by TIP News
TIP thanks the NTIA for the opportunity to provide comments on how it can structure and administer grants from its $1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund (“Wireless Innovation Fund” or “WIF”) to best accelerate the adoption of open architectures across the global wireless ecosystem and fortify U.S. Open RAN leadership.
We are grateful to Congress for explicitly recognizing TIP in the statute that created the WIF.
TIP sees two critical barriers that are inhibiting the widespread adoption of Open RAN and creating market inefficiencies:
- the lack of MNO purchasing confidence, and
- supply chain inefficiencies in navigating a newly disaggregated, multi-vendor environment given that wireless systems have historically been closed and controlled by a single vendor.
A far greater number of MNOs need to attain confidence in Open RAN solutions to trigger the level of high-volume purchasing and deployments at scale necessary to impact unit pricing sufficiently to represent a competitive new option in relation to incumbent vendors. Therefore, achieving vendor diversity requires facilitating major structural efficiencies within the supply chain to streamline efforts across hundreds of operators and their vendors
Because of the unique challenges of Open RAN, and based on TIP’s experience, TIP envisions a well-coordinated engine for reducing the complexities inherent in carrier-grade Open RAN system integration. As a trusted neutral party at the center of the global ecosystem, TIP sees the key challenge facing Open RAN deployment – namely, the need for a comprehensive coordination and enablement engine designed to harmonize market fragmentation, drive greater industry coordination, create supply chain efficiencies, and build marketplace confidence through formal certification of Open RAN interoperability at the system level. In TIP’s observation, an entire life cycle approach to Open RAN system integration and validation is required to engender market confidence and catalyze the desired step change in the rate of adoption and deployment of these systems today and for innovation cycles to come.
The system certification function should include coordination of the entire system lifecycle from beginning to end – that is, helping operators and vendors to develop system roadmaps, all the way to the point of procurement and benchmarking post-sales customer satisfaction. This includes:
- harmonizing operator requirements;
- roadmap and lifecycle management;
- system release certification (“SRC”);
- solution and integration benchmarking and operational satisfaction surveys; and
- system procurement, including a readily accessible digital catalog for vendors to showcase their products to MNOs.
At the heart of this full life cycle system certification is a federated global network of certification providers (independent labs and system integrators who are TIP-accredited).
Such an SRC function will play a major part in assuring time-to-deployment. SRC for “complete Open RAN systems” (built using multiple vendors’ hardware and software products) will replace “buyer-beware” product compatibility doubts with confidence in proven full Open RAN systems. TIP’s theory that a certification process will help restore supply chain efficiencies is backed up by TIP’s “SRC Pilot” conducted in 2020, which showed a 60% reduction in time to validate an Open RAN Release. The pilot demonstrated the direct value of certification in reducing operator time and effort to achieve successful Open RAN deployment.
The ecosystem needs federated labs and coordinated system integration in the immediate term as these are an indispensable prerequisite to accelerating the market by rapidly building purchasing confidence that will result in adoption at scale, leading to lowered costs. TIP’s analysis of present market conditions suggests that – absent this step – Open RAN deployment will not accelerate sufficiently to reach the “escape velocity” stage in market movement that can provide the scale and traction necessary to ensure that the future of wireless is Open RAN.
To ensure that Open RAN does not stall out in the coming years under the heavy inertia of incumbency, we need to establish such a system certification function immediately. We must seize the window of opportunity for Open RAN infrastructure investments within the remaining 5G build cycle, including applying Open RAN in the growing domain of private networks, and well before the next major cycle of infrastructure buildout for 6G.
Given necessarily long cycles of RAN development and deployment – where a large-scale roll-out must be preceded by four-to-five years of live trials and smaller-scale deployments that generate feedback on both products and processes – the need for establishing this capability is at a critical juncture. Indeed, TIP believes it is the fundamental prerequisite, and we are prepared to launch this capability immediately if we are successful in obtaining WIF federal investment dollars.
It bears mentioning that a skilled workforce with the requisite technical training is equally essential to achieving this “ready to launch” capability. A quickening pace in the way telecom networks are designed, built, tested, deployed, and managed requires not only a shift in the way the industry is structured and adopts disaggregated and open network solutions, but also a shift in addressing the knowledge and skills gap in the current workforce.
1. Addressing Wireless Innovation Fund RFC, Questions #1, 5.
2. Wireless Innovation Fund RFC, Questions #1-2.
3. Id., Questions #11-12.
4. See Appendix B for a more complete description of TIP’s SRC Pilot.
5. Id., Questions #1, 6, 14.
6. Over 75% of organizations surveyed within TIP’s membership indicated an immediate need to address the following industry level issues: (i) common taxonomy in what, why, and how open network solutions are implemented; (ii) a re-skill in today’s and tomorrow’s telecom professionals with the technical, operational, and strategic knowledge and the skill to evaluate, plan, architect, test, deploy, and manage multi-vendor open network solutions; and (iii) grassroots talent development (from universities, R&D institutes, and within industry) in core skill areas, including software development, network engineering, testing and integration, with the objectives of plugging industry skills gaps and points of failure in the newly forming market structure. Many vendors, system integrators, and operators that are already engaged in Open RAN are building bespoke training programs to upskill.