Rivada Networks is still pursuing a wholesale 5G business model

Rivada Networks is still fighting to overcome rumors that circulated last year that it was part of an initiative to create a nationalized 5G network. Those rumors are false, says Brian Carney, SVP of corporate communications at Rivada, and the company remains true to its original goal, which is to operate a wholesale 5G network.

The US-based firm, which was started by CEO Declan Ganley nearly two decades ago, believes that there is a role for 5G networks that can sell wholesale capacity to companies similar to how Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure sells cloud-based services to enterprises. "We think that's a valuable mission because wireless network capacity is really under-utilized. We spend billions on these networks and might only use one-third of the capacity and the rest goes to waste," Carney says.

Pushed aside

However, Rivada's mission to build a wholesale network temporarily took a backseat in late 2020 after the company was thrust into the limelight when the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a Request for Information (RFI) asking for input on sharing US military spectrum, including the 3.45-3.55GHz band, with commercial users. Rivada participated in the RFI and company officials were hoping the next step was for the DoD to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP).

That never happened. Instead, several sources familiar with the issue told Light Reading that the issue was embroiled in a debate raging within the Trump administration over how to release DoD spectrum for 5G. Sources claimed that one faction, which included Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Rivada Networks, wanted the DoD to manage the spectrum and potentially lease it to the 5G industry on a wholesale basis, creating what some considered to be a nationalized 5G network. Another faction, according to sources, wanted the spectrum to be auctioned.

Former President Trump recently added more fuel to the fire when he issued a statement on March 4 about Karl Rove, the former George W. Bush administration official and an advisor to Rivada. Trump said that Rove "came to the Oval Office lobbying for 5G for him and a group. After a lengthy discussion with Rove and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, I said no, they're not qualified. Our nation can do much better."

But Carney insists that Rove wasn't hired by Rivada to influence the Trump administration nor to promote a nationalized 5G network. In fact, he said Rove was hired by Rivada when President Obama was in office. "He's been a political advisor to us and this wasn't a tactical thing because of Trump. If anything, the two of them are not buddy-buddy," Carney said, noting the tone of Trump's March 4 statement.

But now it appears that the rumors of a nationalized 5G network can be put to rest. Earlier this week the FCC voted to move forward with an auction of the 3.45-3.55GHz band. That auction is expected to begin in early October.

Moving forward

Rivada, meanwhile, continues to search for opportunities where it might be able to fulfill its goal of operating a wholesale 5G network. The company is considering forming partnerships or acquiring spectrum or existing networks, both in the US and overseas.

Carney said the company considered participating in Chile's recent 5G spectrum auction but licenses became too expensive. The Chilean regulator SUBTEL raised $453 million in four rounds of bidding, which was the highest amount ever raised in a spectrum auction in the country.

He also confirmed that the company is interested in constructing a wholesale 5G network in Jamaica at no cost to the government. However, he said the company's discussions with the Jamaican government are not in any advanced stage.

Carney suggested Rivada might also purchase a struggling network operator. That's noteworthy considering some members of Rivada's senior management team are former Sprint executives: Sprint's former CFO Joe Euteneuer is a member of Rivada's board; Keith Cowen, the former head of Sprint's wholesale business, is Rivada's chief development officer; and Peter Campbell, the former CIO of Sprint, is CIO of Rivada.

And while those types of opportunities might seem few and far between, Carney said Rivada believes the high cost of deploying 5G might push some operators into making that type of move.

"As we move to 5G, that type of player may have to make some hard decisions," he said.

— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

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