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Senators Ask Biden for $3 Billion for ORAN Alternative to Chinese Tech

U.S. Capitol
(Image credit: Gary Arlen)

A bipartisan group of senators led by Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) has called on President Biden to put $3 billion toward funding Open Radio Access Network (ORAN), so those equipment vendors can compete in the 5G market with Chinese network tech suppliers Huawei and ZTE.

That came in a request as the President prepares his 2022 budget. The money would go into the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund and the Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund ($1.5 billion in each), which were created in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021.

Chinese suppliers are subsidized by the government, so Warner and company want to boost U.S. tech's chances of competing, particularly since the U.S. is in the process of ripping and replacing Huawei and ZTE tech from networks built with government subsidies, and is being pressed by some, including FCC commissioner Brendan Carr, to bar Chinese telecoms from network buildouts with private capital.

Also Read: FCC's Rosenworcel Pushes Deep Dive on ORAN

"For years, we have called on telecommunications providers in the U.S., as well as our allies and partners, to reject Huawei 5G technology, but we have not provided competitively-priced, innovative alternatives that would address their needs," the Senators wrote in a letter to the President, a copy of which was provided to Multichannel News. "As wireless networks adapt to the growing demands for 5G connectivity, a new Open RAN architecture will allow telecommunications providers to migrate from the current hardware-centric approach into a software-centric model that relies heavily on cloud-based services. This architecture will break down the current end-to-end proprietary stack of hardware; lower barriers to entry and prompt innovation; diversify the supply chain and decrease dependence on foreign suppliers; and spur Open RAN deployments throughout the United States, particularly in rural America."

The FCC, which is overseeing the suspect tech rip-and-replace program, has been collecting string on the ORAN alternative, including holding a virtual forum on the technology last year.

Also signing on to the letter were Intelligence Committee vice chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Me.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Angus King (I-Me.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).