Small Cell Forum’s new monthly industry news round-up makes its debut at an appropriate time, when some of the issues we have placed at the heart of our 2021 work agenda are grabbing headlines.
These include the Forum’s work on diversifying the ecosystem at every level of the mobile networks industry. Multivendor, interoperable networks, enabled by open interfaces, have been central to SCF since its foundation. But recently we have also intensified our focus on service provider diversity, with work to lower barriers for neutral hosts, private network operators and others to expand and accelerate deployment.
Both these critical issues were placed firmly on the table by SCF’s chief strategy officer, Julius Robson, on January 14, when he testified before a parliamentary committee that has been scrutinizing the UK’s proposed Telecommunications (Security) Bill. This Bill proposes measures to enhance the security of 5G networks, placing new requirements on operators and increasing Ofcom’s powers to monitor and enforce security rules. The Bill is being discussed in parallel with the government’s 5G Supply Chain Diversity Strategy initiative.
The latter has often been discussed in a geopolitical context, but it raises far broader issues that are central to SCF’s mission. As Julius told the committee, the Forum welcomes the Bill and the diversification plan, because together they have the potential to enable the best of both worlds – highly secure networks, supplied and run by a wide variety of players. The right balance between these two – and between regulation and flexibility to innovate – will best deliver high quality and affordable mobile connectivity for programs such as smart cities and industrial transformation.
Julius set out two important ways to support diversification within a secure networks framework – both heavily supported by SCF work. One is to enable base station chipsets to be developed and supplied rapidly and affordably by a variety of vendors. Software-based Open RAN architectures are often discussed in relation to supply chain diversity and security, but softwareization of complex networks requires extremely high performance chips, which have traditionally been proprietary. As Julius explained to the committee, initiatives like SCF’s FAPI seek to open up interfaces at the silicon level, not just in networks and software, and so encourage a wide choice of chip providers and accelerate the development of open base stations.
And while Open RAN platforms and supply chains are central to the UK government’s discussions, there has been less focus on service provider diversification, something Julius clearly put right. He explained how neutral hosts and other types of provider could partner with mobile network operators to accelerate the deployment of mobile networks and services to many environments including industrial users with specialist requirements.
It will be important for any security legislation to set out a framework in which any providers can work to ensure their networks are compliant, but which do not add an excessive burden for smaller operators and so act as a barrier to diversification. Julius made a clear argument for proportionate regulations, that could complement security rules already in place for specific industries’ systems or the Internet, without duplicating effort.
Discussions similar to this one are happening in government circles in many countries and provide a good opportunity for the Forum to argue its view about diversification, and to help shape policies and increase understanding. We will continue to play an active role in influencing open networks discussions to produce a positive outcome – greater choice of chipsets, networks and deployers within a trustworthy framework for all stakeholders.