Why Competition Must Guide the U.S. on 5G

As U.S. policymakers look for ways to jumpstart America’s competitiveness in 5G and to eliminate security threats from Huawei, some officials have floated the idea of supporting — or even acquiring — European companies like Nokia and Ericsson and proclaiming them as the West’s answer when it comes to next-generation networks.

This is the wrong approach. To effectively blunt China and emerge as the global leader in 5G, the U.S. needs more competition — not less. Our telecommunications supply chain is not just a national security issue, but an economic one as well.

Competition is the principle that has guided U.S. innovation for the last half-century. It is the bedrock that has facilitated significant progress and innovation in every aspect of technology — from raw computing power to how we browse the web, watch movies, and hail a ride. As we look to the promise of 5G and its ability to launch the next chapter of our digital lives, we cannot leave the development of this technology in the hands of just one or two companies. Instead, policymakers should do all they can to facilitate as much competition as possible.

The U.S. wireless infrastructure market has been dominated by legacy providers for years. Just as Huawei does for wireless operators abroad, Nokia and Ericsson sell closed systems — proprietary software and proprietary hardware — to American mobile carriers, which means that their technology does not play well with others. Thanks to mergers and acquisitions over the last decade and a half, these two Scandinavian companies now control about 90 percent of the North American wireless market — which has the net effect of slowing competition and limiting innovation. We all believe 5G has potential to trigger the next phase of Internet innovation and enable applications that we have not even thought of yet — but we’re less likely to realize that dream if we rely on just two foreign-owned companies for this growth.

This dynamic has real, tangible consequences. It hurts regular wireless customers by inflating the costs of building networks, hampers deployment of 5G into U.S. communities, and slows innovation in new service offerings. In short, it stunts U.S. leadership in 5G.

Fortunately, the U.S. does not have to create competition from scratch — there are already several American companies that are viable alternatives. These U.S. firms — including Mavenir, the Texas-headquartered company I lead — are innovating in the 5G infrastructure space, enabling these services to run in the cloud and operate on ready-to-use hardware from U.S. companies like Dell and Cisco. This allows different vendors to interoperate and compete with one another, using open and standardized interfaces.

This more open and innovative approach to wireless technology is called Open RAN and improves upon the proprietary systems used by legacy vendors Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson. By giving mobile operators more flexibility in choosing the vendor best suited to their needs, we unleash competition and facilitate more innovation in network performance, faster deployment and network upgrades, and more resilient networks.

The biggest names in technology and telecommunications — from AT&T and Verizon to Facebook and Google — are standing with us behind this approach. We are all founding members of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, an advocacy group formed in May that is talking to Washington about the value of open interfaces and the increased competition they create. Already, we’ve seen significant interest from dozens of members of Congress, as well as senior officials at the White House — indeed, a House committee unanimously approved legislation just last week that would allocate $750 million to accelerate the deployment of Open RAN.

Major wireless carriers are putting Open RAN in the field right now, with 22 publicly announced deals for Open RAN deployment around the world[1]. This includes Telefonica, Vodafone in the U.K. and Rakuten in Japan, and Dish’s new 5G network, which will use Mavenir and other vendors to create the first widescale Open RAN deployment in the U.S.

The growing support for this technology is illustrative of the faith technology companies have in the power of competition. Contributions from a diverse supply of vendors will jumpstart innovation across the wireless market, which will support myriad life-changing applications of 5G like driverless cars, advanced telemedicine, and the industrial internet of things. Companies and policymakers alike know this because it’s the same story they’ve seen over and over again — it’s open markets, not government-picked winners, that lead to real technological progress.

Just as the U.S. has always risen to economic challenges and turned hurdles into progress, we can seize opportunity here, too — one for true American leadership, driven by American values and American technology. We have seen healthy competition and open markets spur innovation and advancement again and again throughout this country’s history. We should let it guide us toward a better future here, too.

Medium article by Pardeep Kohli

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