Last month, Smith testified before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the role commercial broadband technology plays in both defense and civil agencies as well as a spectrum crunch for both government and commercial customers (click over to GovCon Executive for more on the hearing).
In this interview with ExecutiveBiz, Smith discusses his day on Capitol Hill and some of the figures both government and industry that also testified alongside him.
Smith also highlights how Oceus works with the GovCon community to get broadband technology into the government sector and potential solutions for how to share limited amounts of spectrum.
ExecutiveBiz: How did the opportunity to testify come about and why did you accept the opportunity?
Doug Smith: Oceus Networks has been following with interest the Federal Spectrum Working Group, which House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo established this summer to study federal spectrum use.
We were honored to have been asked to participate. Oceus Networks is very interested in the federal spectrum policy issues raised during the hearing, including the need that federal users have for spectrum for increased broadband requirements and the relevant technologies that make this access mission-effective, such as LTE.
The hearing brought together important perspectives about federal spectrum use, including the important national security missions about which General Wheeler testified, underscoring DoD’s reliance on assured spectrum access. The witnesses also addressed key issues relative to spectrum sharing possibilities.
ExecutiveBiz: How did the day go for you speaking before the panel?
Smith: Chairman Walden and the comments from Rep. Eshoo on the minority side were great.
It was a privilege to be there because on one hand on my right I had the Department of Defense represented by Major Gen. Wheeler and Karl Nebbia over at NTIA, both tremendously capable people and agencies that are very significant for Oceus.
On my left were representatives of the cellular industry. We had Steve Sharkey, a great guy from T-Mobile and we had Mark Racek, who I’ve known for many years over at Ericsson, the dominant equipment supplier in North America.
The cellular industry obviously is a very, very large machine worth several hundred billion dollars a year all by itself. I’ve got DoD on the other side and of course Congress is trying to figure out how to take spectrum from the Department of Defense and move it over to the cellular industry.
DoD has important equities to consider as they have thousands of systems operating on these bands. What is the plan for moving them to another band? What is that band? And who’s going to cover the cost of moving all these important mission systems over to other bands?
I think part of the reason we were there I hope was that we have a split the baby position in the middle that keeps some important equities for DoD for access to spectrum on bases for 4G LTE for the long-term, while at the same time supporting the need for industry, the cellular industry to have more spectrum.
That’s important to that industry but also to our economy. We propose sharing which is generally being widely discussed in the cellular industry and in governments that have the spectrum that that industry needs. All the “easy spectrum” [is already in use], and I’ll say that tongue-in-cheek because a lot of the people that were involved in this over the last 30 years would say it wasn’t always that easy.
But the easy-to-find spectrum that could be moved from government to the cellular industry cleared of other users … and used exclusively by the cellular industry, those days have largely passed. That easy-to-find spectrum has been moved.
So today as the cellular industry needs more spectrum, it’s going to have to share the spectrum with other important users. In this case for the Department of Defense we have proposed a notion that is doable today. In fact it’s been done in the cellular industry from the start, which is geographic sharing.
And simply put, for a long time you have had one cellular carrier having one metropolitan area. Another one has another metropolitan area, where one has one region [licensed] and another has another region. And they butt up against one another and that is geographic sharing of a spectrum band. They coordinate it and it works.
We proposed [in testimony] the same type of geographic sharing for the Department of Defense to maintain spectrum rights. We have proposed that DOD retain rights to that band on their bases so that they have a long-term spectrum supportability plan for 4G LTE.
It was an honor to be there and present that. I think it was not a very controversial position which is good. I think it’s something that all sides can get their heads around and will be good for the country and our national security and still will free up the spectrum for our economy to grow.
ExecutiveBiz: How is this important for the GovCon community and how does Oceus work with them?
Smith: There’s two aspects to mobility. One is when an agency wants to use a carrier network.
There’s a lot of enterprise notions of keeping track of who our customers are and how they’re using the network and building it and so forth. But there’s also security and with NAVAIR we are doing a solution for classified traffic over 4G LTE.
That solution is used with all the carrier networks as well. We help fix the problem of how you classify traffic over a mobile carrier network.
The second part is beyond using carrier networks. [M]any of the places where missions are very important do not have 4G LTE networks or carrier networks. Or you don’t want to be dependent on them because they’re enemy networks. [For example] Customs and Border Protection here in the United States [may be ] trying to use 4G LTE on white space borders, and by white space I mean there’s no cellular signal there.
They need broadband wireless capabilities. So they need a spectrum plan and a security plan and we offer that. For DoD they need to be able to use 4G LTE on bases, “train as we fight,” and those bases that don’t have cellular coverage. There are no carriers covering many very remote places where training is done. So DoD needs to be able to operate a private cellular network.
And we provide that capability from security to spectrum to technology end to end to enable DoD to train as they fight on 4G LTE gear in CONUS. And so the combination of those two things, enterprise integration with carrier networks and private tactical and enterprise LTE networks, are the key concept there.
There’s a huge set of opportunities for those players who are participating in or leading mobility for government, particularly for the Department of Defense.
