Montana-based Triangle Communications said today that it is the first service provider to turn up a network under the FCC rip-and-replace program aimed at removing equipment from certain Chinese manufacturers from U.S. communications networks.

Triangle Communications removed equipment from Huawei and replaced it with equipment from Mavenir that uses an open radio access network (O-RAN) approach.

O-RAN differs from traditional wireless network technology in which individual vendors build proprietary capabilities into their equipment, replacing it with a more open software-based approach. The goal is to reduce equipment costs, to reduce reliance on individual vendors and to enable new features to be quickly implemented.

Key backers of O-RAN technology include Rakuten and Dish. Rakuten is a Japanese company that was an early adopter of O-RAN technology and has claimed major cost savings from that approach, although at least one financial analyst has questioned how well Rakuten is really doing. Dish is building a 5G network from scratch and has opted to use an O-RAN approach for it.

The FCC also has been bullish on O-RAN, with various commissioners having expressed hope that companies replacing Chinese equipment would opt to use O-RAN.

Rip-and-Replace Program

The need to replace Chinese network equipment stems from federal government investigations into several Chinese-based manufacturers, including Huawei and ZTE, that have been deemed to pose a security threat to U.S. networks. The largest U.S. carriers opted not to use these manufacturers when concerns were first expressed, but some smaller carriers have deployed some of the Chinese equipment, primarily from Huawei.

In 2020 Congress passed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act, which requires the replacement of prohibited equipment, but it was almost a year before funding was made available to reimburse carriers for replacement costs. The program subsequently was found to be underfunded, which could drive more carriers to opt for an O-RAN approach.

According to today’s press release, the O-RAN equipment that Triangle Communications will use includes a cloud-native converged packet core, O-RAN radio units and other network equipment.

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