NTIA awards $42 million to a consortium of carriers, vendors and labs for Open RAN

“The best way to assess integration across the industry is to go big,” writes AT&T’s VP of RAN Technology

AT&T and Verizon are heading up a federally funded, $42.3 million project focused on Open RAN interoperability, network performance and security, as well as new testing methods.

Japan’s NTT DoCoMo and Reliance Jio of India are also participating in the research project, as unfunded founding members. Suppliers who are participating include network equipment giants Nokia and Ericsson, along with Samsung, Airspan, Fujitsu, Radisys, Mavenir, Microsoft, Dell, Intel, Ciena, Cisco, Rakuten, RedHat, VMware, Wind River, Cisco, Amdocs and test companies Keysight Technologies and Viavi Solutions.

The project has been dubbed the Acceleration of Compatibility and Commercialization for Open RAN Deployments, or ACCoRD, funded from the 10-year Wireless Innovation Fund. Seventeen projects totalling around $140 million have been funded thus far.

ACCoRD will be centered around a testing, evaluation and research and development center in the Dallas Technology Corridor as well as a satellite facility in Washington, D.C. that is a designated OTIC.

The University of Texas at Dallas will assist with the Dallas center, according to NITA, and Virginia Tech, Northeastern University, Iowa State University and Rutgers University will provide neutral laboratory support.

“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. Operators need to have confidence that different vendors’ products will work together at scale before adding them to their network,” AT&T’s Robert Soni, VP of RAN technology, wrote in a blog post about the ACCoRD project. He added: “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.”

Soni went on to say, “The best way to assess integration across the industry is to go big,” and said that the vendors involved reach beyond traditional NEMs and are “all potential additions to an open and interoperable radio access network.”

The labs will both boost the availability of testing, and “identify new methods of assessing innovations and technologies not covered by current best practices”, including aspects of performance and security, Soni explained.

“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,” said Joe Russo, EVP and president of global network and technology at Verizon. “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. We are pleased to join AT&T in leading this consortium to build on the substantial work we have driven in this area and drive adoption across the industry at scale.”

“Certainly, we’re excited about how this research will bolster our own efforts to build Open RAN into our network at scale,” Soni said. “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. We’ve been talking about the benefits of a more flexible approach to wireless infrastructure for years, and we look forward to getting even further into the nuts and bolts as part of this testing.” 

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