Over the past few years, the FCC has aggressively executed our 5G FAST plan to secure American’s leadership in 5G. This strategy features three key parts: freeing up commercial radio-frequency spectrum, promoting wireless infrastructure and encouraging fiber deployment.
This strategy has yielded significant results. For example, we have completed multiple spectrum auctions that have repurposed huge swaths of spectrum for 5G. Also, we have seen record-breaking capital investments in infrastructure essential for next-generation networks.
However, our focus is not limited to promoting networks that are strong. We also are committed to making sure that they are secure.
For years, U.S. government officials have expressed concern about the national security threats posed by certain foreign communications equipment providers. To address this concern, we have aimed to protect the integrity of the communications supply chain — that is, the process by which products and services are manufactured, distributed, sold and, ultimately, integrated into our communications networks.
Specifically, the FCC has prohibited the use of money from our Universal Service Fund to purchase or obtain any equipment or services produced or provided by companies that the Commission determines pose a national security threat, namely Huawei and ZTE. We also initiated a process to identify and catalog insecure equipment used in USF-funded communications networks so that we can, hopefully, implement a program to remove and replace it once Congress appropriates funds for this purpose.
Looking to the next generation of wireless technology, much of the equipment at the heart of 5G networks currently comes from just a few global suppliers. Three of the most prominent are Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia and South Korea’s Samsung, but the largest of them is the Chinese company Huawei.
Carriers building out 5G networks rightfully worry that Huawei equipment could expose them to security risks. Huawei’s market power, aided by generous subsidies from the Chinese Communist Party, often might seem to make that company the cheapest and thus best option for network equipment. Nevertheless, the Chinese National Intelligence Law requires companies like Huawei to cooperate with, and keep secret, State intelligence work. The law also creates opportunities for Chinese intelligence agencies to compel access to an organization’s facilities, including communications equipment, in certain cases. In short, many are recognizing that you get what you pay for, and that the long-term costs of using insecure equipment are most likely to outweigh any short-term savings.
In addition to these security issues, carriers may be concerned by a relatively consolidated marketplace. Some have told me, both here and abroad, that vendor diversity is useful in terms of price competition, avoiding the lock-in problem and ensuring a backup supplier, among other things.
Technological innovation has opened up a new path to address these concerns. That technology is Open Radio Access Networks, or Open RANs.
Open RANs could transform 5G network architecture, costs, and security.
Traditionally, wireless networks rely on a closed architecture in which a single vendor supplies many or all the components between network base stations and the core. But Open RANs can fundamentally disrupt this marketplace. We could see an exponential growth in the number and diversity of suppliers. We could see more cost-effective solutions. Also, critically, we could see the keys to security in the hands of network operators, as opposed to a Chinese vendor. All this may explain why some telecom companies are beginning to develop and deploy open, interoperable, standards-based and virtualized radio access networks.
As an added bonus, many of the leading firms in the Open RAN space are based in the United States or in countries generally aligned with our vision of 5G security.
How this marketplace will evolve is difficult to predict with certainty. However, here is what I can say with confidence: Innovation and competition make for a stronger, healthier telecom ecosystem. That is why so many are excited about Open RAN’s potential.
The FCC wants to encourage research and development into innovative network solutions. One way to do that is by convening the top experts in the field to discuss the benefits of Open RAN, the challenges of implementing it and the lessons learned from deployments thus far — as we have done by convening our Forum on 5G Open Radio Access Networks on Sept. 14, 2020.
Ajit Pai is chairman of the FCC. 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.
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.
The most newsworthy stories in wireless today are all about 5G communications technology. In 2019, we enter a cautious, early adoption phase of this next generation of wireless technology. A small number of users will get a first taste of 5G in specific geographic locations, using specific applications, none of which are ubiquitous or cost-optimized.
It’s not. 5G is here, albeit in small doses. All the hype and irrational exuberance of a few years ago is turning into initial pilot deployments. It’s an exciting time, especially for those of us in the trenches of 5G development. Here are some of the major trends driving 5G innovation today.
Mobile network operators spend a lot of time waiting for others — waiting for power companies to bring electricity to new sites, municipal planners to approve small cell locations, and in some cases, backhaul providers to hook up metro cells. These inhibitions on agile deployment increase operator interest in indoor private networks where site access, power and backhaul already exist. 5G is an enabler for service providers and neutral hosts to deploy private networks with highly reliable indoor wireless.
