2021 FierceWireless Rising Star — Pivotal Commware’s Alex Katko

For 2021, FierceWireless has compiled a young and accomplished slate of up-and-coming wireless executives. We’re doling out the names of our winners, two per day, so that readers have the time to enjoy reading their profiles. These are all folks to keep an eye on as they make a mark in wireless, working in diverse areas of telecommunications.

Alex Katko is a scientist at heart. When getting his Ph.D. from Duke University in electrical and computer engineering, Katko focused his attention on metamaterials and holographic beamforming systems. He started his career working for the Invention Science Fund, which brings together scientists and engineers to work on emerging technologies and then apply those technologies to the real-world. The fund then takes that work and uses it to launch companies and raise venture capital. Pivotal Commware is a company that was formed with some equity from Invention Science Fund, and that is how Katko became a founding member of the firm.

As the VP of engineering, Katko focuses on developing and implementing communications systems from sub-1 GHz to millimeter wave. He also makes sure these products can be deployed by Tier 1 mobile network operators.

The best part of the job, Katko said, is working with the Pivotal team, especially the “incredible group of engineers” that Pivotal has culled together that bring expertise from a lot of different industries. “We are pulling in people with different backgrounds that have interesting new ideas that wireless hasn’t touched on,” he said. “That is what 5G is.”

RELATED: Pivotal raises $50M in C round

But Pivotal’s early success also brings some challenges. The company has grown very quickly and now employs more than 100.  “How do you maintain the look and feel and enthusiasm of the company as you grow?” Katko asks. “We try to hire people that are skilled and a good culture fit. That seems to be the key to keeping that going.”

And he also encourages new engineers to be flexible, particularly if they are working for a startup. “When you work at a startup, you don’t always know where you will fit in. You might be an engineer but morph into a product engineer,” he said, adding that the beauty of working for a startup is that there is a lot of room to expand and figure out what role works for you.

Katko is already looking to the next technology challenge to solve. He says that Pivotal has worked with the O-RAN Alliance and the O-RAN Policy Coalition to help define standards and is now working to move the technology from the standards phase to adoption. It is also evaluating the different architecture options within the open RAN paradigm to see how it can be optimized for operators.