Through disaggregation of the Radio Access Network (RAN) into functional blocks/modules and defining open interfaces between those modules, OpenRAN technology promises to allow newer, smaller players to sell into the 4G/5G equipment market. The intent is to offer more choices for cellular network operators who buy most of their gear from 4 or 5 big base station vendors.
Open RAN has been endorsed by 5G upstarts like Dish Network and Rakuten in Japan, but also by five big European carriers – Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia (TIM), Telefónica and Vodafone – which want to build an Open RAN ecosystem in Europe. AT&T has also expressed interest in the technology. However, there remains a lot of skepticism, especially for brownfield carriers.
On March 14th, Dish Network executives participated in a video conference with a several FCC officials to discuss the company’s plans to launch a nationwide 5G network using Open RAN technology. Present on behalf of DISH were Stephen Bye, Chief Commercial Officer; Marc Rouanne, Chief Network Officer; Jeffrey Blum, Executive Vice President, External and Legislative Affairs; Sidd Chenumolu, Vice President, Technology Development; Alison Minea, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs; William Beckwith, Director of Wireless Regulatory Affairs; Hadass Kogan, Director & Senior Counsel, Regulatory Affairs; and Michael Essington, Senior Manager, Public Policy.
According to a Dish filing, the FCC requested the meeting to learn more about how Dish plans to deploy OpenRAN, rather than traditional purpose built RAN equipment, to build their 5G cellular network.
Ahead of its June 14, 2022 buildout milestone, DISH is launching a first-of-its-kind, cloud native, virtualized O-RAN 5G network in several major metropolitan areas of the country. Because DISH is building a greenfield network, we have the flexibility to choose the best technology to enter the market. While legacy carriers built closed end-to-end networks, DISH chose O-RAN because, among other reasons, it offers lower capital and operating costs, and is more resilient, secure, and energy efficient. In cooperation with more than 30 technology partners, DISH will offer a real-world example of the benefits of O-RAN as our 5G network rolls out to customers this year.
If more American carriers see the benefits of O-RAN and are able to adopt it as their networks evolve, the United States will be a stronger competitor in the global market. O-RAN is a game changer, among reasons, because:
- O-RAN networks increase vendor diversity
- O-RAN enhances spectrum utilization and enables network slicing
- O-RAN supports national security and cybersecurity objectives
- O-RAN networks are more secure and more agileO-RAN networks are more secure and more agile
In February 2021, the FCC published an OpenRAN Notice of Inquiry, stating:
Some parties assert that open radio access networks (Open RAN) are a potential path to drive 5G innovation, with industry proponents arguing that it could provide opportunities for more secure networks, foster greater vendor diversity, allow for more flexible network architectures, lower capital and operating expenses, and lead to new services tailored to unique use cases and consumer needs; others contend that Open RAN is still in its most formative stages, and that while promising, significant work remains before the benefits of the concept can fully be realized.
This Notice of Inquiry seeks input on the status of Open RAN and virtualized network environments: where the technology is today and what steps are required to deploy Open RAN networks broadly and at scale. It also seeks comment on whether and, if so, how deployment of Open RAN-compliant networks could further the Commission’s policy goals and statutory obligations, advance legislative priorities, and benefit American consumers by making state-of-the-art wireless broadband available more quickly and to more people in more parts of the country.
The financial analysts at New Street Research, say that U.S. government legislation could pave the way for “$1.5 billion for the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund to deploy Open RAN equipment to spur movement toward open architecture, software-based wireless technologies and funding innovative leap-ahead technologies in the US mobile broadband market.”
The analysts added, “That provision might be of particular value to Dish, which is building out its network based on that technology.”