U.S. Cellular joins O-RAN Alliance

Chicago-based U.S. Cellular said open RAN architecture can help accelerate delivery of advanced 5G capabilities. (Pixabay)

The O-RAN Alliance gained another operator member as U.S. Cellular announced it has joined the effort to drive openness in the Radio Access Network (RAN).

U.S. Cellular is pursuing a multi-year plan to deploy 5G throughout its footprint and says open RAN architecture can help speed the delivery of advanced 5G capabilities to its customers.

“We are committed to driving innovation and bringing the latest technology to our customers that enhances their wireless experience, and we can do that faster and more efficiently with an open, intelligent and interoperable RAN that in turn promotes a diverse vendor community and open-market competition,” said Narothum Saxena, vice president of advanced technology and systems planning at U.S. Cellular, in a statement.

U.S. Cellular turned on 5G sites earlier this year in Iowa and Wisconsin, initially using spectrum in the 600 MHz band. It’s looking to add millimeter wave possibly later this year and is also interested in mid-band spectrum for 5G. It’s signed up to be one of the bidders in the FCC’s auction for PALs in the shared CBRS 3.5 GHz band.

During the company’s last earnings conference call, then-CEO Ken Meyers reiterated the company’s optimism about the fixed wireless opportunity in 5G, indicating any delay in realizing its full capability was related more to the customer premise equipment (CPE) than anything network related.

RELATED: U.S. Cellular CEO downplays immediate 5G impact on consumers

U.S. Cellular also is a member of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, which was launched in May to advocate for government policies supporting the adoption of open and interoperable RAN solutions.

The move to a more open ecosystem has gained a lot of momentum in the three or so years that efforts have been underway. Sachin Katti, who was part of the founding members of the xRAN Forum in 2016, recently told Fierce that it’s been “pleasantly surprising” to see the uptake and interest in open RAN technology.  

RELATED: Open RAN leader Sachin Katti ‘surprised’ by uptake

AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo and Orange jointly created the O-RAN Alliance in February of 2018. That same year, the xRAN Forum announced its intent to merge with the C-RAN Alliance to form a world-wide, carrier-led effort to drive openness in the RAN, and that became the O-RAN Alliance.   

The O-RAN Alliance now includes more than 190 mobile operators, vendors, and research and academic institutions around the world.