Executive Interview: Brian Deutsch, CEO, Pivotal Commware
1. Pivotal Commware is built on Holographic Beam Forming technology. What is that?
Holographic Beam Forming® (HBF) is a patented, dynamic beamforming technique. Functionally, it is similar to a phased array in that it can shape and direct wireless signals with no moving parts. HBF is electronically reconfigurable, making it a software defined antenna. Architecturally, HBF is significantly simpler, while still achieving the functionality of conventional phased arrays.
Phased arrays rely on discrete phase shifters as the critical element to accomplish beam steering. This approach brings with it a need for distributed amplification and switching to handle losses and enabling time-division duplex operation. HBF employs no discrete phase shifters or distributed amplifiers. Instead, individual antenna elements of the HBF array are activated by altering the coupling between the elements and antenna feed. This approach only requires DC biasing of varactor diodes. This allows us to build the lowest cost, size, weight and power consumption beamforming architecture we are aware of.
HBF gets its name from its similarity to optical holography. In optics, holograms are used to transform waves from one configuration to another. Similarly, the HBF technique transforms a guided wave in the antenna to a radiated wave that makes up the beam.
2. You are focusing HBF on 5G, specifically for the mmWave bands. What capabilities and advantages does it offer operators and consumers?
HBF’s cost, size, weight and power consumption (C-SWaP) advantages over other beam forming technologies translate into low-profile mmWave repeaters that install quickly and inexpensively. The indoor Echo 5G™ is installed by the subscriber, so costly truck-rolls are avoided. The outdoor mounted Pivot 5G™ network repeater requires neither a power meter nor fiber connection, offers low OPEX siting and minimizes fiber-connected gNB CAPEX. Pivotal’s unique advantages will accelerate time to market and optimize total cost of ownership by mmWave operators.
3. Describe the range of products you're developing.
Pivotal has developed an ecosystem of mmWave products that consists of:
Pivot 5G—a network repeater that mounts outdoors to extend mmWave coverage beyond gNB line-of-sight.
Echo 5G—a repeater that is mounted against window glass by the subscriber to guide and gently flood native mmWave signals indoors.
WaveScape—a cloud-based network platform that helps carriers understand trade-offs among different deployment strategies in order to optimize the placement of network elements such as gNBs and Pivot 5Gs.
Intelligent Beam Management System (IBMS)—a cloud-based system that provides carriers with remote management and control, plus self-optimization via machine learning algorithms.
4. What can you tell us of your success in the market—any specific wins and deployments?
Pivotal is shipping repeaters to tier-one operators to serve mobile and fixed wireless access (FWA) use cases. Deployments by market are being guided by WaveScape planning software, which, in turn, leverages HBF’s near horizon scan volume. FWA pilot testing is currently underway with a tier-one carrier in Australia. For all carriers, WaveScape’s singular focus on line-of-sight precision has made it uniquely suited to FWA service qualification.
5. Is there a frequency limitation for HBF? Does it offer similar advantages for wireless networks at 60 GHz or below 6 GHz?
There is no frequency limitation for HBF. Several years ago, Pivotal developed a beamformer for 60 GHz. Since then, Pivotal has chosen to focus on mmWave allocations between 24 and 39 GHz. HBF offers similar advantages below 6 GHz and has developed beamformers for 3.5 and 1.9 GHz. Below 1 GHz, beamforming in general requires aperatures too large to be generally practical.
6. Explain how your products support open RAN.
Open RAN contemplates disaggregation of certain functions in the end-to-end ecosystem and allows companies like Pivotal to offer “best of breed” elements into an otherwise closed system. Our current products, including repeaters, are transparent to 3GPP/open RAN interfaces and, therefore, support interoperability among different equipment providers.
7. As you know, there's strong political interest in developing a communications infrastructure manufacturing base in the U.S. Does your manufacturing strategy support that goal?
Absolutely, and we fully support the goal of building an enduring U.S.-based capability for telecom infrastructure. Our products are currently manufactured in the U.S. and we will continue to focus our efforts in North America. Pivotal also actively supports Congress’ bipartisan interest in nurturing more homegrown, 5G-related telecom equipment development.
8. You recently raised $50 million in a C round. How will you use the funding, and how will it position your business plan?
The money will be used to fund market expansion for the Pivot and Echo, as well as our entire mmWave ecosystem at scale, including more personnel and R&D.
9. Looking out 5 to 10 years, what is your vision for Pivotal Commware? What impact do you want the company to have on society?
Our vision is “A World of Limitless Connectivity, via Dramatic Leaps in Wireless Data Throughput & Spectrum Efficiency.” Our mmWave ecosystem is designed to minimize costs to operators and speed time to market, so they can serve more users, improve quality of life and narrow the digital divide.
10. Tell us about your background and the path that led you to Pivotal Commware.
I’ve had success in telecom for decades. My experience as co-founder of Wavtrace in the late 90s convinced me that broadband wireless access needed a cost-effective beamforming technology that wasn’t available at that time. 12 years later, as managing director of the Metamaterials Commercialization Center, I helped curate what would become the basis for Holographic Beam Forming, knowing that Pivotal would be able to commercialize it for 5G.
11. Compared to your various roles, what challenges you most about leading a start-up company?
The key to any start-up is building a great team. As a veteran of many successful start-ups in telecom and wireless, I have had the pleasure of working with several amazing teams. In the case of Pivotal, this is on another level entirely. We have carefully cultivated the best in class in every discipline to assemble a team of skilled and passionate teammates who understand the quote attributed to Henry Ford that, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” As a CEO, you need to have the technology chops and market intuition to set the company’s vision and inspire that vision in others. However, without the passion for and fearless execution of that vision by our incredible team, it’s just words on a piece of paper.