Nokia pauses O-RAN Alliance contribution, citing concerns over blacklisted Chinese members

Nokia pauses O-RAN Alliance contribution, citing concerns over blacklisted Chinese members

Nokia has confirmed media reports that it is temporarily suspending its contributions to the O-RAN Alliance after a couple of other participants were blacklisted by the U.S. Government. The O-RAN Alliance is the main industry group developing Open Radio Access Network standards, a concept that will loosen the grip of proprietary vendors at the edge of the 5G network. O-RAN Alliance is not the dominant standards group for 5G—that would be 3GPP—but the group’s work is widely seen as critical to the successful roll-out of 5G services.

Three Chinese firms—Inspur, Kindroid, and Phytium—were added to the U.S. Government’s Entity list in July, which prohibits U.S. companies and companies wishing to do business in the U.S. from undertaking commercial dealings with listed entities. Huawei was added in 2019 and has seen its smartphone sales plummet since it was denied access to Android. The new Biden Administration has continued to follow its predecessor’s aggressive stance on China, and Nokia’s withdrawal from O-RAN shows just how far the tentacles of the Entity List can extend.

In a statement confirming its withdrawal, Nokia did emphasize that it was a temporary measure that will give the Alliance the time to work out a measured response to the problem. It is difficult to know what that could be. The US’ aggressive stance (itself a response to aggressive commercial practices emanating from China) threatens to undermine the international standards initiative. For 3GPP, the issue is even harder as the group evolved from a Chinese organization and has several members from the PRC. It’s worth putting this all into context: While tussles of this kind are regrettable and make life complicated, they are nothing new. The early rollout of mobile phones was roiled by a lengthy battle over standards between two rival groups and 5G operators will likely be able to find a way around these current difficulties too.

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