1. Tareq Amin, CTO, Rakuten
The man Light Reading International Editor Iain Morris once called "the Che Guevara of the telecom industry" has become one of the foremost advocates and fastest adopters of open RAN. Tareq Amin has been charting a future of vendor-independent, cloud-native network architectures since joining Rakuten in 2018 after a five-year stint at Reliance Jio in Mumbai; two years at Irvine, California-based T-Force; and three years at Huawei.
Rakuten's name may not resonate with many American users, but its efforts to push open RAN forward could echo nationwide – for example, Dish Network plans to build out its own coast-to-coast 5G network on that foundation. Further, the Federal Communications Commission has increasingly warmed to open RAN as a key tool in its rip-and-replace strategy to secure US wireless networks by yanking out Huawei network gear.
2. Neville Ray, President, Technology, T-Mobile
Neville Ray has been at T-Mobile for longer than T-Mobile has done business under that name – he joined the firm back in 2000 when it was still VoiceStream and ranked as a distant fourth-place contender in the US consumer market. T-Mobile elevated Ray to the CTO role in 2010, and since then he's helped lead the carrier through three major shifts: deploying LTE, launching 5G and integrating Sprint's assets into its own after the two firms' 2019 merger.
The fast 5G T-Mobile has been able to light up on Sprint's midband 2.5GHz spectrum has put T-Mobile atop multiple third-party tests of 5G performance – something Ray routinely points out on Twitter, where his former and current bosses, John Legere and Mike Sievert, are likely the only ones who can claim to surpass him as the company's most public advocates.
3. Marc Rouanne, Chief Network Officer & EVP, Dish Network
Marc Rouanne has one of the tougher to-do items in telecom: head up Dish Network's efforts to build a nationwide, greenfield 5G network on an open RAN foundation. And, per commitments made as part of the government's 2019 approval of T-Mobile's purchase of Sprint, Dish has to bring this new 5G network to 70% of the US population by June 14, 2023.
Rouanne comes to this role with a couple of decades of wireless industry experience. Before coming to Dish in 2019, he spent more than four and a half years at Nokia helping lead that firm through the 4G-to-5G transition before finishing his tenure there as its president of mobile networks. He also brings some experience on the digital-services end, having founded the French AI-services startup Dhatim in 2008.
4. Nicola (Nicki) Palmer, Chief Product Development Officer, Verizon
Nicki Palmer's tenure at Verizon goes back to the 2G era and that company's previous Bell Atlantic moniker. After a series of network-operations management roles in Verizon'’s wireless and wireline businesses, the company named her its CTO in 2013. Since the start of 2019, Palmer's current title of chief product development officer has made her one of its foremost advocates of a 5G-powered future.
As Verizon continues to expand its millimeter-wave 5G service and prepares to launch midband 5G on C-band spectrum with far better range, Palmer has worked with such partners as big as the National Football League and Walt Disney Studios and as small as various edge-computing startups to develop applications that rely on and show off Verizon's next-generation connectivity.
5. Marc Ganzi, CEO, DigitalBridge
Marc Ganzi comes to this list with a deep background in wireless infrastructure. Before coming to DigitalBridge – known until 2019 as Colony Capital – Ganzi launched Global Tower Partners in 2003 and helped build it into one of the biggest privately held tower firms in the US before its $4.8 billion sale in 2013 to American Tower Corporation.
The need to expand US wireless infrastructure to support nationwide 5G buildouts on new frequencies will throw Ganzi and DigitalBridge numerous curveballs. But Ganzi will also have to tackle an unexpected challenge: completing the company's transition away from Founder Tom Barrack, who left its board of directors this summer after being hit with federal charges for working as an unregistered foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates.
6. Wanshi Chen, Chair, 3GPP RAN Plenary
As chair of one of the industry's primary 5G standards-setting groups, Wanshi Chen has a job that could fairly be compared to herding cats – except animal herders of any sort haven't had to switch to email and con-call apps during the pandemic. This particular herd's next destination is Release 18 of the 5G standard, already branded as "5G-Advanced" and targeted for approval by the end of the year.
Chen took on this role in April 2021 after chairing two smaller 3GPP working groups over the previous eight years. He also serves as Qualcomm's senior director of technology. Before taking on that role in 2006, he worked as an engineer at Ericsson and China Mobile.
7. Shyam Mardikar, Group CTO, Reliance Jio
As 5G nears its commercial debut in the world's biggest wireless market outside of China, Shyam Mardikar should not expect a lot of free time on his work calendar anytime soon. Jio – the largest mobile operator in India despite having only launched its all-4G, all-IP service in 2016 – has been getting ready for this long-awaited moment by upgrading power and completing its fiber backhaul to cell sites across the subcontinent.
Mardikar has been with Jio since 2018 after an earlier stint at Airtel from 2012 to 2018 that saw him ascend to the smaller Indian carrier's CTO slot. His involvement with telecom also goes back to the mid-1990s, when he served as a deputy general manager at India's Department of Telecommunications.
8. Caroline Chan, VP & GM, 5G Infrastructure Division, Network Platform Group, Intel
Caroline Chan's role as a vice president and general manager at Intel's Network Platform Group puts her at the forefront of the firm's efforts to advance 5G's edge-computing possibilities. Chan's work and advocacy have emphasized the ability of both public and private 5G networks to optimize and accelerate a wide variety of business and industrial verticals.
Chan has had this spot at Intel since 2016 but started at the chipmaker in 2009, just in time for the 3G-to-4G transition. She spent four years before that at Nortel, including some time on its WiMAX portfolio that has to have informed her efforts to see 5G's possibilities meet a better fate than did that doomed 4G standard.
9. Tommi Uitto, President, Nokia Mobile Networks Group
After a journey of more than two decades at Nokia, Tommi Uitto has found himself on a rough stretch of road over the past few years as the Finnish firm has struggled to recover from a series of SoC supply-chain problems. Uitto has also worked to position Nokia as a champion of open RAN – and industry support for vendor-independent network architecture now seems to be rising at a helpful time for Nokia.
Uitto amounts to a Nokia lifer, having joined the company in 1996 only a year after getting the second of two masters' degrees. Over the years since, he's held a variety of logistics, operations, sales and marketing roles in both microwave and cellular wireless.
10. Jason Zander, Executive Vice President, Microsoft Azure
As 5G's edge-compute capabilities turn the cloud into more of a fog, Jason Zander is working to keep Microsoft prominent in the forecast. With the help of the company's recent acquisitions of Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks, Zander is now pitching Microsoft as a partner for carriers looking to use 5G to push edge computing out to clients – and, with its new Azure for Operators platform, to help run their own networks.
Zander's 29-plus year tenure at Microsoft maps with the Redmond, Washington, firm's transition to a networked future. After years of working on such traditional Windows products as .NET and Visual Studio, he's spent almost all of the last decade working to build out Microsoft's cloud services.
– Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, and Rob Pegaroro, contributing writer, Light Reading
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