The FCC's acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, plans to open a formal discussion on next steps in the investigation of Open Radio Access Networks (ORAN) as a way to address network security issues.
ORAN is open, interoperable more software-centric (virtualized) 5G network architecture that is easier to secure from foreign malware and allows for U.S. and other companies to be bigger network players than in hardware-centric nets given that foreign suppliers are the leaders in hardware while the U.S. is a software leader.
The Notice of Inquiry has been circulated to the other commissioners for a vote at the FCC's next (March 17) public meeting.
The idea is to collect input on "whether and how" the FCC could foster the successful development and deployment of ORAN, including standards, with the aid of "federal partners, industry, academia, or others."
“Open RAN has emerged as one promising path to drive 5G security and innovation in the United States,” said Rosenworcel in a statement. “With this inquiry, we will start to compile a record about how we can secure our vulnerable supply chains once and for all, and revitalize the nation’s 5G leadership and innovation.”
In December of last year, when the FCC approved a rip-and-replace regime for suspect network tech suppliers ZTE and Huawei, Rosenworcel said more work needed to be done on ORAN, including using the FCC as a test bed.
At the same time, fellow Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks said he would have preferred the ZTE/Huawei item require that those replacing suspect tech with government funds demonstrate that they had considered ORAN alternatives.
“For several years, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has convened an interagency effort to address the threat of untrusted digital infrastructure vendors, with important contributions from FCC Commissioner Starks - including attention to the role of Open RAN in potentially catalyzing innovation from American and allied suppliers," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "I’m happy to hear that Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel has announced efforts by the Commission to take up this important topic.”
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