Private networks could give neutral hosts stronger plays in key vertical markets such as business enterprise, health care and manufacturing. For example, a business might use a private network offering from a neutral host for a totally wireless office space that offers higher quality and more reliability than Wi-Fi.
No longer tethered to desk phones and LAN cabling, employees’ mobile devices would join the company’s wireless LAN as they enter the building, which is the same network their laptops run on. The enterprise saves on infrastructure costs while enabling wireless location and tracking services. When the employee leaves work, their mobile device snaps back onto the outside cellular network, provided by the same operator.
The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in the United States will help enable such private networks in 5G. The wireless operators or neutral hosts would host and manage these like an IT infrastructure, providing much more scale than traditional telecom networks. Private networks are one of the leading visions for 5G.
Enhanced Mobile Broadband
Future visions aside, mobile broadband is fundamentally what the wireless industry is all about. Enhanced mobile broadband is about making it even better. In 4G, Long Term Evolution (LTE) modulation technology laid the foundation for exceptional mobile data speeds, and its LTE Advanced-Pro evolution will continue to be the workhorse of the industry, even as 5G emerges. We will continue to see investment in LTE for many years with 4G and 5G coexisting in the future. We will also continue to see more and more new spectrum open up to enable continued mobile broadband growth.
But 5G will enable service providers to keep up with the intense subscriber demand for more wireless bandwidth by adding capacity to their networks. Technologically, achieving 5G performance requires providers to eliminate network bottlenecks by adding more small cells, more fiber and mobile edge computing to their networks. The industry has been most successful with deploying and using more fiber. Many operators worldwide are committed to a fiber-heavy and fiber-deep future.
The deployment of outdoor small cells is proving more challenging because of zoning delays. But these metro cell deployments are increasing despite these issues, and we expect them to continue accelerating in urban and suburban areas, with the goal of bringing the fiber hop-off point as close to the user as possible. Mobile edge computing (MEC) is a bit of a laggard. This model envisions computing resources being brought out from central offices to cloud-based radio access network (C-RAN) hubs closer to or at cell sites. What is occurring first is the actual build of the C-RAN hubs and centralizing of some radio capabilities. The next step will be an upgrade to MEC with more radio functions virtualized, which is a few years away.
Fixed wireless access (FWA), however, has emerged as among the first 5G applications to be deployed. FWA enables wireless carriers to compete for more share in the residential broadband market. 5G speeds are fast enough that FWA can be used for streaming home internet traffic, including over-the-top video. So, in addition to going to a traditional cable TV provider, you could have the choice to go to a wireless provider for home internet and television plus wireless voice services. The first commercial services of FWA are becoming available in countries around the globe, including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. We expect it will take until 2020 or so for widespread deployment of mobile and fixed 5G broadband, with the technologies hitting maturity around 2025.
Operators are also beginning to show preference for more open networks where they can have more flexibility to launch unique types of services. When we start talking about developing new markets with private networks or the internet of things (IoT), we also need more innovators in a more empowered ecosystem. We no longer can rely on just a few large players in wireless. We need small and medium-sized companies to go after these vertical markets.
Open RAN is the way to get there. Open RAN is the mobile industry’s equivalent of open source. The way we can take chipsets to build a multitude of different devices is the same way we need open RAN interfaces and building blocks to create a multitude of networks. Open RAN will enable a service creation environment that can help realize the more advanced 5G use cases. IoT platforms for a health care system, or autonomous robots for a manufacturing facility, or a fully wireless and connected smart city require a multitude of innovators across industries, which open interfaces make possible.
The ORAN Alliance, which promotes Open RAN standards, is making significant headway in realizing this vision. One of its key principles is to lead the industry toward open, interoperable interfaces, RAN virtualization and big data-enabled RAN intelligence. The future of 5G will be more open and innovative if we are to realize the truly remarkable applications envisioned.
Limitless Wireless Future
When it comes to connecting devices to the network, wireless has obviously won. Now, we need to see how far 5G can take it. As fixed wireless access penetrates residential markets and open interfaces in 5G networks promise to make new vertical markets more accessible, the possibilities are endless. This year, we will see the first glimpses of 5G. But what might come in years following is more, better and faster. The 5G future continues to shine brightly ahead.
Ben Cardwell is senior vice president of mobility solutions at CommScope. He is responsible for leading the global business unit that develops innovative wireless solutions for use in service provider and business enterprise networks around the world.