There should be little doubt about the importance of wireless technologies and devices in today’s society, both for consumers and businesses. Almost every American uses or interacts with wireless services, in one form or another, in their daily lives. The question becomes whether these wireless communications — especially those prevalent in the envisioned future of 5G licensed services — are sufficiently protected from certain nation states, rogue organizations, troubled individuals or a combination thereof, each of which may be intending to engage in nefarious or harmful activities against Americans and the rest of the world.
The advent of Open RAN provides one path to potentially minimizing exposure points. In its simplest conceptual terms, Open RAN can be considered analogous to secure interoperability. By breaking wireless networks into components and moving away from end-to-end product lines, overall security can actually be improved. Whether it is reducing reliance on foreign manufacturing or providing incentives to harden physical infrastructure and protect corresponding software from intrusions, Open RAN can reduce threats to overall network security, if done properly, and give users the necessary confidence to transmit even the most sensitive data at any time and from any location.
Here are three conditions essential to ensure the success of Open RAN:
First, it must be done without any technological mandates imposed by the U.S. government or any other government or intergovernmental body, for that matter. The FCC and certainly other government entities lack the capabilities and requisite knowledge to impose specific network design requirements or other such directives on the private sector. This point has been proven time and time again, but it bears repeating here.
Second, we must maintain vendor neutrality. That means no single company or select set of companies should be blessed or favored by the government over others that provide the same functionality. We must not pick winners and losers, especially since doing so can stymie the advancement of ideas and innovation.
Third, and related to the first two, the process must remain voluntary. Certain companies may have nuanced views of how to develop and implement the new technology, and they should be permitted to proceed as they see fit. The market will sift the best ideas and ultimately determine which approaches work best.
Michael O’Rielly is an FCC commissioner. Edited for length and style, this article comes from his remarks at the FCC’s Forum on 5G Open Radio Access Networks on Sept. 14, 2020.