OpenRAN lobby group forms in US with 31 founding members

A new lobby group has emerged in the US, known as the Open RAN Policy Coalition, with a mission to guide policy making and encourage the promotion of the OpenRAN movement.

OpenRAN is of course gathering momentum across numerous different segments of the telecoms industry, though it is still in its embryonic days. It will be years before OpenRAN can materially challenge the status quo in the network infrastructure ecosystem, but assistive government policy and a generous regulatory environment could certainly accelerate this roadmap.

“As evidenced by the current global pandemic, vendor choice and flexibility in next-generation network deployments are necessary from a security and performance standpoint,” said Diane Rinaldo, Executive Director of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, though we aren’t too sure how the two are related.

“By promoting policies that standardize and develop open interfaces, we can ensure interoperability and security across different players and potentially lower the barrier to entry for new innovators.”

As a technology set, OpenRAN disaggregates radio, hardware and software components of telecoms networks. The objective is to offer the opportunity for telcos to build networks through a modular design, selecting each component on its own merit as opposed to proprietary technologies which bundle everything together and potentially create vendor lock-in situations.

Theoretically, networks should be cheaper to deploy as there would be greater diversity in the supplier ecosystem with specialists emerging in each segment.

The purpose of this group is as most would expect; to influence government policy for OpenRAN technologies and to encourage enforced diversity in telecoms supply chains. The group will push for policies which are more overtly in support of open and interoperable wireless technologies, funding R&D, lower barriers for 5G deployment and use government procurement to support vendor diversity.

Much of what is being said is hardly different from the corporate and meaningless jargon which litters the industry thanks to the influence of PR agencies who have little more than surface knowledge, but some of the policy objectives are quite interesting:

  • Signal government support for open and interoperable solutions: Perhaps this is suggesting the group will push governments to pick a camp and actively promote open technologies
  • Use government procurement to support vendor diversity: Should the lobby be successful, maybe there will be regulatory requirements to incorporate open technologies into any network which receives public funds
  • Avoid heavy-handed or prescriptive solutions: Could these mean an end to proprietary technologies through legislation?

For some, this might seem like a worrying development (Ericsson, Nokia or Huawei are hardly going to be thrilled) but the move has been welcomed by others in the industry.

“The launch of the Open RAN Policy Coalition shows the momentum building behind a more competitive, innovative, technology ecosystem,” said Attilio Zani, Executive Director of the Telecom Infra Project.

“At the heart of TIP’s work is the development and deployment of open, disaggregated, standards-based solutions – that are developed in conjunction with the operators. This, together with a supportive policy environment that allows new technology to flourish, will create greater opportunities for new entrants and a more diverse supply chain that will ultimately transform the industry to deliver the high-quality connectivity that the world needs – now and in the decades to come.”

The emergence of a formal lobby group is another step towards the breakthrough of Open RAN technologies, though momentum is already gathering very quickly in the US.

In protest against China emerging as the powerhouse of the 5G era, the US Government has been quick to jump on the Open RAN bandwagon. This preference serves two purposes for the US Government; firstly, it dilutes the influence Chinese infrastructure vendors have on the industry, and secondly, it stimulates the creation of US infrastructure companies. There aren’t many US names in the RAN game currently.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced to Congress to provide up to $1 billion of federal funds to create Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE.

“Every month that the US does nothing, Huawei stands poised to become the cheapest, fastest, most ubiquitous global provider of 5G, while US and Western companies and workers lose out on market share and jobs,” said Senator Mark Warner, a particularly vocal critic of China.

“Widespread adoption of 5G technology has the potential to unleash sweeping effects for the future of internet-connected devices, individual data security, and national security. It is imperative that Congress address the complex security and competitiveness challenges that Chinese-directed telecommunication companies pose.”

OpenRAN technologies are not a market-ready alternative for traditional RAN equipment in most circumstances now, though there is swift progress being made. With the likes of Rakuten and Dish championing open networks, the status quo is beginning to shift, which will only be accelerated with political support. The formation of this lobby group to compound existing support in the US political aisles is a very interesting development.

Founding members of Open RAN Policy Coalition:

Airspan, Altiostar, AWS, AT&T, Cisco, CommScope, Dell, Dish Network, Facebook, Fujitsu, Google, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, Mavenir, Microsoft, NEC Corporation, NewEdge Signal Solutions, NTT, Oracle, Parallel Wireless, Qualcomm, Rakuten, Samsung Electronics America, Telefónica, US Ignite, Verizon, VMWare, Vodafone, World Wide Technology, and XCOM-Labs.

Facebook bags former UK Deputy PM as lobbyist in chief

Former MP Sir Nick Clegg has joined Facebook to take over as VP of Global Affairs and Communications. In other words, it’s chief lobbyist.

The appointment is certainly an interesting one. Having led the Liberal Democrats (the political form of irrelevance) from 2007 to 2015, and served as Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government under Prime Minister David Cameron, Clegg was defeated in his constituency of Sheffield Hallam by the Labour representative.

“Having spoken at length to Mark and Sheryl over the last few months, I have been struck by their recognition that the company is on a journey which brings new responsibilities not only to the users of Facebook’s apps but to society at large,” said Clegg in a Facebook post. “I hope I will be able to play a role in helping to navigate that journey.”

Based out of California, the hire could be an clever move for Facebook. Clegg, despite being as inspirational as scrambled eggs, has plenty of experience of the political ping pong, most crucially as a Member of the European Parliament for East Midlands between 1999 and 2004, and a position as a European Commission trade negotiator. Being one of the most stringent regulatory markets on the planet, having Clegg’s European experience is certainly a bonus.

The issue which Facebook might face in hiring Clegg is the weight which he carries. Being leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister might look good to US corporates on the CV, but the reality might be a bit different. The Liberal Democrats are a featherweight presence in British politics, and while Clegg did lead the party to the weighty presence of 57 seats in the House of Commons, he also led them off a cliff to eight in the following General Election during 2015. Clegg left politics rather sheepishly and without leaving any real legacy or memory.

Unfortunately for Facebook, the UK is one of the markets where Clegg will be most needed. With CEO Mark Zuckerberg under threat of a summons after repeatedly ignoring calls to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee, someone needs to calm the UK waters. With the neither the Conservative or the Labour party holding in him in particularly high regard, it might be more of a beg mission than lobbying.

“Our company is on a critical journey,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a separate post. “The challenges we face are serious and clear and now more than ever we need new perspectives to help us though this time of change.

“The opportunities are clear too. Every day people use our apps to connect with family and friends and make a difference in their communities. If we can honor the trust they put in us and live up to our responsibilities, we can help more people use technology to do good. That’s what motivates our teams and from all my conversations with Nick, it’s clear that he believes in this as well. His experience and ability to work through complex issues will be invaluable in the years to come.”

Change is certainly on the horizon for Facebook. With numerous scandals plaguing the business, and the threat of a GDPR fine following the most recent data breach, the team will have to carefully manage the Gaggle of Red-tapers in Brussels. Europe already the most stringent data protection and privacy rules worldwide, and it would be no surprise to see those tightened further. Clegg certainly has an interesting couple of months ahead.