And for us, we bring the only solution set that enables DoD to use these 4G LTE in a private network, whether it’s enterprise on bases or tactical train as you fight on bases. We’re looking for partners. We work with primes; we have a lot of subs already. We do our own systems integration in certain circumstances, for NAVAIR for example, [it is an] end to end solution.
ExecutiveBiz: What benefits are federal customers hoping to capture with 4G and other similar commercial technologies?
Smith: Use of 4G LTE and commercial technologies “evens the playing field” for government users by allowing federal customers to leverage commercial economies of scale. For many communications systems, they can access state-of-the-art technologies that are more capable and less costly than proprietary solutions.
4G LTE is the globally recognized and adopted commercial wireless network technology to deliver high-speed, high-bandwidth mobile data communications. The industry invests $50 billion annually in research and development. Using Oceus Networks technologies allows federal customers to tap into this ecosystem at a very attractive price point. Federal customers get more capabilities for far less cost.
By leveraging commercial technologies such as 4G LTE, federal users not only get advanced capabilities today, but they also get on the commercial technology roadmap, which allows them to more easily take advantage of future enhancements.
Systems that rely on the same wireless broadband standard embraced in the commercial world like LTE facilitate interoperability and sharing between government and private sector users.
High-definition video, VoIP, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, blue force tracking, and telemedicine are some of the applications that 4G LTE enables.
As I discussed as part of my testimony, the Navy is using 4G LTE for a tactical network that will support communications, including classified, for up to 3,500 Marines and sailors deployed with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. This marks the first operational deployment of 4G LTE for DoD.
Public safety use of LTE is another example for which advanced broadband capabilities, together with secure apps, are critical.
In a trial scheduled to begin this fall, we will demonstrate the role of 4G LTE in a rapidly deployable aerial communications architecture that can provide immediate broadband communications to disaster areas. We are engaged in this demonstration in support of an FCC inquiry about how Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture can restore the communications capabilities of first responders shortly after the occurrence of a major natural disaster or terrorist attack.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the biggest growth driver with mobility in the federal market?
Smith: I think the biggest growth driver is similar to the consumer market: it’s apps.
We enable the notion that some of the services talk publicly about, which is one device per sailor, solider, airman that can be used anywhere in the world whether it’s in a remote, tactical environment, Afghanistan, Somalia or somewhere else.
Whether there are carrier networks [or not], they can still use their secure device on their private networks but can also roam around the world on carrier networks.
So we enable those apps that are important to them, and many of the agencies are developing custom apps to be used anywhere in the world, whether there are cellular carriers there or not.
ExecutiveBiz: What role do you see the company playing in helping the government address its growing spectrum needs?
Smith: As a result of increased requirements for high-bandwidth communications, federal users are seeing their own version of a “broadband revolution” that parallels what is occurring in the consumer world.
With our portable 4G LTE broadband solution, called Xiphos™, we are today demonstrating the capabilities of this technology to meet warfighter needs for many missions across the Services.
Xiphos networks ensure that military user needs are addressed, through meeting specific encryption requirements and ruggedizing equipment as needed. We provide mission-critical apps for the warfighter, for situational awareness, video streaming and VoIP.
As an advanced mobile 4G LTE solution, Xiphos provides the functionality of a full cellular network in a single unit to address warfighter broadband requirements “on the move,” which would not be possible with fixed switching equipment. Networks of Xiphos or NOX, enable large scale seamless mobile networking in any environment or mission.
Our mobile LTE networks can be placed aboard ships, installed in tactical warfighter vehicles, mounted on UASs and other aerial vehicles, and/or be soldier back-packed.
Because the 4G LTE network based on Xiphos is an entire network of capability in each node, our solution can help to extend the reach of wireless broadband into remote or rural areas. This is particularly important for public safety users who will require connectivity to the nationwide network in rural or other hard to reach places where it is expensive to build out. These areas are not always a priority of coverage for large network operators, due to the cost-benefit trade-offs of deploying fixed networks to less densely populated areas.
However, for our Xiphos technology solution, this is an excellent example of how advanced commercial wireless technology can enable more efficient and effective spectrum use in geographic areas that might not otherwise have access to the advanced communications capabilities provided with 4G LTE.
Use of 4G LTE can help federal users use spectrum more efficiently and effectively. This can help free up spectrum for other communication and non-communication radar purposes..
Our solution is a complement to other federal systems.
ExecutiveBiz: How does 4G technology facilitate interoperability between the public and private sectors, specifically in the national public safety network?
Smith: For non-public safety federal users, using 4G LTE private networks on commercial frequencies allows federal users to roam onto commercial networks with the same equipment used for private federal networks.
Congress selected 4G LTE as the networking standard for the new nationwide public safety broadband network, FirstNet, in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. Congress established FirstNet to oversee the construction of the network nationwide to ensure interoperability.
Congress, by setting LTE as the technology and by dedicating spectrum to public safety, put in place the foundation for interoperability.
Oceus Networks’ portable and flexible LTE solutions will give public safety users in tier 3 and 4 markets, that may not be able to afford full-blown deployments in the near-term, the ability to cost-effectively provide interoperable public safety communications based on LTE.