US allocates $420m for Open RAN radio unit R&D

  • The US government wants to accelerate Open RAN technology developments to help broaden the vendor options for network operators
  • It set aside $1.5bn for its Wireless Innovation Fund
  • The latest $420m tranche of that money will go to companies developing Open RAN-ready radio units

Radio unit vendors will be in a heightened state of excitement today following the announcement that the US government is to grant up to $420m to companies developing the technology needed to “advance open network adoption in the US and abroad.” 

The US administration is keen on Open RAN as it believes the development of disaggregated network elements and architectures will expand the vendor ecosystem and give network operators more choice than they have currently. The hope, of course, is that US companies will step up and provide competition to the European duo of Ericsson and Nokia, and offer up carrier-grade technology that can be used as an alternative to the Chinese network equipment from Huawei and ZTE that is deemed to be a security risk. 

To help fuel Open RAN developments, the US allocated $1.5bn to the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund – aka the Wireless Innovation Fund – as part of the Chips and Science Act of 2022. Now, up to $420m of that total is to be awarded by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to radio unit vendors. 

“This $420m investment will help shore up our supply chain and create opportunities for companies from the US and our allies,” stated assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and NTIA administrator Alan Davidson. “Open, interoperable networks will facilitate competition, make our supply chains more secure, and lead to lower costs,” he added.

The aim of the funding is to “drive wireless innovation, foster competition, and strengthen supply chain resilience,” noted the NTIA in this announcement. “By supporting the development of open radio units, this second round of funding will help to ensure that wireless technology is built by the US and its global allies and partners – not vendors from nations that threaten our national security,” it added.  

The funding will focus on two particular areas of development: 

Open radio unit commercialisation – “Accelerating the development of open radio units to the point where they meet the needs of wireless carriers and are ready for commercial trials”. The NTIA expects grants of between $25m and $45m to be awarded to successful applicants. 

Open radio unit innovation – “Improving the overall performance and capabilities of open radio units through targeted research and development,” for which grants of between $5m and $10m will be awarded. 

Companies have until 10 July to apply for funding: You can find out more at this Round 2 (2024) Open RU page.

The NTIA has already awarded $140m of Wireless Innovation Fund grants to companies that are establishing testing and evaluation facilities and undertaking testing R&D, a big chunk of which went to 5G greenfield Open RAN network operator Dish – see Dish nabs lion’s share of NTIA’s $80m Open RAN grants.

For more on Open RAN developments, check out our upcoming Open RAN Summit (14-15 May) that features speakers from BT, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, Telus, Vodafone, Verizon, Ericsson, Mavenir, Rakuten Symphony, Red Hat, Wind River and more!

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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