Rip-and-Replace Requirements Strain US-based CSPs
Can they grow and innovate in the process?
The Biden Administration’s recent request for $6 billion to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program through 2024 and $3.1 billion earmarked to “rip and replace” insecure equipment and software highlights U.S. communications service providers’ (CSPs’) ongoing efforts to remove banned foreign technology and improve the overall security of telecom networks.
The Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 requires CSPs to remove equipment or services that pose a risk to national security, as identified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It established a reimbursement program to make funds available to CSPs for removing and replacing covered equipment or services.
The ban blocks the sale of specific products and technologies from designated companies. This means that U.S. telecom networks need to be vigilant about the origin of the technology they purchase to ensure that it does not contain banned foreign components. As U.S.-based CSPs are replacing these banned components, they can also benefit from recent innovations in telecom solutions and may even rethink their networks’ architecture.
What Are We Really Talking About Here?
Obviously, CSPs will need to find new, replacement equipment manufactured in the U.S. or Europe. That’s expensive, even with subsidies or reimbursements, but there are real benefits possible with replacing this suspect equipment.
- Improved security: This is a no-brainer. The FCC has called for the ban and replacement of this equipment and these manufacturers because of security concerns, so by replacing banned technology, U.S.-based (and all other) CSPs automatically improve the security of their networks. The U.S. government has long considered certain companies’ telecom products a national security risk, and replacing their technology helps mitigate this risk.
- Opportunities for cost savings: While the initial cost of “ripping and replacing” banned technology with other telecom equipment can be high, operators who receive funding are at net zero, and there may be opportunities for cost savings in the long run. Certainly, the ban on using Universal Service Funds to maintain (or purchase) equipment from prohibited companies means those funds are available only for the maintenance of “replaced” equipment. Additionally, thoughtful network planning and rollout of newer, more secure equipment can result in less hardware, more virtual components, and better visibility for improved network reliability. All those factors can contribute to a lower initial spend and/or faster return on investment and lower total cost of ownership.
- Opportunities to support and benefit from innovation: By replacing prohibited technology, U.S. CSPs are supporting and incentivizing innovation. U.S. telecom equipment providers are, like NETSCOUT, constantly developing new technologies and services to meet the evolving network needs of their customers and prospective customers, and U.S. CSPs can take advantage of these innovations to improve their networks, offer new services to their customers, and create new revenue streams for themselves. Of course, CSPs that had 4G (or even 3G) equipment can consider upgrading to 5G equipment and advancing the capabilities of their networks in the process.
- Open RAN technology: And now for something completely different! Open RAN technology is a new approach to building telecom networks that use standardized, interoperable hardware and software components from multiple vendors. This could provide U.S. telecom networks with a more flexible and cost-effective alternative to traditional telecom equipment. CSPs that invest in Open RAN will never face interoperability issues again. A knowledgeable telecom solution provider can help you understand the benefits of RAN optimization and automation.
Overall, the removal of banned foreign technology from U.S. telecom networks will require a lot of time in planning, purchasing, and rollout, with increased scrutiny of supply chains and the outlay of a lot of money, even with the potentially increased funding for those replacements. So, you want to be smart about your choices. CSPs must partner with solution providers who can tailor systems/platforms/offerings to not only meet your immediate needs but also to allow you to grow with what you’ve got.