The Open RAN Coalition is telling the Trump Administration that moving to an open, interoperable more software-centric (virtualized) 5G network architecture is the best way to protect network security. 

The coalition, whose members include an eclectic mix of wireless providers, edge giants, tech companies like Qualcomm, and DISH, outlined its proposal to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration in comments on implementing a national 5G security strategy. 

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"[B]y standardizing or “opening” the protocols and interfaces between the various subcomponents (e.g., radios, hardware and software) in the RAN [Radio Access Network], networks can be deployed with a more modular design without being dependent on a single supplier," they told NTIA. 

The Trump Administration is trying to phase major 5G tech suppliers Huawei and ZTE out of U.S. 5G networks because of concerns about the influence of the Chinese government. 

"A software-based network moves the network functions to software as opposed to the past, where network operators would deploy purpose-built physical appliances for network functions," it told NTIA, network appliances provided primarily by Chinese companies.

The coalition argues that a more modular design means more suppliers, and that means operators can more quickly replace problematic equipment. It will also allow for the deployment of security closer to the edge of the network, including off-the-shelf patches. 

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The coalition invoked COVID-19 as an illustration of the value of moving toward a more virtualized network. 

"Cloud architecture allows for rapid, standards-based deployment of infrastructure as needed," it said. "It is a far more scalable and dynamic approach than the long cycles needed to develop, test, deploy, and configure for fixed function network appliances. For example, in response to live traffic on the 5G network, with a cloud architecture, the 5G core can immediately detect the need, and automatically provision and deploy capabilities as needed. Network operators have seen this dynamic play out as they provision their networks in response to the unprecedented demands placed on networks during COVID-19. These developments will increase network resiliency." 

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