May 5, 2020

Axios Login

Happy Cinco de Mayo. For those who aren't fluent in Spanish, that translates to, "Happy birthday, Dad." Well, at least in my family.

Today's Login is 1,482 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: 5G's new twist

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As the coronavirus pandemic heightens tensions between the U.S. and China, policymakers and industry are promoting a new, software-driven approach to build next-generation cellular networks without using Chinese equipment, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: It's a tall order to replace the wireless ecosystem's hardware-powered status quo, but designing 5G more around software could make it cheaper and easier to deploy — and give hawks a way to lock out China's products.

Driving the news: A new coalition of more than 30 tech companies launched Tuesday to advocate federal policies to fund research and development of open and interoperable 5G networks.

  • The White House has promoted the same approach because it wants to see 5G built out in the U.S. and abroad without using network gear made by China's Huawei or pricier alternatives from Nokia or Ericsson.

Details: Founding companies of the Open RAN Policy Coalition include Amazon's AWS, AT&T, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Oracle, Dish Network and Verizon.

  • IBM, another coalition member, called Tuesday for the federal government to advance open 5G policies, including through the use of grants and interest-free loans for companies and cities that deploy the networks with open-source architecture.

How it works: The group, like other backers of leaning harder on software, hopes to see 5G networks handle some functions virtually and to create open standards to underpin software that could run on any standard hardware.

  • That would depart from the way existing networks work. They use specialized hardware to transmit data at cellular towers and other midpoints between wired internet networks and consumers' smartphones.
  • Chinese telecom giant Huawei is one of the global market leaders in making that equipment and is considerably less expensive than rivals, which include Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung. That's in spite of U.S. attempts to push Huawei out of 5G networks around the world.
  • Many security and foreign policy experts believe that Huawei coordinates its business and shares data with China's government, or could do so in the future. Huawei denies those claims.

What they're saying: "Let's break down the barriers and inject more competition and get more folks in the space," Diane Rinaldo, the former top Commerce Department telecom official who's leading the Open RAN Policy Coalition, told Axios. "That only drives newer, better things coming into the market."

On Capitol Hill, some key lawmakers already want to fund the development of open-software-driven 5G networks.

  • House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone and Ranking Member Greg Walden introduced bipartisan legislation in April with Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) to authorize up to $750 million in a grant program to promote "open interfaced, standards-based, and interoperable 5G networks."
  • Sens. Richard Burr and Mark Warner, who lead the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, introduced legislation earlier this year that would put $1 billion toward Western alternatives to Huawei, including an open-architecture model for 5G.

The big picture: The White House and the Federal Communications Commission have each signaled interest in the technology.

  • They both planned to host events this spring around virtualized 5G but canceled them due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of equipment makers that specialize in Open RAN technology is also pushing the UK to consider that approach, as Axios first reported. The UK has so far ruled that Huawei can be a part of its 5G networks, despite U.S. pressure.

Yes, but: Despite support within the administration, there are also detractors. Attorney General William Barr, a former Verizon executive, called the concept "pie in the sky" in a speech in February that favored investing in Ericsson and Nokia as a counter to Huawei.

What to watch: Dish Network is tasked with building a new nationwide wireless network. It recently signaled its commitment to doing so through the software-based approach, inking a service agreement with network software provider Mavenir.

  • "Mavenir will help us lay the foundation for an innovative software-defined network," Dish's chief network officer Marc Rouanne said in an April statement, maintaining the deal will let the company "source a diverse technology ecosystem, including U.S.-based solution providers."
2. Top AWS engineer resigns after worker firings

Tim Bray, vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon Web Services, announced Monday in a blog post that he resigned after the company fired workers who raised concerns about warehouse employees frightened of the coronavirus, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

Why it matters: Amazon has been a lifeline for consumers during the pandemic, but it has drawn rising scrutiny over whether it's doing enough to protect its fulfillment center workers from the coronavirus.

The other side: Amazon denied the connection, saying it terminated the employees for violating internal policies.

What he's saying: Bray, an influential early software blogger and one of the creators of the XML data standard, worked for Amazon for five years and called the position "the best job I've ever had."

