U.S. to Spend $1.5B on Domestic Cell Network Gear Production

The federal government plans to invest $1.5 billion to help spur a standards-based alternative for the gear at the heart of modern cellular networks. The NTIA confirmed the money will go toward domestic alternatives to current wireless network equipment. That could help telecoms faced with replacing network equipment from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE that the U.S. has deemed to be a threat to national security.

The NTIA will launch the Innovation Fund program, NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson confirmed on Twitter, according to Broadband Breakfast. The funds will come from the Chips and Science Act, the $280 billion legislation meant to fund U.S.-based chip research and manufacturing. “The highly consolidated global market for wireless equipment creates serious risks for both consumers and U.S. companies,” Davidson told Axios

The FCC has been leaning favorably toward O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network) technologies. Last year, the FCC launched its first inquiry into the technology. “If we can unlock the RAN and diversify the equipment in this part of our networks, we may be able to increase security, reduce our exposure to any single foreign vendor, [and] lower costs,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the time. O-RAN equipment uses standard computing gear to replace what has been proprietary hardware from companies like Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei, Inside Towers reported. 

The NTIA plans to kick-off the Innovation Fund with a public comment period. It will run through January 23, 2023. NTIA is required to start making the first grants by August.

Commercial adoption of O-RAN is already under way, though mostly in either limited trials or for brand-new networks, according to Axios. DISH Network and Japan’s Rakuten are both using it. The grants could help address some of the challenges for existing carriers who might want to use O-RAN as they modernize and upgrade their networks.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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