Sen. Warner: 5G ORAN Bill Added to Must-Pass Legislation

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said an ORAN (open radio access network)-targeted 5G funding bill he has championed has been added to the next managers' amendment for the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, which he said will pass by the end of the year. That is the good news, he said on a USTelecom webinar Tuesday (June 30). 

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The bad news is that the funding levels have been dramatically cut down to a "minuscule" amount, says Warner, who is ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, an amount that does not signal the U.S. is serious to moving toward a more cloud-base, less Huawei tech-based model for 5G network architecture, he said. 

The bill as initially drawn up would provide $1 billion-plus, including $750 million for ORAN R&D and another $500 million for collaboration with international partners. In order to get it into the Defense bill, those numbers have been cut to $50 million (in the first year) for R&D and $25 million for collaboration. 

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.

Warner said it is short of 5G as industrial policy, but also a signal that the U.S. recognizes that it is tough for the Samsungs and Nokia's and Ericcsons to compete with Chinese tech suppliers like Huawei that are bankrolled by the Chinese government. Given that, the U.S. has to start thinking differently, he said. 

Warner is speaking from experience as the former founder of Nextel. 

Warner urged the companies on the Webinar to get their CEOs to weigh in so those figures could be boosted in a further iteration of the bill and the U.S. could reassert its leadership in the 5G competition with the Chinese government. 

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Warner said on the webinar that he thought over the past 20 years or so that we, by which he meant the U.S. and U.S. companies and the West "writ large" were so used to leading in wireless on rules and standards and protocols that "we kind of fell asleep at the switch." 

He said that included both the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration, the latter which he said had made things worse, neither of which he said had articulated a clear path forward for 5G. 

Warner said that path should be ORAN-centric, which means more modular, cloud-based, and software-centric, which translates to a network based more on the software side that the U.S. has dominated, and which is easier to secure than one based in Huawei tech backed by the Chinese Communist party. 

He said not since Sputnik has the U.S. not dominated in standards to the extent it is currently not doing so in 5G. 

He also warned that China's rise in 5G tech and standard-setting and the issue of network security could be the blueprint for similar issues with artificial intelligence and quantum computing. 

He said the Chinese model was to encourage ferocious competition in the domestic market, then when a "national champion" emerges, support their dominance of the Chinese market, like Huawei in 5G (with 70%-80% of the domestic market), which translates to %20-30% of the global market, which makes it hard competitors that don't have that government incubation. 

He said he feared that could happen with AI and cloud computing if the U.S. doesn't get 5G right.  

China recently announced a trillion-dollar investment in AI, cloud and other new tech.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.