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December 10, 2021

It turns out I wasn't the only one to struggle with being over and under "whelmed." Check out this scene from the 1999 movie "10 Things I Hate About You." And, apparently, you can indeed be whelmed.

Today's newsletter is 1,100 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Exclusive — White House veteran’s 5G startup

Illustration of a cell phone tower with a lock on it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Former White House National Security Council official Gen. Robert Spalding wrote a controversial PowerPoint deck in 2018 on how the U.S. government could play a greater role in building 5G networks. Now Spalding has left government and military service and landed $20 million to bring some of his vision to life via a private company.

How it works: The startup, Sempre, aims to offer a more secure, smarter alternative to the traditional cell tower, adding computing power at the edge and making the tower itself more resilient to attacks.

The big picture: Spalding says Sempre aims to offer its customers added computing power by placing a mini-data center at the tower, as well as protection from electromagnetic pulses caused by nuclear attack or solar flare.

  • Commercial carriers are also working to place data centers closer to the edge of their networks.

Between the lines: It's early days for the company, which is still looking for "anchor tenants" for a network of such towers.

  • Sempre is still figuring out how best to work with the existing players, including tower companies and wireless carriers, as well as where it can work directly with military, government agencies and businesses to offer private 5G networks.
  • The company has also won a bid for an early trial with the military and is exploring other ideas for working with first responders and other governmental agencies.

Growing competition with China and an increase in cyberattacks are among the motivations for building a more secure network. "Data really defines who we are in the digital economy today," Spalding says.

Yes, but: 5G networks are rolling out fast in the U.S., and it's unclear what kind of broad demand there might ever be for Sempre's "hardened tower" approach.

Flashback: In 2018 — as Axios first reported — Spalding's PowerPoint presentation was circulating through the White House listing a series of ways that the government could foster creation of a more secure 5G network by playing a bigger role in its creation.

  • The idea was widely criticized by those who saw the commercial industry already well on the way to establishing their own 5G networks.

Spalding insists he was never trying to nationalize 5G. Rather, he saw an opportunity for the government to play a broader role in securing next-generation networks.

  • "Nobody told me to do it," Spalding said. "I did it on my own."

Spalding left the White House shortly after the 5G presentation became public and went back to the Pentagon, where he began the process of retiring from the Air Force. While other retiring officers were making plans for golf or fishing, Spalding said he was making plans to launch a tech company.

  • "This is my passion," Spalding recalls telling his wife. "It’s not something that people are really working on."

2. Kano banks on Ye for expansion into music

Kano's $200 Stem Player, co-developed with rap musician Ye, also known as Kanye West.
Kano's Stem Player. Image: Kano

Kano Computing has started to ship a $200 music gadget it co-developed with Ye, the American musician better known to many as Kanye West.

  • The company tells Axios it has received 30,000 orders for the Stem Player, which carries both the Kano name and Ye's Yeezy Tech brand.

Why it matters: Expanding into music allows Kano to reach a new group of consumers across a wider age range than its educational products.

How it works: The Stem Player allows listeners to break songs down into such elements as bass, vocals and drums. From there, gadget owners can listen to the various parts and create their own remix.

  • The device comes loaded with Ye's new album but other songs can be transferred to the device, and Klein says Kano hopes to open the Stem Player up to artists and developers.

In an interview, Kano CEO Alex Klein said he met Ye in 2019, and the musician was attracted to the simplicity and transparency of Kano's computers. "It just started a collaboration and a partnership and this is the first manifestation of that," Klein told Axios.

  • Klein said the new product expands on the company's mission: to create tech products that allow people to do more than just consume others' content.

Between the lines: Klein has another tie to Ye, having contributed lyrics to the song "Water," from the rapper's 2019 album "Jesus is King."

3. Charted: Tech giants' value races into the trillions

Data: YCharts; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios
Data: YCharts; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon have collectively gained $5.5 trillion in market capitalization since their March 2020 lows, as Axios' Felix Salmon reports.

By the numbers: Apple alone has risen in value by an astonishing $1.85 trillion in just 433 trading sessions — an average increase of well over $4 billion per day.

  • In just 118 days between May 6 and September 1 last year, Apple increased its valuation by $1 trillion.
  • Before 2018, no company had ever even been worth $1 trillion. Now, Apple will be worth more than $3.3 trillion if it rises from its current level of $175 and hits Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty's target of $200 per share.

4. How cyber attacks could be used to "disrupt" decision-making

Axios reporter Bryan Walsh and Christopher Krebs.
Axios reporter Bryan Walsh and Christopher Krebs.

Former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Christopher Krebs told Axios at an event Thursday that America's adversaries could use cyberattacks in the future to "disrupt" U.S. decision-making.

The big picture: Krebs, using China as an example, said that future cyberattacks could be part of "a larger, more complex approach by an adversary."

What he's saying: "If things get hot in Taiwan, there's a possibility that the Chinese government could use some sort of cyber capability to make us focus here rather than over there."

  • "Same thing depending on what happens with Russia and Ukraine," Krebs added.
"It’s not just about intelligence operations, but using technology to disrupt the decision calculus of us, of our allies, is absolutely within the strategy of our adversaries."
— Former CISA Director Christopher Krebs

Of note: Krebs also referenced a report by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency that found Chinese-sponsored attackers were targeting natural gas pipelines in 2013.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Today is Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly.

Trading Places

  • Mozilla named veteran HR executive Kristen Trubey as its chief people officer.


6. After you Login

A screenshot of Nick Turner's cat Tinsel having attacked a mouse, albeit Nick's computer mouse
Courtesy of Nick Turner

My friend (and Bloomberg editor) Nick Turner posted these photos of his cat having chewed its first mouse. Unfortunately for Nick, it was his computer mouse that got chomped.