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Rajeev Shah of Celona: “My heart has always been tied up with children’s education”

A real-time communications fabric like the one we are envisioning will have a profound impact on how we live and how we do business. For example, this has the potential to fundamentally alter industrial operations of all types. I predict that these capabilities will bring manufacturing back to the West, but in a new form. […]

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A real-time communications fabric like the one we are envisioning will have a profound impact on how we live and how we do business. For example, this has the potential to fundamentally alter industrial operations of all types. I predict that these capabilities will bring manufacturing back to the West, but in a new form. One that is more productive, more efficient, and ultimately more lucrative that models used in years past. It could very well demonstrate that Western economics focused on digital transformation will actually be able to transcend the traditional barriers of manufacturing in terms of cost of labor and other obstacles. Connected cities will be safer, connected schools will enhance learning and promote equality and so on.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on… What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajeev Shah.

Rajeev Shah is the co-founder and CEO of Celona, a company creating the next generation of wireless communications for the enterprise. With almost 20 years of experience in enterprise Wi-Fi and service provider markets, Rajeev has held leadership positions at some of the most influential wireless communications companies in the industry, including Aruba Networks (now HPE), a provider of enterprise wireless LAN and edge access networking equipment, where he created and lead the Aruba Cloud Wi-Fi business. Previous to Celona, he used to lead products and marketing at Federated Wireless, one of the leading technology companies in the CBRS space.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

As a kid in India, I grew up in a time when computers had just been introduced in the country and the computing industry was very glamorous and that sparkle of innovation really lured me in. I came to this country determined to be in academia but Silicon Valley proved to be too alluring during the boom time of the communications industry in the late 90s. Early on in my career, I had the privilege of being able to join Aruba Networks at an important time in the history of enterprise wireless communications.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Since we’re talking about communications technology, I’ll share a story from the early days of Wi-Fi. I was visiting a global bank in New York to sell them on the idea of Wi-Fi as the foundation of their communications network. About ten to fifteen minutes into the conversation, as I’m extolling the virtues of mobility, the customer stops me and says, “You’re trying to sell me on mobility. Do you see any laptops here? We don’t even have those yet!”. It was a great reminder not to assume that everyone will adopt new ideas at the same pace that technologists do, so you need to pick your battles. 6 years onward, that same customer was at the forefront of mobile communications. There is a time and place for everything.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be where you are.” Work is for work. When you’re with your family focus on them. When you’re taking time for yourself, use it to best effect. That reminder to focus on the purpose at hand has been a constant pursuit for me. Of course, I fail to respect this often but for the periods of time it works, I have been most productive and happy.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been very fortunate that I have worked with many great leaders in my career — Keerti and Dom at Aruba were unbelievable role models during my stint at Aruba. But one of my favorite learning moments came from the CEO of Federated Wireless, Iyad Tarazi. We were grappling with a tough organizational question during the growth of that company and he was suggesting a decision that I did not agree with. Fast forward 6 months later, I realized that it was a perfect move and I commented on it. He gave me one of the best pieces of advice: “build your org around the people you have, not the other way around”.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am always excited that wireless connectivity has a profoundly positive impact on the world. There isn’t a hospital or school that doesn’t leverage Wi-Fi and soon 5G to make their core goals easier to achieve. In fact, the technology my company, Celona is currently rolling out is being used broadly to bridge the digital divide, by bringing Internet connectivity to students required to engage in distance learning.

Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Celona has an ambitious vision — what if every organization could build their own mobile network to connect everything and everyone with wireless that is as reliable as wired. We are bringing the agility and innovation of Silicon Valley engineering to an industry where innovation has stalled a bit. We believe private 5G done right can do this. It will take these wireless networks from being just connectivity layers to true service delivery platforms that will drive the next decade of digital transformation.

This opens the door for automation of all kinds of processes; manufacturing processes, transportation services, autonomous vehicles, physical safety and emergency services and much more.

Several large enterprises in the US are starting to view Celona as the bridge between 5G wireless and their next generation of digital business initiatives. So, it’s a very exciting place and time to be in for myself and for the Celona team.

How do you think this might change the world?

A real-time communications fabric like the one we are envisioning will have a profound impact on how we live and how we do business. For example, this has the potential to fundamentally alter industrial operations of all types. I predict that these capabilities will bring manufacturing back to the West, but in a new form. One that is more productive, more efficient, and ultimately more lucrative that models used in years past. It could very well demonstrate that Western economics focused on digital transformation will actually be able to transcend the traditional barriers of manufacturing in terms of cost of labor and other obstacles. Connected cities will be safer, connected schools will enhance learning and promote equality and so on.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Well, I do believe that the “pros” will far outweigh the “cons,” but it is important to keep in mind that real-time communications technology is inherently designed to make more data available more quickly. We need to be very cautious on how we use that data. If 2020 taught us anything it was that data in the wrong hands can be abused in terrible ways. That heightens the need to monitor access and be transparent is its usage.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

If you’re involved with the communications industry, the biggest event of the year is Mobile World Congress, which takes place annually in Barcelona. My co-founder and I would meet there regularly as colleagues and talk about all kinds of potential ideas in communications. In fact, that is where the name Celona comes from — those nascent discussions about building our own company to pursue this vision.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

First, we need to continue to educate the market on the existence of this technology and its potential. Second, any new technology needs those “lighthouse” customers that validate the technology’s value. When they adopt, others follow. Finally, even with Celona providing the tech, we need to help develop an ecosystem to support this vision.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

Digitization and automation across multiple industries has become even more urgent in a post-pandemic world and most of these initiatives require the type of next-generation wireless connectivity Celona is building. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), real-time voice communications in first response and healthcare settings, municipal safety for smart cities, computer vision applications, manufacturing systems, predictive maintenance for machinery, robotics of all kinds — all of these applications require highly reliable and real-time wireless communications, but also the means to connect these applications in real-time to the cloud infrastructure at the heart of most enterprises. Our technology is the first to do this in a way that makes this extremely sophisticated technology accessible to the broad enterprise.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My heart has always been tied up with children’s education. If we can bring more equity to this issue across all social strata, I believe the impact would be enormous. Even in wealthy countries, the ability to give a child a quality education varies widely across many boundaries, from geography to economics. This is a complex issue, the solution for which would have a huge impact on all of our futures.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can follow me on Twitter @rajeevshah0514, find me at LinkedIn here https://www.linkedin.com/in/shahrajeev/, and I’ll soon be posting to Celona’s blog regularly here — https://www.celona.io/private-mobile-network-blog

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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