LIVE FROM MWC LAS VEGAS 2023: Amanda Toman, director of the NTIA’s Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund (pictured), outlined the goal of the scheme to spur development of open RAN in the US through funding from the nation’s CHIPS and Science Act during a keynote address.

The fund sits within the US Department of Commerce and was allotted $1.5 billion from the CHIPS Act in August 2022 with the primary directive of accelerating commercial deployments of open RAN and interoperable networks.

Toman stated her agency received 90 proposals from operators, cloud providers, network edge providers, academia, industry groups and equipment vendors looking to take part in the initiative.

The proposals were whittled down to three primary areas for the near term: interoperability testing, network security and refinement of open RAN specifications.

“I think our big metric is to try and get the US as a competitive player back in the telecommunication space,” Toman stated. “So, my hope would be that our investments are able to spur the ecosystem in the United States, understanding that this is a global problem, but it will be really nice to have US competitiveness in this space.”

As required by congress, the NTIA issued its first notice of funding (NOFA) in August 2023 to Northeastern University, New York University and Deep Six.

“One thing where we see a potential to accelerate the commercial adoption of radio access network is in the area of specification,” Toman explained. “The idea that plug and play, which happened in the mid 90s with the computing industry. It would be really nice if telecom could mimic that.”

She stated the Innovation Fund will be issuing its second NOFA early next year.

“Ultimately, at the end of our 10-year program, we think a competitive global ecosystem of trusted suppliers of open and interoperable telecommunications equipment that is deployed both domestically and overseas would be a huge success,” she stated.

US DoD eyes open RAN benefits
The concept of using open RAN technology in networks was also supported by fellow keynote presenter Dr. Tom Rondeau (pictured, right), principal director for the FutureG and 5G Office in the US Department of Defence (DoD.)

Rondeau highlighted the importance of keeping networks secure and argued open RAN provides benefit in this area.

“Security is super important for us. This is why we keep looking at open RAN as a key tenet of our future DoD use in technology. We need open and resilient networks; we need transparency inside them to understand them. We have unique DoD requirements… Our use cases are different, we need the ability to develop those algorithms and manage our presence on those networks ourselves.  Creating that openness is a big part of that.”

Rondeau cited a report released by the NTIA earlier this year which found open RAN technology is no worse than traditional RAN, when it comes to security.

“They found a number of security issues with open RAN. And they found a number of security issues with closed RAN. They identified only 4 per cent unique differences with open RAN architecture than a closed one.

“Let’s be clear, every software-based system is going to have security vulnerabilities. So how do we mitigate that? Opening it up, making it transparent – those are the things we are looking at to manage this space.”

Additional reporting by Justin Springham.