NTIA asks for input on how to spend $1.5B to promote open RAN

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is asking for public comment from academia, private industry and other experts on how to move forward with its $1.5 billion grant program aimed at diversifying the number of wireless network equipment suppliers and reducing U.S. reliance on foreign manufacturers of 5G equipment.

The $1.5 billion fund, referred to as the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, is part of the Chips and Science Act of 2022 that was signed into law last August. The fund is intended to bolster open RAN technology because it promotes the usage of interoperable equipment and reduces the industry’s reliance upon proprietary RAN solutions such as those sold by many of the leading wireless suppliers.   

Currently the bulk of wireless network equipment in the U.S. is purchased from foreign companies including Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia and China’s Huawei. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has instituted a “rip-and-replace” fund to help operators remove Huawei’s equipment from existing wireless networks because of national security concerns.

The NTIA notice says that this $1.5 billion fund will be allocated over 10 years “to accelerate the development and deployment of open and interoperable, standards-based RAN.”

Besides giving open RAN a boost, the fund also is intended to be used to improve network security and integrity and also encourage network virtualization.

The NTIA is asking for detailed comments and recommendations on the types of projects and programs the Innovation Fund should support. In addition, the agency asks that commenters provide practical solutions to challenges associated with open RAN as well as detailed criteria that the NTIA should use to decide how it should award grants.

The NTIA notice provides several questions for participants to answer as part of its request for comment. The public comment period ends on January 27, 2023.  But the agency will hold a virtual listening session on January 24, 2023.