Doug Smith, CEO of Reston, Va.-based broadband services contractor Oceus Networks, spoke with ExecutiveBiz last year after testifying to House lawmakers next-generation mobile technology in the federal government.
He described collaborative efforts with agencies to help them acquire new devices and manage the spectrum needed for the devices.
Smith recently caught back up with us to discuss how agencies can secure mobile devices and open their networks, as well as a test of an airborne 4G network over Colorado that attracted attention in an unexpected way.
ExecutiveBiz: What have been your main areas of focus in the last year?
Doug Smith: We remain focused on building and enabling the broadband command and control marketplace, with the DOD in particular, and also for public safety. Tactical Cellular encompasses end‑to‑end solution elements integrating with existing tactical networks through the transport layer, all the way out to NSA approved security solutions, to the handset. We are also active with various agencies to enable spectrum road maps for federal use of commercial bands.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve previously said that apps are the biggest driver of the mobility market. Does that hold true today?
Doug Smith: I think it is about the data manifested through apps and devices. The real drivers are real-time data fusion at the tactical edge. It is high definition video streaming, FLIR data, blue force tracking and situational awareness to the war fighter or public safety officer in real-time.
This technology changes the way warfare can be fought, and that’s the driver. The way that change materializes for the user, for example, is apps like the Net Warrior program. In the end, broadband mobile solutions change the way we fight wars and it will save lives of combatants and non-combatants alike.
ExecutiveBiz: How is Oceus working with Space Data on the 4G-network project and what progress have you made?
Doug Smith: We’re in generation three of our tactical networks capabilities. Those capabilities in the public safety space are generally called deployables. Deployables is a fairly simplistic term for what we do for the DOD. In essence, it’s providing broadband capacity and coverage when and where you need it, in any environment, and doing it in a secure, end‑to‑end networking solution that is compliant to standards so that many different devices and applications can be used.
On the public safety side, the FCC asked us to do a revolutionary trial, to put an LTE network up at 70,000 feet and see how it performed. We had performance out to 100 kilometers radius, so 200 kilometer bubbles of coverage from putting our system up at 70,000 feet over Denver. It was quite an interesting trial and a fun story as well.
The day of the trial, it happened to be national UFO day and all sorts of reports were coming in across Denver about UFOs over the area. It was on the news programs up there, so we had a little bit of fun with it, as well. It took four balloons to pull the 60‑pound payload up to 70,000 feet and it was quite a spectacle. The system performed well and the results will be filed with the FCC.
I recently read an article about a company down in New Mexico that is working with the DOD and some of the intelligence agencies on a several week duration ISR platform that would be at 65‑, 70,000 feet, and of course, we’ve seen some of the big integrators talk about lighter‑than‑air vehicles that would operate at those same types of altitudes for the DOD.
So, in this case, doing the DACA trial with the FCC pairs nicely with what we’re doing for the DOD. Putting a persistent ISR layer up at 60‑, 70,000 feet above the weather provides added capabilities to what satellites can offer. Much more capacity and capability can be offered on these high altitude platforms, and I think the DOD will be well served by this capability.
ExecutiveBiz: Where are you on building the ship-based network for the Navy?
Doug Smith: We have delivered a solution that is below decks, above decks and between ships which provides a bubble in the range of about 20‑kilometers radius around the ship. That, of course, varies based on the antenna heights used on the ships.
We also have systems that are on helicopters, so they go out over the horizon and provide seamless coverage connecting back to the ships. This configuration provides LTE coverage over the horizon for pirate interdiction and provides FLIR high-definition video back to command centers on the ships and also to the sailors on the interdiction boats. This is important in that no longer do our sailors have to come up to a potential pirate boat blind as to what the threat on the boats might be. As they’re approaching, they see in high definition on our android devices, video of exactly what’s going on in those ships and what weapons systems there are and what’s pointed at them so that they can go in appropriately. This system is deployed and operational and it has the first secret level of encryption, which we’ve been working on with the NSA and others. NAVAIR won a big award this year from GCN, one of the 15 top IT projects of 2013. They have earned that for driving this major innovation in an environment with the toughest electromagnetic interference.
ExecutiveBiz: How can industry and government customers work to balance opening networks up to all these new devices and technology with the need for encryption and security?
Doug Smith: Fortunately, it’s much like the paradigm of CPUs or memory or transmission systems. It used to be the government custom built those things. Then they started to use commercial products, which in the mobile domain is commercial LTE. There is no government specific broadband capability or program and government is not envisioning the custom development of any other broadband at this time. It’s just too expensive and it’s too far off the road map. Using LTE in government and DOD networks and other federal, state and local public safety networks is happening. It’s the only way to get mobile broadband.
The way Moore’s law works, the processing and memory capacity within the handsets, particularly processing speeds, are very important to being able to get these levels of security in the handset and on the end‑to‑end transmission paths.
We took a bet years ago that processing speeds in the handsets would develop at a pace where we could add the necessary layers of security real-time. These are software encryptors that are able to encrypt and decrypt in real-time at a very robust level of encryption for real-time applications in the handset. You’ve got to have a tremendous amount of processing capacity in the handset, and it’s turned out, what we first delivered to the Navy, we were right on the edge of that initially. Of course, with Moore’s law being what it is, every nine months or so you come out with a new capability in handsets and every 18 months or so the process capacity doubles. As the next version of handsets came out, we put in a quad‑processor handset, and they worked blazingly well, and things are moving forward. I think the message there is that the underlying technology and development in the commercial mobile industry is enabling a very robust level of encryption to be done without a lot of custom development. So, we got away from custom building devices. At Oceus, we use the latest and best devices, pre-modify them and deliver advanced capability tracking.
Now our clients can choose commercial handsets and tablets that they like and then we modify those with software. We burn them, reflash them, and then they become handsets or tablets, with the right level of encryption, device management, application management and other things to work in our Xiphos networks. So, it’s good timing that the technology enables the commercial world to meet government’s needs from a security and capability perspective.
ExecutiveBiz: What the key to staying on the leading technological edge?
Doug Smith: That’s a part of the art of what we do here. Oceus develops its own intellectual property, and it’s around architectures and network signaling modified to enable the DOD and public safety mission sets.
In Oceus Networks, the network itself is mobile, adapting to the battlefield environment. We develop our own intellectual property there, but in other domains, we are integrating best‑of‑breed technology, and that underlying best‑of‑breed technology is developing at a very rapid pace, so you’ve got to have robust and very sophisticated engineering capabilities. Our engineers, I think, are some of the best in the world, at Internet protocol and wireless technologies and bringing the best of that technology into the company so that we can deliver best‑of‑breed capability. We meet our client’s needs, whether DOD, public safety or the enterprise market, with the most advanced communication technologies modified to meet their mission needs.