On Wednesday, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the formal launch of the $1.5 billion Innovation Fund, an initiative designed to support the development of open and interoperable 5G and future generation technologies. Funded by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, this historic investment aims to drive wireless innovation, strengthen supply chain resilience, and unlock opportunities for new and emerging companies to compete in the global telecommunications market. With the publication of our first Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), NTIA is moving one step closer to achieving a diverse, sustainable, and competitive wireless supply chain.
As Secretary Raimondo, Assistant Secretary Davidson, and Senator Warner – one of the original co-sponsors of the program’s authorizing legislation - discussed on Wednesday, NTIA’s first round of funding aims to advance the interoperability, security, and performance of open and interoperable networks, through testing and evaluation. This first wave of awards will help fill a critical gap by: expanding industry-accepted testing and evaluation (T&E) activities to assess open and interoperable networks; developing new or improved testing methodologies to validate these networks; and addressing specific wireless testing needs, such as providing new methods of automated testing. NTIA plans to award up to $140.5 million in competitive grants during this first wave.
We view this funding opportunity as foundational to the success of the program and as a critical step towards proving the viability of open and interoperability network approaches.
This first tranche of funding follows extensive public participation via a formal Request for Comment and NTIA’s January listening session. We heard thoughtful and informative responses from industry associations, wireless equipment producers, academic institutions, and international partners.
Some of the major themes we heard center around:
- The need for interoperability testing and certification to facilitate technology development and broader commercial adoption – in fact, 76% of RFC respondents cited the need to prioritize testing through the PWSCIF;
- The importance of developing security frameworks and features to minimize network risks, build trust, and mitigate potential vulnerabilities – nearly 70% of RFC respondents, for example, highlighted the need for the PWSCIF to invest in security;
- The need for certification utilizing a clear set of Open RAN requirements to demonstrate readiness and reduce integration challenges;
- The importance of Open RAN trials and pilots to demonstrate technology maturity;
- The need for a baseline set of Open RAN specifications, to ensure interoperability and reduce integration challenges; and
- The opportunity to support workforce development through expanded STEM education, technical training, and partnerships.
The team also heard a great deal about the importance of extending eligibility to international applicants to maximize the Fund’s reach, as well as the need to demonstrate how open and interoperable networks achieve performance parity with closed systems, among many other thoughtful recommendations.
In line with feedback received during these processes, NTIA’s first funding opportunity targets testing and evaluation (T&E). Of course, as NTIA works to catalyze the adoption of open, interoperable, and standards-based networks, stakeholder feedback will continue to play a critical role.
We understand the importance of this moment. In 10 years, we expect to say that this program unlocked opportunities for companies from the U.S. and its global allies, particularly small and medium enterprises, to compete in a market historically dominated by just a few suppliers – including high-risk suppliers that raise security concerns. By opening the market to new competitors, we hope to lower prices for consumers, improve global supply chain security and resiliency, and enable the next generation of wireless innovation in America.
NTIA hopes to hear from you as this program moves into its next phase. If you have questions about the Innovation Fund, please contact us at InnovationFund@ntia.gov for more. If you would like to subscribe to updates about the Innovation Fund, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.