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Security

Rivada hires former Sprint, BellSouth exec for wholesale ambitions

Rivada Networks confirmed to Light Reading that it hired Keith Cowan as its chief development officer in August. Cowan previously held positions at Sprint and BellSouth.

The hire is noteworthy considering Rivada sits at the center of an ongoing debate over whether the US military should build its own 5G network and then sell excess capacity on that network on a wholesale basis to other US wireless network operators.

"After negotiating the sale of Sprint to SoftBank, I stayed very active advising several telecom companies, and I also wrote a white paper with the team from Innosight Consulting on the 'future of telecom,'" Cowan said in a statement to Light Reading. "I became increasingly convinced that as the industry consolidated from four players to three players, and as the industry confronted the next capital intensive effort to move from 4G to 5G technologies, there would be room for the emergence of a wholesale only 5G network operator to support the demands of enterprise and industrial IoT use cases."

He continued: "As part of my own work research to assess the future of the telecom industry, I began to track the work being done by Rivada Networks with respect to spectrum sharing and providing open access to wireless capacity on a wholesale basis. I also noticed the passionate and mission driven leadership of [Rivada CEO] Declan Ganley, and the talent that Rivada was quietly amassing in pursuing this wholesale 5G business model. My belief about the future of telecom and the efforts of Rivada finally converged this summer when I began having conversations with Declan, and I now look forward to leading Rivada's development efforts with partners around the world in driving the accelerated buildout and utilization of wholesale 5G networks."

Rivada noted that Cowan has extensive experience operating wholesale telecom networks. "Keith ran the wholesale business unit of BellSouth, and helped structure and form the wholesale business unit of Sprint (supporting dozens of MVNOs)," the company said in a statement. "Separately, Keith has a long record of creating transformational telecom industry partnerships, including the original wireless partnership of BellSouth and SBC (Cingular Wireless, now AT&T Wireless), the seven party 4G wholesale partnership including Sprint, Intel, Google, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable (Clearwire, now the spectrum and network foundation for T-Mobile 5G), and Sprint's partnership with SoftBank (now T-Mobile)."

Added Rivada: "We are hiring, but we are not yet ready to announce new additions beyond Keith."

The addition of a top-level executive at Rivada – which according to LinkedIn counts roughly two dozen employees, none of them new – is noteworthy given its timing. Although Rivada for years has been mentioned in reports about the possibility of a nationalized, wholesale 5G network by the Trump administration, those discussions exploded this month after the US Department of Defense (DoD) issued a Request for Information (RFI) focusing on what appears to be that very topic.

"How could DoD own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations? What are the potential issues with DoD owning and operating independent networks for its 5G operations?" the DoD wonders in its RFI.

DoD effort faces pushback

Such a network is fiercely opposed by the US wireless industry, mainly because it would cut into the wholesale business of AT&T and Verizon, which provide roaming services to the likes of U.S. Cellular and other smaller providers.

The obscure RFI from the DoD sparked a firestorm in Washington, D.C. For example, a group of powerful GOP senators urged President Trump to move away from the notion of a nationalized, wholesale 5G network for the US military. And then, just a few days later, many of those same legislators introduced the "Beat CHINA for 5G Act of 2020" that would essentially require the FCC to auction the 3.45-3.55GHz band by December 2021. The legislation would prevent the DoD from leasing the band, and the introduction of the legislation appears to indicate the necessity of Congressional intervention.

As if that weren't enough, two top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an inquiry into the DoD's RFI and specifically named Rivada in a release announcing the investigation.

"According to press accounts, several political operatives or lobbyists with close ties to President Trump or his staff – including Karl Rove, Peter Thiel, Newt Gingrich and Brad Parscale – are pushing for the seismic shift in spectrum policy contemplated by the RFI," wrote Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. and Mike Doyle of their inquiry. "These reports also suggest these Republican operatives are working for the benefit of a specific company, Rivada, Inc., which has long championed a national network that Rivada would construct and operate using its sharing technology."

Rivada has strenuously argued it doesn't support "nationalized" 5G. "Rivada Networks does not believe in vampires, and it does not support nationalizing '5G,' 5G networks, or anything else," the company said in a release issued late last week.

However, the company did confirm to Light Reading that it is participating in the DoD's RFI.

"Rivada's mission is to build and operate wholesale 5G wireless broadband networks that can help close the digital divide by making 5G available nationwide and at affordable prices, by spurring growth, productivity and innovation in our economy, and by doing so through telecom networks that are fully protected from Chinese and other national security threats," the company explained to Light Reading. "In addition, by utilizing a 'no conflicts' open access wholesale business model, Rivada hopes to be able to develop a wide range of partnerships to finance and accelerate the buildout of 5G networks, and a wide range of partnerships to drive the efficient utilization of the capacity of those networks. Rivada's focus and initiatives are global in nature, and not just in the US."

Fronted by a litigious, enigmatic Irish businessman named Declan Ganley, who made an early fortune trading forestry holdings in Russia and aluminum in Latvia, Rivada for close to two decades has been working to encourage the creation of wholesale wireless networks in countries ranging from Iraq to Mexico. It unsuccessfully bid for the FirstNet contract in the US that was won by AT&T.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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