"The big problem isn't the specifics of COVID-19 response," Bray wrote. "It's that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that's not just Amazon, it's how 21st-century capitalism is done."

  • "Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power."
  • Bray wrote that staying in his position after the firings "would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned."

Our thought bubble: Bray is an engineering expert whose role at Amazon Web Services put him at a far end of the giant’s operations from its retail warehouses.

  • His resignation represents a high-profile act of dissent at the tech giant, but engineers have a lot more job mobility than many other workers.

Go deeper: Amazon's big coronavirus spending gets a cold market response

3. Ex-Windows boss plans book on Microsoft days

Photo: AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Steven Sinofsky, the former Microsoft executive and current Andreessen Horowitz board partner, has been working on a book chronicling what he learned during his decades at Microsoft, including his time leading the Office and Windows teams.

Why it matters: There are a lot of lessons today's tech giants can learn from Microsoft's experiences — and Sinofsky was at Microsoft for many of its most crucial moments.

"I'm so often asked by founders and execs at big companies 'why' or 'how' or 'what were you thinking' about the products I was fortunate enough to work on at Microsoft that I thought I would write down the stories about organization, management, culture, that I often share."
— Sinofsky, in an interview with Axios

What he's saying: In an excerpt published Monday night on Fast Company's website, Sinofsky recalls early security headaches — including the ILOVEYOU email worm, which infected computers 20 years ago this week.

  • "ILOVEYOU hit Microsoft at a time when we were emerging from the early days of the PC as a tech enthusiast product transitioning to a full-on enterprise company," Sinofsky told me on Monday.
  • "Much of what I share in the excerpt is about coming to grips with the importance of trust with customers while at the same time balancing the openness of platforms with the need to maintain safety and security."

The backstory: Sinofsky said he had hoped to publish the book soon, but like many other things, the plans have been disrupted by the pandemic.

  • "The timing for completing the project depends on how quickly the publishing market returns to its new normal," he told Fast Company in a Q&A accompanying the excerpt.
4. Tributes pour in for Twitter worker killed in SF shooting

Courtney Brousseau. Photo: Twitter

Colleagues and friends paid tribute Monday to Courtney Brousseau, a 22-year-old Twitter product manager also known for his activism in favor of public transit. Brousseau died Monday after sustaining fatal injuries in a shooting Friday night in San Francisco's Mission District.

The big picture: The hashtag #loveforcourtney featured dozens of remembrances from transit advocates, friends and Twitter colleagues, including CFO Ned Segal and product chief Kayvon Beykpour.

Brousseau was shot shortly after he posted a picture from San Francisco's Dolores Park. "I just ate a delicious burrito in Dolores Park and for a brief moment everything felt okay," he said in his final tweet.

What they're saying:

  • Former Twitter colleague Freia Lobo: "The first time I met Courtney, it was on a call to convince him to join Twitter. He opened with 'Hi, nice to meet you. Here's the 4 tech companies that I would never work for. How is Twitter different from them?' I was simultaneously amused and impressed."
  • Twitter colleague Melissa Szobota: "What was so striking to me about Courtney was his humility and authenticity. The sections of his resume noted on his Twitter profile reflect this: 'What I do, What I've done, Where I've failed, What I've built, Where I've talked.'"
Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Customer engagement software firm Freshworks names software-as-a-service veteran Tyler Sloat as chief financial officer. 


  • Intel is paying $900 million to buy Moovit, a data-rich app that helps people navigate cities using multiple modes of transportation from bikes and scooters to public transit and taxis. (Axios)
  • Monday's introduction of the new MacBook Pro marks the end to Apple's oft-criticized butterfly keyboards. Dieter Bohn takes a look back at the history of the problem-plagued design. (The Verge)
  • Uber is said to be in talks to lead a $170 million investment in Lime, gaining an option to eventually acquire the scooter company. (The Information)
  • Former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann is suing SoftBank over the collapse of a WeWork rescue deal that could have netted him nearly a billion dollars. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt has become a key point person between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon. (New York Times)
6. After you Login

This pottery-making technique is cool, and the video of it in action is positively mesmerizing.