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Don't Wait for 6G

Let Carriers Decide on ORAN for Security, Says Carr

Open radio access networks will mean lower prices, more efficient networks and better security, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told an ORAN Policy Coalition virtual conference Tuesday. Avoid “putting a thumb on the scale” and determining winners and losers, he said.

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ORAN will “disrupt the wireless industry in a way that’s going to be very beneficial,” Carr said. ORAN will drive the kind of competition seen in the PC market, he said. “Now, anybody can compete at the hardware level with sort of standardized equipment that’s going to drive the prices down,” he said. “We leave room at the software level for real, true innovation.” Companies no longer need massive R&D budgets, he said.

As smaller carriers replace Huawei and ZTE gear, ORAN is an alternative, Carr said. “We want carriers to feel comfortable making a decision for themselves,” he said. The FCC can “help promote the idea that ORAN is ... an option.” The smallest carriers “have been sort of slowly dipping their toe in the water,” he said. Infrastructure rules are also important, he said. If the FCC just provides money for deployment without cutting permitting red tape, “you’re just jumping on the gas and the brakes at the same time,” he said.

Companies must be able to “innovate on a very particular part of the system, use commercial off-the-shelf hardware,” said XCOM-Labs CEO Paul Jacobs. Qualcomm, which he previously ran, flourished as PCs were rolled out because “government didn’t step in and make a technology choice,” he said: “Our market allowed innovation to flourish.”

Cohere Technologies is working on the spatial aspects of channel modeling, which is currently “buried inside of systems,” said CEO Ray Dolan: “Done right, it could be moved to the cloud. … Up until now, that’s been a black box.” Companies need support and encouragement, but otherwise regulators should stand aside, he said.

The wireless industry develops a new generation every 10 years or so, “and it just feels insanely slow,” Dolan said: Maximizing the flexibility of spectrum uses would help. 5G “tried to get to autonomous vehicles” but “just missed,” he said. Don't wait 10 years for 6G, he said.

Others said providers can’t wait for 6G to deploy ORANs. “It’s happening now,” said Airspan Networks CEO Eric Stonestrom: Countries “are embracing” ORAN “and getting over the skepticism.” Some more traditional network providers are pushing the narrative that “this isn’t ready, it’s five years away,” he said. Those companies are like the mainframe computer salespeople in the early 1980s, he said: They’re offering “million-dollar computers for problems that were being solved at a tenth or a hundredth of the cost.”

The move to open networks is inevitable as companies like Amazon and Google “are leaning in on edge compute,” said Pivotal Commware CEO Brian Deutsch. “There’s no more choice. … The government seems very keen on helping us push this forward and get this out, so ready or not, here we come.”

DeepSig Chief Technology Officer Tim O’Shea noted that “the path to 6G is going to be very incremental.” Companies can start using AI now for networks “that might be completely AI-driven," he said, "once we get to 6G.”