Nokia resumes work with O-RAN Alliance

The O-RAN Alliance looks to have resolved concerns, namely from Nokia, that arose after certain participating companies were restricted by the U.S.

Nokia is resuming technical work with the O-RAN Alliance after earlier concerns related to participation of certain Chinese companies that were placed on the U.S. entity list.

On Monday the O-RAN Alliance said changes were made to participation documents and procedures to address the issues and put out the following statement (PDF).

“The O-RAN ALLIANCE became aware of concerns regarding some participants that may be subject to U.S. export regulations, and has been working with O-RAN participants to address these concerns. The O-RAN Board has approved changes to O-RAN participation documents and procedures. While it is up to each O-RAN participant to make their own evaluation of these changes, O-RAN is optimistic that the changes will address the concerns and facilitate O-RAN’s mission.”

Nokia, a major contributor to the O-RAN Alliance, put a hold on work two weeks ago after certain companies with ties to China landed on the U.S. entity list. The vendor was taking time to evaluate, and now plans to restart work.

In a Monday statement the Finnish vendor said: “Nokia is delighted that the important work of the O-RAN Alliance can now continue fully and Nokia’s technical contributions to the Alliance will resume. The speed with which the Alliance has been able to resolve recent issues speaks to the spirit of community and co-operation on which it was founded.”

RELATED: Nokia pauses O-RAN Alliance work

Asked for more detail about the steps and changes made to resolve concerns, Nokia deferred to the O-RAN Alliance and the O-RAN Alliance didn’t respond to an inquiry from Fierce.

The O-RAN Alliance is the organization that defines and creates specifications for open interfaces and functions used in open radio access network architecture. It counts 29 operators globally among members, with a broad group of vendor contributors. Founding operator members include AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo and Orange. A Politico report cited Kindroid, Phytium and Inspur as the three companies in question that were blacklisted by the U.S.

On Tuesday, John Baker, SVP at open RAN software vendor Mavenir, said the board vote by the Alliance resolved compliance questions and urged other companies to reaffirm their commitment to O-RAN.

“We applaud the O-RAN Alliance’s changes to its participation documents and its commitment to fostering openness. These adjustments quickly responded to questions a few companies had about compliance with U.S. export controls,” Baker said in a statement emailed to Fierce. “With this resolution, it’s time for companies that had raised concerns to swiftly reaffirm their support for OpenRAN and the Alliance.”

RELATED: Nokia’s pause sends jolt through O-RAN community

Industry stakeholders had held various views on the impact of Nokia’s pause as well as potential U.S. penalties from working with entities restricted by the U.S.

Ericsson, which is part of the O-RAN Alliance but an arguably less enthusiastic supporter of open RAN, had warned earlier that the situation could hamper progress in the O-RAN Alliance. Today, an Ericsson spokesperson said the company was satisfied with the fix.

“Ericsson is satisfied that O-RAN alliance has found a solution that resolves the issue,” an Ericsson spokesperson said via email.

Parallel Wireless VP Eugina Jordan had said earlier she expected the White House would issue licenses to let companies continue working together within industry groups, as had been done with in other standards setting bodies like ETSI, without violating U.S. entity list rules.  

Executives from major operators AT&T and Deutsche Telekom, who are also leaders at the O-RAN Alliance, voiced support alongside the organization’s statement on Monday.

“O-RAN is an open and collaborative global alliance operating in a way that promotes transparency and participation of our member companies in the development and adoption of global open specifications and standards,” said Andre Fuetsch, chairman of the O-RAN Alliance and CTO of AT&T, in a statement.

AT&T’s own deployment of open RAN elements is already underway.

“We remain fully committed to working together in the alliance to achieve the goals and objectives of O-RAN as quickly as possible,” said Alex Jinsung Choi, COO of the O-RAN Alliance and SVP of Strategy and Technology Innovation, Deutsche Telekom.

RELATED: Policy experts discuss open RAN security issues: Special Report

BT chief architect Neil McRae recently expressed confidence the O-RAN Alliance would resolve the issue with Nokia but noted political challenges to work through. He pointed out that the operator itself, also a member of the Alliance, is replacing equipment from Chinese vendor Huawei in the U.K. and needed to ensure movement toward a long-term sustainable architecture.

“We don’t want to do anything that may have some doubts, and I suspect that’s what Nokia are convinced about because you don’t want to invest in something that isn’t able to generate a return,” McRae said.

After Nokia initially paused work, GlobalData principal analyst Ed Gubbins told Fierce that the industry body was undoubtedly working quickly to fix the issue, which he expected could slow down O-RAN near-term. Removing companies on the entity list from the organization was one option he assumed was on the table. Still, Gubbins was skeptical there was a serious threat of long-term impacts to the Alliance or open RAN movement.

“The U.S. government has expressed plenty of optimism around the prospects for O-RAN to offer alternatives to the China-based vendors that have raised security concerns,” Gubbins had said. “So the notion of O-RAN being too closely associated with China-based vendors would be a stretch."