Viavi wins $21.7M NTIA Grant for Open RAN Lab

Test equipment firm Viavi is celebrating a big funding win. The company was awarded a $21.7 million grant over three years from U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for its Viavi Automated Lab-as-a-Service for Open RAN, or VALOR.  

Viavi said it will contribute $5.7 million to the project, bringing the total funding available for the lab to slightly more than $27 million.

The grant is part of the government’s CHIPs and Science Act of 2022, which is intended to strengthen the U.S. chip manufacturing industry and boost scientific research. The NTIA is responsible for allocating $1.5 billion of the CHIPs Act that is designated for the Wireless Innovation Fund and the agency announced earlier this month that it had awarded $80 million in grants during this third funding round. Those grants went to six different projects for the establishment of open RAN testing facilities in the U.S.  

Dish Wireless was the largest recipient and received a $50 million grant for its Open RAN Center for Integration and Deployment (ORCID), which will allow participants to test and validate their hardware and software solutions against Dish’s commercial-grade open RAN network.

The second largest winner was Viavi with its $21.7 million grant. Kevin Siebert, Viavi Solutions SVP, general counsel and secretary, said that VALOR will provide performance testing in the field and in the lab so that customers can trial their open RAN performance in different environments and optimize its performance. “This will help avoid issues with open RAN in the field,” he said.

VALOR will provide all types of open RAN testing including conformance, security, multi-cell loading and even stress testing for open RAN components.

Marc Martin, a partner at the law firm Perkins Cole, which advised Viavi on its NTIA grant application, said that Viavi was particularly focused on making its lab cost efficient for open RAN companies to use. To accomplish this, VALOR will provide an “a la carte” pricing model so that companies can pick and choose what types of testing that they want. “We hope this type of pricing encourages companies to join the lab because they can pick and choose,” Seibert said.

VALOR will be located in Chandler, Arizona, where Viavi is based. Siebert said that there is already a pre-existing facility ready to house the lab and construction has already started on it.

He expects the lab will be operational by this fall. “There’s lots of pressure to build this lab as quickly as possible,” he said. “We see a lot of demand for this.”

Siebert added that most of the funding will be used for purchasing equipment and for hiring and developing engineers to run the lab.