Ex-Sprint CTO Saw’s new job: finding cool ways to use T-Mobile’s 5G

John Saw is well-known as a pioneer in wireless technology. He was the second employee of Clearwire when he joined that company in 2003 and stitched together 2.5 GHz into a prized swath of spectrum. The former CTO of Sprint, he joined the new T-Mobile as executive vice president of Advanced and Emerging Technologies upon the merger’s close on April 1.

John Saw
John Saw

These days, his job is not involved with the deployment of 2.5 GHz – T-Mobile has a well-oiled machine to do that at the new T-Mobile sites.

Now his task is finding cool new ways to use that spectrum as part of T-Mobile’s 5G network, as well as  T-Mobile’s 600 MHz, much of which is already deployed across the country. Plus, it has sizable holdings of millimeter wave spectrum, which is part of that 5G spectrum "layer cake" that T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray often talks about. 

T-Mobile says it is the second largest holder of millimeter wave spectrum in the country today, with 28, 39 and 47 GHz holdings. “I’m very excited about the breadth and depth of our spectrum assets,” Saw told Fierce.

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Stay-at-home and social distancing practices triggered by the pandemic prevent Saw from meeting and working next to his new colleagues in the Seattle area, but they’ve figured out how to adapt their programs into virtual formats. In fact, T-Mobile today made two announcements that speak directly to Saw’s new position.

With Intel and NASA, T-Mobile is a founding member of the 5G Open Innovation Lab, a global ecosystem of developers, start-ups, enterprises, academia and government institutions.

The group announced the opening of the lab in Bellevue, Washington, and launch of its inaugural program for start-ups and their founders with the selection of the first cohort of companies using 5G for developing new applications and markets.

The program launched earlier this month and will run through July 17. The lab selected 17 companies in the first cohort; their expertise ranges from 5G/edge app orchestration to making robots smarter and creating an AR/VR platform for front-line workers.

The lab does not take an equity position in any of the companies, which are in various stages of development. Founders are introduced to leaders in the venture capital community.

Separately, T-Mobile unveiled six companies handpicked to participate in this year’s T-Mobile Accelerator. The companies will work directly with T-Mobile leaders and other industry players to develop and commercialize the next disruptive emerging products, apps and solutions that tap into T-Mobile’s 5G network both now and in the future.

It was formerly known as the Sprint Accelerator program, and it’s based in the smart city corridor of Kansas City. That program runs through July 30 and will culminate in a Demo Day where participants showcase their accomplishments.

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Both initiatives have the same concept and spirit, with different origins. They’re basically looking to expand partnerships and the ecosystem of developers, “to come up with cool ideas to leverage our network,” Saw said. “We need to build an ecosystem of developers and partners that are bigger than ourselves so that we can innovate and create new capabilities on our network.”

In a sense, it’s a way of finding the next Uber or Snapchat for 5G, which is designed from Day One to meet the needs of many verticals. “Imagine who will be the new Uber in healthcare or agriculture. That’s what excites us,” he said.