Global firms push for open 5G systems workable with multiple vendors

WASHINGTON • More than 30 technology and telecommunications firms have unveiled an alliance to press for “open and interoperable” 5G wireless systems that eliminate the need for a single supplier.

The move comes amid heightened debate over the politically sensitive deployment of ultrafast fifth-generation networks in a market led by China-based Huawei, along with Europe-based Nokia and Ericsson.

An open-standards system with competitive bidding for various components in a radio access network (RAN) would avoid depending on any single technology supplier, said the new RAN Policy Coalition.

The alliance of 31 firms is “letting (wireless) providers know there are options” other than “a single vendor with a closed proprietary system”, said Ms Diane Rinaldo, coalition executive director.

The group includes large technology firms Microsoft, Google, IBM and Cisco; carriers including AT&T and Verizon in the United States and global operators Vodafone, Rakuten and Telefonica; and hardware and chipmakers Qualcomm, Intel and Samsung.

Ms Rinaldo told Agence France-Presse that “the coalition was not formed to address concerns about any particular company but to discuss the need to have a robust supply chain and prevent any one company from dominating”.

The move, however, comes after Washington banned Huawei from American networks amid what officials say are national security concerns. The US has also urged its allies to follow suit.

“As evidenced by the global pandemic, vendor choice and flexibility in next-generation network deployments are necessary from a security and performance standpoint,” Ms Rinaldo said.

“By promoting policies that standardise and develop open interfaces, we can ensure interoperability and security across different players and potentially lower the barrier to entry for new innovators.”

She said the alliance is promoting privately deployed networks in the US, with the federal government helping to foster a diverse supply chain and fund research into these open networks.

The alliance points out that most mobile networks have typically been deployed using fully integrated systems where the radio, hardware and software are provided by a single manufacturer.

An open system can work, the group noted, as long as standards are consistent.

It added that there are already examples of successful mobile deployments of 4G or 5G networks using open standards in Japan, India and other parts of the world.

“This concept has been out there,” Ms Rinaldo said. “Our coalition is helping to amplify the message on this.”

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