TIP asks FCC to look at open core and transport, not just open RAN

The Telecom Infra Project wants the FCC to broaden the scope of a proposed inquiry on the status of open RAN to also include other open network elements, like transport and the core.  

The FCC is set to vote next week on Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s proposal to start a formal discussion about open radio access networks (Open RAN), including asking for input on opportunities, obstacles, current status, and how the agency and other federal partners can promote the concept.  

In meeting Monday with FCC staff, TIP Executive Director Attilio Zani expressed the organization’s strong support for the draft Notice of Inquiry (NOI), but also pointed to the importance of open and disaggregated network elements beyond the RAN portion, an ex parte notice describes.

“While much attention has focused on RAN vendor diversity, an open and disaggregated approach throughout the network – including core and transport – elements – will ultimately provide operators with the greatest choice and flexibility while promoting competition and innovation,” TIP expressed, according to the March 10 notice.

In addition to OpenRAN, TIP’s own project groups include Open Optical & Packet Transport and Open Core, among others.

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TIP contends that almost all of the topics the FCC’s NOI would seek input on regarding open RAN, would also be applicable to open and disaggregated architectures for non-RAN part of the network.   

“While the current draft does contain a reference to ‘packet core,’ a clearer elucidation of scope may encourage non-RAN-focused commenters to participate. It would also likely help the Commission develop a fuller record as it considers next steps,” states TIP's ex parte notice. 

TIP noted that the agency prioritized funding reimbursement for core equipment replacement over RAN as part of the FCC’s program to help carriers get rid of potentially risky network equipment from vendors, namely Huawei and ZTE. 

When Rosenworcel introduced the draft NOI in late February, she pointed to open RAN’s potential for U.S. innovation and security.

“Open RAN has emerged as one promising path to drive 5G security and innovation in the United States,” said Rosenworcel in a statement (PDF).“With this inquiry, we will start to compile a record about how we can secure our vulnerable supply chains once and for all, and revitalize the nation’s 5G leadership and innovation.”

The open RAN topic has gained interest among lawmakers and federal agencies, in part as a way to help spur vendor diversity and foster alternatives to the likes of Huawei and ZTE, which have been deemed a national security risk.

In May 2020, the Open RAN Policy Coalition formed with 31 initial members including U.S. operators AT&T and Verizon to advocate for policy to help drive open RAN adoption. Last fall the FCC held is own forum on 5G Open Radio Access Networks.  

If adopted the proposal up for vote next week would also ask for input about if and what steps are needed to help accelerate development and deployment of Open RAN at scale, the relationship of recent government action and Open RAN development, potential software vulnerabilities or risks stemming from virtualized environment, and costs and benefits of deployment.

The FCC’s open meeting is scheduled for March 17.