NTIA Wants to Know How Best to Spend $1.5B in Grants for Secure, Open 5G 

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The money will be available to suppliers of information and communications technology in an effort to move away from Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is inviting public comment on how to structure a $1.5 billion grant program aimed at reducing reliance on foreign providers of fifth-generation networking technology.

“The highly consolidated global market for wireless equipment creates serious risks for both consumers and U.S. companies,” NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson said in a press release Monday. “Our $1.5 billion fund will jumpstart innovation in the industry and open it up to a more diverse set of suppliers. We expect the increase in competition to lead to more secure, resilient and cost-effective networks.” 

The fund was authorized under the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act as the U.S. sought to cut ties with Chinese suppliers of fifth-generation—or 5G—telecommunications equipment over security concerns raised by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 2012, according to a Federal Register notice set to publish Tuesday. It was later appropriated through the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.  

Among other things, the money will go to promoting and deploying software, hardware and microprocessing technology that work together across different brands to securely provide a radio access network, or RAN.  

“In comparison to traditional telecommunications networks, which utilize a single supplier’s proprietary equipment, open and interoperable, standards-based RAN prevents vendor lock-in by facilitating competition,” the notice reads, adding the fund will “unlock opportunities for U.S. companies, particularly small and medium enterprises, to compete in a market historically dominated by a few foreign suppliers, including high-risk suppliers that raise security concerns.”

The debate over the technical feasibility of an open RAN has at times caused rifts within the U.S. government. In February, 2020, former Attorney General William Barr publicly dismissed the technology as “pie in the sky.”   

NTIA seeks input on several questions, including criteria and accountability metrics for the program. The agency will hold a virtual listening session on January 24, and close the public comment period three days later on January 27.