation and highlight the good work so for in Open RAN, and what’s on the horizon.”
Why Open RAN is trending
Open RAN defines open interfaces between functional elements of the radio access network. It has become a political topic because it has been adopted as a potential route forward by those who think that it is a strategic weakness to have telecoms operators reliant on just a few viable wireless network equipment providers. That’s especially the case if you view it is a negative that two of those four or five viable vendor options are Chinese.
At a political level, some see Open RAN as soil in which to grow a national champion, others use it more bluntly as a sort of straight proxy for “not-Huawei” or “not-China”. A more nuanced take appreciates the need to avoid long vendor lock-ins and to give telco operators more structural choices in the long term, as a matter of good security hygiene.
So in some areas the Policy Coalition will be pushing on open doors. There are already senior US legislators who are proposing the government invests directly in Open RAN research. In the UK a block of legislators would like to see Huawei removed entirely from telco networks, and have recently noted Open RAN as a potential solution to driving more UK-based network equipment production. US Attorney General William Barr, however, in a speech warning of Chinese dominance of 5G, described Open RAN as a pie-in-the-sky option in the near term.