AT&T and Verizon lead new Open RAN test consortium

  • The US is now awash with Open RAN activity
  • AT&T and Verizon are heading up a new consortium focused on Open RAN testing and evaluation
  • Japan’s NTT Docomo and India’s Reliance Jio are consulting partners
  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded $42.3m to set up facilities in Dallas and Washington DC
  • Almost 20 vendors will provide their technology for testing and R&D processes

The US government is providing $42.3m of funding for a new initiative, headed up by AT&T and Verizon, that will focus on the testing and evaluation of Open RAN technology provided by an initial roll call of almost 20 vendors. 

The funding will go towards a telco-led project – dubbed ACCoRD (Acceleration of Compatibility and Commercialization for Open RAN Deployments) – to establish a test, evaluation and R&D facility in the so-called Dallas Technology Corridor (located in Richardson, Texas, on the northern outskirts of Dallas) as well as a smaller facility in the Washington DC area. The test centre will focus on “network performance, interoperability, security, and facilitate research into new testing methods.”  

The US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded the grant from the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund (aka the Wireless Innovation Fund), a “10-year, $1.5 billion programme to support the development of open and interoperable wireless networks” that was established as part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022

AT&T is the prime consortium member, according to the NTIA, with Verizon the other project lead company. The other members of the consortium that will benefit from the NTIA funding are educational research institutes, namely: The University of Texas at Dallas; Northeastern University; Iowa State University; Rutgers University; and Virginia Tech. AT&T also noted that Idaho National Labs will play a role. 

AT&T, of course, stunned the industry last December with news of a five-year, $14bn plan to build out the next phase of its 5G network using Open RAN-ready systems, with Ericsson as its lead vendor partner for the new deployment programme and Fujitsu as the initial additional provider of Open RAN radios. The move effectively ousted Nokia from the telco’s 5G rollout plans – see Nokia licks its wounds over AT&T’s RAN rejection. 

Verizon, meanwhile, has been deploying Open RAN-ready technology from Samsung as part of the virtual RAN rollout for a couple of years already and, in the wake of AT&T’s announcement, reminded the world that it is also embracing the Open RAN revolution by having deployed more than 130,000 Open RAN-capable radios at more than 15,000 Open RAN-compliant sites. It has also just announced the completion of Open RAN conformance and interoperability testing for the South Korean vendor’s 4G and 5G NR radios for Verizon’s mobile network.  

Japanese telco NTT Docomo and Indian operator Reliance Jio are “unfunded, consulting partners,” according to the NTIA. NTT Docomo has been deploying Open RAN technology in its mobile networks for years already and is aiming to become an international force with its Open RAN ecosystem experience (OREX) offering to other network operators. Jio, meanwhile, has not announced any Open RAN rollouts in its 4G and 5G networks, but does have ambitions to take its ‘Make in India’ technology, including the wireless technology stack developed by its subsidiary Radisys, to the international market.   

The roll call of vendors that will be contributing their technology for evaluation numbers almost 20. They are (in alphabetical order): 

  • Airspan
  • Amdocs
  • Ciena
  • Cisco
  • Dell
  • Ericsson
  • Fujitsu
  • Intel
  • Keysight
  • Mavenir
  • Microsoft
  • Nokia
  • Radisys (part of the Reliance Jio family)
  • Rakuten (Symphony)
  • Samsung
  • Red Hat
  • Viavi
  • VMware
  • Wind River 

Rob Soni, VP of RAN technology at AT&T, noted in this blog that “evaluating how different products integrate with one another is a crucial part of facilitating the more diverse vendor ecosystem that many in the industry and government envision… this testing is especially important to us, since it creates an opportunity to build on our work with Ericsson and discuss with a broader group the technical details of building an Open RAN platform that will enable us to incorporate products from alternative vendors in the future. The best way to assess integration across the industry is to go big, which is why AT&T and Verizon came together to assemble a broad consortium that includes not only other major network operators like Jio and Docomo but also a wide range of vendors. Certainly, we’re excited about how this research will bolster our own efforts to build Open RAN into our network at scale. But we also see it as an important step to advance Open RAN generally, since it will secure input and perspective from more than one wireless provider and help ensure the lessons are available to operators around the world,” noted Soni.

There is, though, no sign of Dish Network, which has built a greenfield Open RAN network across the US from scratch. That’s because earlier this year Dish landed $50m of NTIA funding to develop an Open RAN Center for Integration & Deployment (ORCID) in a previous round of Wireless Innovation Fund largesse – see Dish nabs lion’s share of NTIA’s $80m Open RAN grants.

Verizon, though, is happy to be along for the ride, with the operator’s president of global network and technology, Joe Russo, highlighting the importance of collaboration between network operators, vendors and developers “to directionally advance this important technology evolution. The transition to Open RAN has the potential to bring many benefits in terms of deployment flexibility, faster innovation in an open environment, and greater service options by increasing the opportunity for new entrants to provide competitive and advanced solutions. The work resulting from this grant will drive the evolution of multi-vendor ORAN capabilities to a level of reliability and performance our customers have come to expect. More competition, more innovation, exceptional performance, and increased supplier diversity will all be net benefits to operators and customers,” stated Russo in this blog

NTT Docomo is pretty chuffed too. “Leveraging its experiences and expertise in multi-vendor interoperability since the 4G era and Open RAN deployment in 5G networks, Docomo will contribute to the realisation of integration and interoperability between major and emerging vendors with its consortium partners,” the operator noted in this statement

There’s no mention in any of the NTIA Open RAN funding awards of the other major US mobile operator, T-Mobile US, as it has not included the disaggregated access architecture in its networks roadmap to date.   

The US government has long been a flag-waver for Open RAN, as it offers an mobile network infrastructure alternative to Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE, which are subject to a wide range of federal restrictions because of security concerns, and provides US companies the opportunity to compete with the radio access network (RAN) sector’s leading global suppliers, Europe’s Ericsson and Nokia. The NTIA noted that “open and interoperable wireless equipment will help drive competition, strengthen global supply chain resilience and lower costs for consumers and network operators.” 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.