Ericsson, Open RAN coalition weigh in on NTIA 5G Challenge

Ericsson and the Open RAN Policy Coalition have each responded to NTIA’s 5G "open stack" challenge proposal, with ideas about how the agency should go about the initiative.

In January, NTIA issued a notice seeking input on how to build a 5G challenge with the goal of speeding up development and interoperability of the 5G open stack ecosystem to support U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) missions.

For starters the Open RAN Policy Coalition, which has members spanning service providers, vendors, tech companies and others, wants NTIA to drop the phrase “open stack.” Instead, the coalition says NTIA should use the term “open and interoperable technologies.”

RELATED: NTIA explores open 5G stack competition to support DoD missions

The group, whose members include AT&T, Verizon, Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm, Google, and others, want the challenge to distinguish that phrase from “open source.” It can cause some confusion, the coalition asserts, and the NTIA should make clear that contributions refer to technologies with defined standards for transparent, non-proprietary interfaces – rather than “open source” referring to a public framework or software code that can be used freely by organizations with or without changes.  

The policy coalition also includes companies that have become familiar names aligned with the open RAN push, such Airspan, Altiostar, Mavenir, and Parallel Wireless.

Ericsson, which is not part of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, wants to ensure the challenge remains “technology agnostic” and proposes holding an “Open Ecosystem Plugfest.”

“This technology neutral approach will ensure that a secure and trusted 5G network will meet the existing demands of the DoD mission and evolve as the mission requirements expand,” Ericsson wrote.

The Swedish vendor wants a DoD-managed lab where all vendors could come and test their components for functionality and interoperability.

RELATED: Ericsson introduces Cloud RAN for 5G

Ericsson said this format would encourage both new and incumbent vendors to contribute within their respective areas of expertise.

“An ‘Open Ecysotem Plugfest’ of this magnitude and importance will typically motivate the vendors to take their products to the next level,” Ericsson stated in the response, with results helping to define a current state-of-the art open ecosystem. It would also allow other segments, like the enterprise market to understand progress on the open ecosystem.

Ericsson is one of the leading infrastructure vendors, and has been less of a champion than some for open architectures, which as analysts like Global Data’s Ed Gubbins have pointed out earlier, potentially invites “a new breed of competitors” and pricing power. That said, Ericsson’s filing emphasized its involvement and contributions in key industry bodies like the O-RAN Alliance, O-RAN Software Community, and Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP).

RELATED: Telefonica’s O2 trials open RAN with NEC using Altiostar software

In a significant step, Ericsson in October said it would introduce a cloud RAN platform, where RAN functions are realized over a generic compute platform instead of custom-built hardware. Availability of the first stage is expected in the fourth quarter.

Competitor Nokia joined the Open RAN Policy Coalition in May 2020 and over the summer committed to a full suite of O-RAN compliant interfaces to work with its existing RAN portfolio. Its second-gen 5G cloud RAN will be widely available this year. On Thursday the Finnish vendor announced a partnership with Brazil’s Telecommunications Research and Development Centre (CPQD) to develop 5G use cases focused on the Open RAN-compliant Radio Intelligent Controller (RIC) platform.

As for NTIA’s 5G challenge, Ericsson said evaluation at the Plugfest would help “identify the maturity level of each contribution” from various vendors.  

RELATED: Nokia VP: Open RAN not a ‘binary choice’

For its part, Ericsson plans to contribute network functions and other elements to the challenge. Those include cloud RAN functions, cloud infrastructure for RAN functions, cloud Native 5GC (5G Core) functions, and Cloud infrastructure for CN (Core Network) functions. It also will bring service management and orchestration, and security components.

Speaking with Fierce Wireless last month about Verizon’s network virtualization efforts, Bill Stone VP Technology Development and Planning noted that while multiple vendors including Wind River, Intel, and HPE are supplying vRAN components, traditional vendors are providing the network functions in the RAN and largely in the core as well. Samsung supplied applications software for the vRAN network, or baseband, functions in Verizon’s 5G vRAN deployment late last year, while suppliers like Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco, and Oracle have been used in the core network virtualization.  

The Open RAN Policy Coalition, meanwhile, thinks NTIA’s 5G challenge should focus on applied science, prioritizing real-world applications rather than basic research.

“Indeed, given that Open RAN’s multiple real-world deployments and demonstration projects already underway constitute applied science, openness and interoperability in the RAN is hardly a research project,” the coalition wrote.

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In October the DoD awarded contracts for 5G testbeds at military bases (with a second group planned) and the group wants it to leverage the 5G challenge to augment those efforts. It also wants the Wireless Innovation Fund to come into play, and for the DoD to use its purchasing power to help drive the market forward.  

“Just as modular and interoperable hardware and interoperable software will drive down costs and invite more participants, DoD’s purchasing power toward those ends to develop its own capabilities can help complement the development of wireless technology by stimulating competition and innovation in the wider 5G technology supplier market,” the Open RAN Policy Coalition stated in the response.