FCC Needs to Act in Advancing 5G

February 23, 2021 by TWN Staff
Jessica Roseworcel

WASHINGTON – In the near future, cellular networks, particularly in advancing 5G, need to evolve away from their previously hardware-driven functions and become more virtual or software-based, the acting head of the Federal Communications Commissions believes.

To advance those beliefs, FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed that she and her colleagues open a formal discussion on Open Radio Access Networks — sometimes called Open RAN — the opportunities they present, and what they agency should be doing to promote them.

If approved at the commission’s next open meeting on March 17, the agency will solicit comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment, and how the FCC might foster competitiveness and new entrant access to this emerging market.

A Radio Access Network is the part of a telecommunications system that connects individual devices to other parts of a network through radio connections. A RAN resides between user equipment, such as a mobile phone, a computer or any remotely controlled machine, and provides the connection with its core network.

Open-RAN architecture integrates a modular base station that’s really little more than a software stack wedded to off-the-shelf hardware. The combined system then allows baseband and radio unit components from discrete suppliers to operate seamlessly together.

“Open RAN has emerged as one promising path to drive 5G security and innovation in the United States,” Rosenworcel said on Tuesday.  

“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,” she said.

Rosenworcel has been an early advocate for American engagement and leadership in Open RAN.  In 2019, she raised the issue in a speech to the Mobile World Congress.  She dove still deeper into the issue in remarks made at the FCC Forum on 5G Open Radio Access Networks held in September 2020.

The Notice of Inquiry, if adopted, would seek comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment in American networks and abroad.  

It asks about the role of established large manufacturers and of new entrants in setting standards for this new network architecture.  

It seeks input on what steps should be taken by the FCC, federal partners, industry, academia, or others to accelerate the timeline for Open RAN standards development.  

Further, it seeks comment on any challenges or other considerations related to the deployment, integration, and testing of systems based on Open RAN specifications. 

The NOI also requests comment on the costs and benefits associated with Open RAN development and deployment.

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