Rivada reinvents itself as satellite disruptor

Disruption is Rivada’s middle name. First it wanted to provide an alternative to AT&T and FirstNet. Then it wound up tied to a plan to nationalize 5G, except that wasn’t its plan at all. Now it wants to launch a constellation of satellites.

But Rivada Space Networks possesses something its prior iterations didn’t have: access to spectrum rights. Thanks to a deal with Trion Space AG of Germany, it’s armed with spectrum that enables it to pursue a constellation of 600 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

Rivada announced its latest iteration this week at the Satellite 2022 convention in Washington, D.C., where it outlined plans to pursue a “game-changing” system for enterprise data communications. Led by Declan Ganley, the company intends to eventually offer ultra-low latency, high speed services to telecom, maritime, energy government services and other markets.

The company remains committed to its patented technologies such as Dynamic Spectrum Arbitrage and the Open Access platform that it says enable efficient use of spectrum and provide customers with the ultimate in flexibility. But it’s got a whole new game plan, and that involves competing for mindshare among all the other satellite ventures now in various phases of orbit.

Rivada bought the rights to spectrum, through the purchase of 85% of Liechtenstein-based Trion Space AG, for an undisclosed sum, according to Brian Carney, head of corporate communications at Rivada Networks. Financing for building the constellation will come from a combination of existing investors and new financing, he said.

The spectrum is in the Ka band and comes with higher ITU priority than SpaceX’s Starlink or Amazon’s Kuiper Ka band filings, which make it an attractive asset, he said. The Trion filings cover 4,000 MHz of the Ka band. Kleo Connect, which formerly had a spectrum use agreement with Trion, still owns 15% of Trion, he noted.

“We are working with some of the people behind the original filings to realize their vision,” he told Fierce. “The idea is to build out essentially a fully networked wholesale satellite constellation so it fits with our vision of being a wholesale wireless capacity provider,” while leveraging its networking experience. “We are … picking up this project not totally from scratch but are working with some of the original people behind it” and moving it forward. 

Rivada Space Networks intends to do business in the U.S., so at some point it will need to seek approval from the FCC, but it’s not at that point yet. Basically, the goal is to start deployment of the satellites in 2024, with full deployment expected by mid-2028.

It doesn’t plan to offer consumer internet service so won’t be directly competing with Starlink or Kuiper, he said. However, there are other constellations in the works or planned of a similar vein. It’s also in the midst of putting out bids for the contracts to build and launch the satellites, so it’s still early stages.

More parity in auctions

It’s safe to say that Rivada is not a big fan of how the U.S. historically has conducted spectrum auctions. It thought the government should put out an RFP on how to share the Department of Defense (DoD) mid-band spectrum that’s immediately below the CBRS 3.5 spectrum, Carney noted.  

In the end, 100 MHz was auctioned in the 3.45 GHz auction, where AT&T purchased a sizable amount to fill out its mid-band 5G holdings.

“This kind of piecemeal thing where they sell 100 MHz here and 100 MHz there” only panders to the biggest wireless carriers, Carney said. “It’s a classic example of how these auctions are designed and tailored to the narrow interests sometimes of particular carriers and sometimes just of the Big Three collectively, so it allows AT&T to fill a hole in its spectrum portfolio but it did not allow a new entrant to make a credible move into the market.”

Carney acknowledged that its new satellite strategy appears a bit random, but Rivada sees it as a strategic move, with the goal ultimately to not just be in space but to combine it with terrestrial opportunities. The idea is the two will be complementary, he said.

In fact, the company intends to leverage the “unique terrestrial wireless technologies” of parent company Rivada Networks to optimize network utilization and facilitate the buying and selling of broadband capacity. That’s where the aforementioned patented technologies come into play.

Some of the same wireless industry veterans that started out with Rivada are still affiliated, but not necessarily to the same degree. Former Sprint CFO Joe Euteneuer was a co-CEO with Ganley for a while, but he left for a stint as CFO of Mattel; he’s still on the board. Doug Lynn, who led integration efforts for Sprint in its merger with T-Mobile, is now the CFO at Rivada. Peter Campbell is another Sprint veteran who serves as chief information officer at Rivada.