5G & the CHIPS act: What's happening?

5G & the CHIPS act: What's happening?
By: FierceWireless Posted On: April 12, 2024 View: 41

  • The CHIPS act is in its early stages

  • There will be a major push on open RAN

  • It will still be several years before we see anything commercial out of CHIPS act work

Oh say, can you see, by the silicon’s early light?

The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law by President Biden in August 2022, is supposed to promote investment in chip manufacturing plants, help ease supply chain woes and bring skilled manufacturing jobs back to the United States. 5G wireless chips will be part of that wider picture.

Fierce Network recently spoke about the CHIPS act with Doug Kirkpatrick, CEO and co-founder of software defined radio startup Eridan Communications, who was formerly a chief scientist at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“There has been a general concern that the United States is falling behind in terms of chip production and technology,” the CEO stated. “What you’re seeing in the CHIPS act today is really a manifestation of a very classic DARPA approach to how you would solve that kind of problem.”

What people don’t understand about DARPA is there’s really two sections to the way DARPA works, he said. There’s a “crazy, sexy” technologies push section and a “capabilities harvesting section.”

Many of the people involved in the CHIPS act and the public wireless innovation fund have DARPA experience, Kirkpatrick explained.

“The things that actually change the world, for the most part, is the capabilities harvesting,” the CEO stated.

To that point, there’s a very clear layering about what they’re doing, he said of people working on the CHIPS act program. The first thing they’re doing is building a tech base at the foundries in the U.S.

“If you don’t have operations in the United States, you’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Next, they’re looking to train people to work at those foundries, plucking people from universities, according to Kirkpatrick. Then, the actual work of staffing those foundries and building the silicon can begin.

Democracation of access (wireless edition)

One of the things that the commerce department is doing now is trying to push the deployment balance of 5G into rural areas.

“We haven’t done a great job as a country getting advanced wireless telecoms out to the other 15 percent of the country,” the CEO stated, noting that 85% had relatively good access – i.e. fiber, Wi-Fi, 4G and 5G – but not so much the rural areas.

Operators moan about the lack of revenue from 5G while dreaming of autonomous surgery and agricultural drones, like an arcadian version of Philip K. Dick. “Please help me understand how I’m going to have drone planting of agriculture fields ... when I go to a large corporate farm and there’s no 5G,” Kirkpatrick said.

“Right now, one of the hopes that is important to driving down the cost barrier to access is really driving up open RAN,” Kirkpatrick stated. “There appears to be a lag in the big operators ability to adopt this ... that doesn’t really help that tiny town in Iowa that would like to have their own 5G system brought in and then do a neutral host back to AT&T, or Verizon or T-Mobile.”

“The only way that’s going to happen is if the underlying cost structure fundamentally changes and the only way that's going to happen is if you really have this next layer of capabilities coming in,” he said. “The commerce side is really trying to push that nut as hard as they can.”

Expectations Vs. Reality

Kirkpatrick said that people often ask: “We have this huge investment in the CHIPS act, why aren’t we already reclaiming everything from China?”

“It’s going to take some time,” he stated. There’s been a poor job of setting expectations, and there needs to be a recognition that this is something that's going to push on for the next decade.

You have to build the fabs first, train the people next, and then build and test the equipment, test and test again before even bringing the infrastructure to market. “When you’re deploying trillions of dollars of equipment, you don’t do it without that data,” Kirkpatrick said.

He does, however, note that some of the early harvesting has already started happening with the Department of Commerce’s public wireless innovation fund. “They already started going through... [they’re] going to start up testing capabilities [and] open RAN validation.”

“It’s going to be '26 before you start seeing system level demonstrations, and it’s probably going to be '27 or '28 before you start seeing some of those advanced technologies,” the CEO stated.

Still two years before commercial 6G is supposed to arrive, so maybe that’s not so bad.

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