Diversifying the Mobile Network Architecture and Adopting Open Radio Access Networks (O-RAN) in the Indo-Pacific Region

IDG is helping to spur technology access and integrations through the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Activity— a buy-in activity under the overarching USAID Indo-Pacific Opportunity Project (IPOP) mechanism. IPOP, a $34 million regional activity implemented by IDG, is helping to advance public financial management objectives, including accessibility, prosperity, resiliency, and sustainable economic growth goals under USAID’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

“The importance of the O-RAN approach cannot be overstated,” says O-RAN Activity Project Director Oliver Dziggel. “O-RAN will make it easy for consumers with an unlimited variety of devices to access cellular networks around the world, just as standardizing Wi-Fi has exploded wireless Internet access within buildings.” O-RAN will be critical for next-generation technologies like wearable medical devices (heart and health monitors), autonomous vehicles, factory automation sensors, and ultimately, the “Internet of Things.”

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the Indo-Pacific region have heavily relied on only a few telecoms infrastructure companies who dominate the marketspace to meet their mobile network infrastructure needs. To diversify outsourcing of mobile network infrastructure, MNOs have opted for creative Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) approaches, which have proved challenging due to a workforce with low skills in implementing O-RAN approaches. The USAID/Asia Bureau and the USAID/Innovation, Technology, and Research (ITR) Hub are working with IDG and other stakeholders to fill this gap. For example, IDG is working with the Asia O-RAN Academy, created by the O-RAN Activity, to advance the adoption of O-RAN approaches as a secure, commercially viable alternative to legacy wireless systems across the Indo-Pacific by building workforce capacity in, and raising awareness of, O-RAN approaches.

The Asia O-RAN Academy began the O-RAN Activity with an assessment phase to identify the technical skills gaps that hinder the growth of O-RAN tests, trials, and deployments across the Indo-Pacific, with a particular focus on the Philippines as the initial foothold for region-based O-RAN support. This assessment provided the basis for co-creating the Asia O-RAN Academy curriculum with industry and higher education institution partners for pilot implementation in the Philippines.

Key achievements include the formation of the Asia Open-RAN Academy as an alliance of academic, government, and industry stakeholders (including USAID, private sector telecommunications companies, and universities) – all coming together to form an interim governing board with a set of common goals. Shared goals include advancing open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet and vibrant digital economies throughout the Indo-Pacific region. IPOP co-created a curriculum with stakeholder partners that provide technical and foundational courses hosted on the Rakuten Symphony Symworld Learning Hub. The Academy was officially launched in June 2022, with approximately 600 participants, and has been followed by weekly webinars about O-RAN.

Efforts going forward will include the institutionalization of the Asia O-RAN Academy with the interim governing board and stakeholder advisory committee, along with Academy partners and participants, as well as offering O-RAN certification for university students and continuing professional development certification for practicing engineers. Additionally, the O-RAN Activity aims to build the capacities of Academy facilitators, including professors from partner higher education institutions and MNOs.

The Activity will scale the O-RAN curriculum with an initial roll-out across universities in the Philippines and then across a broader consortium of higher education institutions across the Indo-Pacific. This includes the goal to establish an interoperability lab in the Philippines which will serve as a regional hub to support lecturers and students across the region. The regionalization will commence with approximately three additional target countries to be determined in partnership with USAID Asia Bureau, USAID ITR, and the Academy’s governing board.

The Asia O-RAN Academy strives to build regional capacities to advance an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet in the Indo-Pacific region. The Academy accelerates the adoption of O-RAN approaches through the upskilling of the telecommunications workforce needed to test and deploy open network architectures. Developing and implementing an O-RAN curriculum in the Indo-Pacific region will benefit MNOs and internet service providers (ISP) as well as learners. The Academy will enable learners to acquire skills that will increase their employment and salary options by providing access to an interoperability lab, course content, technical experts, and certification.

The Asia O-RAN Academy is a model initiative emphasizing a multi-stakeholder approach where governments, industries, academic institutions, researchers, and civil society groups work hand in hand. It supports the IPS implementation and the advancement of the telecommunications and digital sector in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as ensures open, reliable, and secure Internet through increased cooperation, competition, and choice.