Hogan Lovells hosts ninth annual Winnik International Tech & Telecom Forum

Hogan Lovells hosts ninth annual Winnik International Tech & Telecom Forum

Press releases | 03 April 2023

Washington, D.C., 3 April 2023 – On March 23, 2023, global law firm Hogan Lovells hosted its ninth annual Winnik International Tech & Telecom Forum. The forum explored Open Radio Access Networks (“Open RAN” or “ORAN”), which have generated significant discussion and debate globally. ORAN is a nonproprietary version of the Radio Access Network system that is based on interoperable and vendor-neutral hardware and software technologies. 

The forum kicked off with remarks from Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, who conveyed the Biden Administration’s strong support for ORAN.  Neuberger told attendees that a priority for the Administration is ensuring that trusted telecommunications vendors can compete globally against Chinese government-subsidized vendors. In addition to government efforts, including the use of federal funds and international coalition-building, Neuberger called for greater action and cooperation in the private sector. Neuberger discussed the potential challenges ahead for the industry – and brownfield operators in particular – recognizing that they need to have “confidence in the interoperability, performance, and reliability of Open RAN before they can commit to it,” and asked for industry input on how to build that confidence. Neuberger also called on vendors to embrace both competition and cooperation. “Vendors who are producing Open RAN equipment must have a track record of collaboration to show operators through mechanisms such as data on the interoperability of their radios, blueprints showing multi-vendor systems which can be seamlessly integrated, and joint initiatives to ensure their systems can plug and play – to show that they can deliver for operators.”

At the same time, Neuberger tasked operators with developing “bold and creative ways” to “signal that Open RAN will be a substantial part of the RAN market,” such as through the development of industry-wide standards. She also addressed the security benefits inherent in Open RAN solutions, indicating that in her experience, “ORAN networks will have significant and persistent security advantages over closed networks.”

Following Neuberger’s remarks, Hogan Lovells Senior Counsel Charles Mathias (Communications, Internet, and Media) and Kelly Ann Shaw (International Trade and Investment) moderated a panel that included Jeff Blum (DISH Network), Sadayuki Abeta (NTT DoCoMo), Chris Boyer (AT&T), and Nikoleta Patroni (Vodafone) to discuss ORAN buildout and development. The panel highlighted ORAN’s potential benefits – including flexibility, cost-reduction, and innovation – as well as the opportunities and challenges in implementing it across the panelists’ respective networks. Panelists Abeta, Blum and Patroni stressed that Open RAN solutions are available for both greenfield and brownfield networks today.

After the first panel, Hogan Lovells Senior International Affairs Advisor H.P. Goldfield welcomed Senator Mark R. Warner, the senior U.S. senator from Virginia and Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In his remarks, Sen. Warner emphasized that “national security is so much more than who has the most tanks and guns and ships and planes,” encouraging attendees to instead consider “who wins the technology battle in a series of domains, with wireless being one of them.” To this end, Sen. Warner reiterated his support for empowering the Secretary of Commerce to take action against foreign technology coming from adversary nations.

When it comes to implementing ORAN, Sen. Warner called on trusted companies to participate in international standard-setting bodies, insisted that friendly nations keep trusted vendors price-competitive against Chinese competitors, and proposed additional ORAN testing sites. At home, Sen. Warner called on the industry to help him ensure that monies appropriated for ORAN in 2022’s CHIPS and Science Act are used accordingly. Sen. Warner also urged industry stakeholders to push “real ORAN” and not “proprietary ORAN that simply endorses an existing system under a different name.”

Sen. Warner ended his prepared remarks by urging collaboration among the attendees: “Ultimately, we need all the great software expertise that is in this country and around the world to collaborate together” because the “battle about the wireless networks of tomorrow is being waged in real time.” During a subsequent Q&A, Sen. Warner also expressed support for, among other things, reauthorizing the Federal Communications Commission to administer spectrum auctions, and called for additional funding for the FCC’s “rip and replace” program, which assists U.S. carriers in removing Chinese equipment from domestic networks. 

Later that afternoon, Hogan Lovells Senior Director and Consulting Engineer David Fritz (Communications, Internet, and Media) moderated a roundtable discussion on ORAN’s evolution and evaluating its success. The discussion featured telecommunications executives Grace Koh (Nokia), John Godfrey (Samsung), John Baker (Mavenir), Keith O’Brien (Palo Alto Networks), and Mariam Sorond (VMware). The discussion highlighted the different approaches that industry stakeholders have taken toward ORAN implementation and the challenges to effectively integrating ORAN and bringing it to scale. While panelists had differing opinions on how to achieve full deployment, they all agreed on the benefits ORAN would provide and that the ORAN revolution has arrived.

Attendees also heard remarks from Amanda Toman, Director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (“NTIA’s”) Innovation Fund. Toman announced that the Innovation Fund’s first congressionally mandated Notice of Funding Opportunity will be released in the coming weeks and stressed the importance of collaboration between NTIA and industry to develop ORAN specifications and technical standards.

The day concluded with remarks from Umair Javed, Chief Counsel to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who noted that Chairwoman Rosenworcel was the first to champion ORAN at the FCC in 2019. Javed affirmed that the FCC has made ORAN a priority in its bilateral and international engagements and that it remains “committed to creating an enabling environment for Open RAN technologies here in the United States.”

The Winnik Forum honors the legacy of the late Joel Winnik, a longtime Hogan Lovells partner who was instrumental in the development of the firm’s international communications law practice.