U.S. Cellular latest to join coalition in Open RAN policy push

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U.S. Cellular turned on 5G sites earlier this year in Iowa and Wisconsin. (Getty Images)

U.S. Cellular, the nation’s fourth largest carrier, is the latest member to sign on to the Open RAN Policy Coalition to advocate for policies supporting open and interoperable network systems. 

Formed in early May, major U.S. operators AT&T and Verizon are part of the initial 31-member group, as is Dish Network, along with a few international operators such as Rakuten Mobile, Telefonica and Vodafone. T-Mobile is notably the only major U.S. carrier not not part of the coalition.

U.S. Cellular’s VP of Advanced Technology and Systems Planning Norothum Saxena said in a statement: “We are a strong proponent of open and interoperable network systems, and we are excited to work with industry partners on the advantages that an open Radio Access Network (RAN) can bring to 5G deployments and other emerging technologies. It fosters innovation and promotes healthy competition.”

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This also fits in with U.S. Cellular's network modernization plan, as the carrier intends to implement a split RAN architecture as part of its upgrades, a spokesperson confirmed. The carrier is already in discussions with "key industry RAN players." 

U.S. Cellular’s decision to join the coalition comes about one week after the carrier named the head of AT&T Mexico Laurent Therivel as its new chief executive, replacing long-time CEO Kenneth Meyers effective July 1.

Therievel, speaking in a video post about the transition, said his strategy for the carrier will be rooted in connectivity first.

Grant Spellmeyer, vice president of federal affairs and public policy at U.S. Cellular, cited joining the policy coalition as providing the carrier with “a unique opportunity to educate legislators and help shape policies that allow for faster deployment of new technologies,” particularly in rural areas.  

When it comes to helping rural areas,  one of group's goal to push for policies that accelerate the adoption of interoperable RAN solutions will help strengthen and diversify the network equipment ecosystem, "which in turn will help us better serve rural America," the representative said. 

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 layer on millimeter wave at a later date and is also interested in mid-band spectrum for 5G. This week it was listed as one of the bidders in the FCC’s auction for PALs in the shared CBRS 3.5 GHz band.

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U.S. Cellular’s publicly named 5G vendors include Ericsson, Nokia, and most recently Samsung. Samsung is already part of the policy group, and Nokia joined later in May as the first major infrastructure vendor to throw its support behind the effort.  

Nokia’s VP of Government Relations Americas Brian Hendricks told Fierce at the time that joining was valuable to both move its own agenda forward and for other members provide a unified front on shared policy goals like R&D funding and support to compete against Huawei.

“We don’t see this movement [open RAN] as a binary choice between doing short-term things to support your existing suppliers and betting on an entirely new generation of technology players,” Hendricks said.

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Notably, Ericsson is not part of the coalition and in May said, “The focus of policy makers needs to be on speeding up 5G deployment through spectrum allocation and removing network deployment barriers.” 

Still, Ericsson doesn’t intend to be be left out of the open RAN conversation, and Fredrik Jedjling reportedly signaled the vendor wants to have a major role in the ecosystem with the first equipment supporting new specifications, once the technology is robust enough.

Other coalition members include tech giants like Google, IBM and Qualcomm, alongside smaller and newer RAN entrants that have championed the push for open interfaces such as Altiostar, Mavenir, and Parallel Wireless, among others.

RELATED: Altiostar fetes O-RAN tests with Rakuten, NEC

Just today Altiostar and Mavenir announced they’re collaborating to deliver a portfolio of OpenRAN radios that support frequencies of Tier-1, and regional and rural operators in the U.S. A full set of FCC banded radios should be available starting with month, with a complete set on the market by the first quarter of 2021. The software vendors are developing radios using third-party OEMs.

Updated to include additional information from U.S. Cellular.