The Wireless Innovation Fund

Practically everybody in the country has a cellphone, and mobile communication is now a huge part of the daily life of people and key to a huge amount of the economy. But as we found out during the pandemic, key parts of the economy, like the cellphone market, are susceptible to supply chain issues. The U.S. cellphone industry is particularly susceptible to market forces since the industry is dominated by a small number of manufacturers.

One of the many programs funded by recent legislation is the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Plan that was funded by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. This program is being implemented with $1.5 billion to award for grants that explore ways to support open and interoperable 5G wireless networks.

The specific goals of the grant fund are to provide grants that will:

  • Accelerate commercial deployment of open, interoperable equipment;
  • Promote compatibility of new 5G equipment;
  • Allow the integration of multiple vendors into the wireless network environments;
  • Identify the criteria needed to define equipment as compliant with open standards;
  • Promote and deploy security features and network function virtualization for multiple vendors, interoperable networks.

All of this equates to opening the cellular network to multiple new U.S. vendors. That will make the cellular networks far less susceptible to foreign supply chain problems while also creating new U.S. jobs. There is also the additional goal of increasing the security of our wireless networks. This is all being done in conjunction with the other provisions of the CHIPS Act, that have already resulted in over fifty projects to build chips in the U.S.

There have already been 127 applications for grants from the fund that total to $1.39 billion. There have been three grants announced, with many more to come. The first three grants are:

Northeastern University for $1.99 million to develop an accurate testing platform to enable the construction of sustainable and energy-efficient wireless networks.

New York University for $2 million to develop testing and evaluation procedures for open and secure adaptive spectrum sharing for 5G and beyond.

DeepSig Inc. for $1.49 million to dramatically improve the fidelity, speed, and repeatability of OpenRAN air-interface performance testing using an AI model to set new standards and tools to revolutionize the evaluation of interoperable ORAN in real world conditions.

I’ve always believed that the government should take the lead on directed research of this type. I’m sure some of the ideas being funded won’t pan out, but the point of directed research is to uncover ideas that make it into the next generation of deployed technology. I’d love to see something similar done for ISP technologies. I hope this is not a one-time grant program because funding this kind of research every year is one of the best ways to keep the U.S. at the forefront of both wireless and broadband technology – using American technology.

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