The Utilizing Strategic Allied Telecommunications Act introduced in the Senate yesterday would provide over a billion dollars for 5G infrastructure development. The goal is to enable U.S. suppliers to offer 5G equipment to compete in the world market against Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE.

The U.S. government has taken steps to prevent U.S. and global telecom service providers from using equipment from Huawei and ZTE out of concerns that the equipment could be used by the manufacturers and the Chinese government as a “back door” into U.S. communications networks. However, according to a press release about the new legislation, “U.S. efforts to convince foreign partners to ban Huawei from their networks have stalled amid concerns about a lack of viable, affordable alternatives.”

Utilizing Strategic Allied Telecommunications Act
The Utilizing Strategic Allied Telecommunications Act was introduced by Virginia senator Mark Warner with five other sponsors, who apparently are quite sold on the benefits of open radio access network (O-RAN) technology. Among other things, the bill calls for the establishment of a $750 million O-RAN R&D fund, to be known as the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund. The funding would be pulled from the proceeds of spectrum auctions over the next five years and would be dispersed over a 10-year period.

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Accelerating the development of an open-architecture model based on O-RAN would “spur movement towards open-architecture, software-based wireless technologies” and “would allow for alternative vendors to enter the market for specific network components, rather than having to compete with Huawei end-to-end,” according to the press release.

The bill also calls for the establishment of a $500 million Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund aimed at “accelerating the adoption of trusted and secure equipment globally.” The Secretary of State would be responsible for allocating this fund, and disbursements would only be allowed when the Secretary reaches an agreement with foreign government partners to support the development and adoption of “secure and trusted telecommunications technologies.” This funding would be established as a trust fund in the U.S. Treasury and, like the R&D Fund, would be available over a 10-year period.

The Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund
Additional details about the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund:

  • The FCC would be required to direct at least $750 million, or up to 5% of annual auction proceeds from new auctioned spectrum licenses to create the fund.
  • The fund would be managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with input from the FCC, Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, among other entities.
  • NTIA would have responsibility for making grants from the fund, with no individual grant exceeding $20 million.
  • The NTIA administrator would be required to establish a federal advisory committee composed of government and private sector experts to advise the agency about the fund.
  • Funded projects would have to be in one of seven categories, which among other things, include research on hardware and microprocessing technology that would enhance 5G competitiveness, as well as projects to accelerate development and deployment of open interface standards-based, interoperable equipment such as equipment developed pursuant to standards set forth by organizations such as the O-RAN Alliance, the Telecom Infra Project, 3GPP, the O-RAN Software Community or successor organizations.

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