As President Biden met with heads of state around the world these past couple of years, he’s been repeating a curious phrase. “Open RAN.” This obscure technology for cellular towers — which the Brookings Institution once dubbed the “Huawei killer” — is Washington’s anointed champion to try to unseat Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies from its throne as the largest supplier of the “pipes” that carry the world’s internet data and phone calls. Open radio access networks, or Open RAN, is an emerging technology for cell towers that allows for the use of mix-and-match parts from different vendors — a little akin to Google’s Android ecosystem. This diverges from the Apple-esque, proprietary, all-in-one systems from Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia that dominate the market. U.S. officials hope that this new initiative will help U.S. vendors get back in a game they were largely squeezed out of during two decades of globalization. Biden’s personal appeals to the leaders of India, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and other countries reflect the issue as a top priority in Washington. A broad administration push is underway to persuade countries around the world to say “yes” to Open RAN and “no” to Huawei. “This has been a whole-of-government approach,” Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) administrator, said in an interview. “We’ve been working very closely with the State Department, with the White House. …We’re trying to bring all the tools that we have to bear.”
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