INTERVIEW: Amanda Toman, NTIA director for the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, stated one of the biggest obstacles for the development of open RAN was the testing and validation of interoperability performance, which her US agency was tasked with solving.

In addition, she noted the fund is also developing methodologies to prove to operators open RAN has performance parity compared to existing RAN and potentially cost parity as well.

The innovation fund was awarded $1.5 billion from the CHIPS and Science Act, which was passed in 2022 partly to help accelerate the adoption of open and interoperable networks in the US.  For its first notice of funding (NOFO), Toman stated it focused on two areas: testing and evaluation laboratories and R&D.

She noted the testing and evaluation laboratories will be located in neutral host locations to allow vendors to evaluate their equipment. The testing would also entail a virtual element to validate interoperability and performance among vendors

“How could new methodologies be developed for evaluating or characterising security or energy efficiency or even performance parity?” Toman stated about the R&D. “How do you evaluate that an open RAN system is doing a better job than a standard baseband unit that currently exists?”

The first grants were issued August 2023 to Northeastern University, New York University and Deep Six.

“As a feature of the first NOFO, we prescribed that the work needed to be done in the United States,” she noted. “We’re evaluating the policy decisions for what the next rounds will look like and how specific we’ll be about where the work needs to be performed.”

Toman stated the organisation is targeting early next year for the third round and that “it will be a substantial amount” of funding compared to the first.

Click here to watch the full interview, which was held at MWC Las Vegas last month.