Advancing Open Radio Access Network Adoption in the Indo-Pacific Region
By: Afua Owusu, IDG Communications and Events Manager

International Development Group LLC is implementing the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Activity—a buy-in activity under the USAID Indo-Pacific Opportunity Project (IPOP) mechanism. IPOP is a $34 million regional activity that is helping to strengthen the Indo-Pacific countries’ sustainable economic growth.

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the Indo-Pacific region have long been reliant on a handful of telecom infrastructure giants to meet their mobile network infrastructure needs. To diversify their outsourcing options and enhance the efficiency of their mobile networks, MNOs have started exploring innovative O-RAN approaches. However, the implementation of such approaches has been hindered by a workforce with limited skills and expertise in this area.

To address this issue, the USAID/Asia Bureau and the USAID/Innovation, Technology, and Research (ITR) Hub have teamed up with IDG and other stakeholders. Through the O-RAN Activity, IPOP established the Asia Open RAN Academy to promote the adoption of secure, commercially viable O-RAN alternatives to legacy wireless systems across the Indo-Pacific region. Their goal is to build workforce capacity and increase awareness of O-RAN approaches, thereby helping to bridge the skills gap and drive the widespread adoption of O-RAN in the region.

The Asia O-RAN Academy, launched in June 2022, is an alliance of academic, government, and industry stakeholders in the Philippines and Indo-Pacific region that share a common objective to advance an open, interoperable, reliable, and choice. The Academy supports last-mile connectivity by promoting an open RAN curriculum and technical exchanges in the Indo-Pacific region so mobile network operators and internet service providers have access to the skilled workforce needed to test and deploy open network architectures. The Academy has developed an open RAN curriculum, with both foundational and technical courses, to be rolled out across universities in the Philippines and, subsequently, across a consortium of learning institutions throughout the region. All academic lecturers will receive advanced open RAN training and hold relevant certifications related to open RAN.

On May 1st, 2023, the United States Government reaffirmed support for the Asia Open-RAN Academy, as President Biden announced $135 million in new assistance to the Philippines during Philippines President Marcos' visit to the White House. The assistance includes funding to establish a brick-and-mortar interoperability Lab in Manila, subject to Congressional approval. The Lab will provide hands-on training to current and aspiring 5G professionals and provide an opportunity for vendors and operators deploying open RAN worldwide to teach and educate local engineers in how to design, build, and operate these networks. The Lab will work in partnership with the Asia Open RAN Academy, local Philippine universities, and companies such as Philippines network operators, NOW Telecom, PLDT Smart Communications, and Globe Telecom, as well as international technology firms.

“The importance of the O-RAN approach cannot be overstated,” says O-RAN Activity Project Director Oliver Dziggel. “O-RAN will make it easy for consumers with an unlimited variety of devices to access cellular networks around the world, just as standardizing Wi-Fi has exploded wireless Internet access within buildings. O-RAN will be critical for next-generation technologies like wearable medical devices (heart and health monitors), autonomous vehicles, factory automation sensors, and ultimately, the “Internet of Things.”