FCC’s Rosenworcel proposes Raleigh, Boston as open RAN, 5G test sites

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed establishing Raleigh, North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts as new innovation zones for wireless communications research and development.

She introduced her proposal at this week’s Open RAN Showcase being hosted by the FCC.  

Jessica Rosenworcel
Jessica Rosenworcel

Innovation zones are FCC-designated, city-scale test beds managed by the National Science Foundation’s Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research.

There are already two other similar innovation zones dedicated by the FCC: in New York City and Salt Lake City.

These wireless technology test beds extend the geographic areas in which already licensed experimental program licensees can conduct tests. Parties have the flexibility to conduct multiple, non-related experiments in the zone. And experimental program license holders, which are licensed to operate elsewhere, can also use the innovation zones.  

Rosenworcel’s latest proposal will be voted on by the full commission at its August 5 open meeting, and if approved, Raleigh and Boston would join New York and Salt Lake City as zones for wireless technology innovation. 

“These innovation zones will support cutting-edge research and development that is crucial for advancing our wireless leadership,” said Rosenworcel. “Moreover, by bringing together operators, vendors, vertical interests, and other government agencies, we are helping to spur a market for more secure and open 5G technologies.”

Open RAN

The FCC is a big proponent of open radio access network (RAN) technology, particularly since it sees open RAN as a way to expunge Chinese proprietary equipment from American telecommunications networks. 

Each of its innovation test beds is equipped for open RAN research and testing. 

The agency is hosting a prominent list of open RAN leaders at its open RAN Showcase this week who are talking about hardware and software and how the FCC might help foster the technology’s success.

RELATED: Dish’s Stephen Bye updates on network progress at FCC’s open RAN event

Yesterday, University of Chicago professor and former FCC CTO Monisha Ghosh quizzed Stephen Bye, chief commercial officer at Dish, about what Dish has learned as it deploys its standalone 5G network.

One thing that doesn’t seem to get mentioned at open RAN events and rah! rah! summits is the fact that Chinese programmers and developers could infiltrate open RAN groups and potentially defeat the security ambitions of U.S. leaders who want to keep Chinese influence out of U.S. networks.

RELATED: Irony Alert: What if China taps open RAN to breach networks?

Innovation zone details

If approved by the FCC, the Boston Innovation Zone, at Northeastern University, will support the transition of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Colosseum network emulator to a shared platform, usable by the research community. Colosseum, the world’s largest wireless network emulator, was originally designed to support DARPA’s Spectrum Collaboration Challenge. With the conclusion of that challenge, the larger research community will now be able to take advantage of its capabilities.

The Raleigh Innovation Zone, in collaboration with North Carolina State University, will house the Aerial Experimentation and Research Platform for Advanced Wireless (AERPAW), which will focus on new use cases involving wireless communications and unmanned aerial systems.

The proposal submitted by Rosenworcel, if adopted, would also modify the New York City Innovation Zone (known as COSMOS) to cover the three Columbia University and City College of New York campus areas.

Speaking at yesterday’s open RAN showcase, Rosenworcel said, “History tells us that when you give innovators in the United States a sandbox to test new ideas, well, good things follow. Here’s hoping that creating two new sandboxes to explore wireless innovation will unlock exciting new breakthroughs in open RAN technology.”