Rick Lober is vice president and general manager for defense and intelligence systems at Hughes Network Systems, where he applies the company’s satellite communications and technologies to the defense and intelligence communities.
The 25-year industry veteran oversees how the company applies satellite communications on-the-move for both ground based an airborne platforms.
He recently caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss how the company keeps with the pace of innovation, future technology applications for the military and how the company is adjusting to adjustments in the defense budget.
ExecutiveBiz: What measures is Hughes taking to stay at the forefront of technological innovation as it continues to develop?
Lober: Hughes operates the largest satellite network in the world and has shipped over 2.8 million systems shipped to customers in more than 100 countries.
As demand keeps escalating for more services and connectivity everywhere, our continued focus is delivering higher bandwidth to our customers in both enterprise and government markets. That includes broadband satellite on-the-move terminals for land, sea and airborne, operating in Ku-band and the much higher bandwidth Ka-band frequencies—as well as L-band and S-band portable solutions that operate over mobile satellite networks such as Iridium and Inmarsat’s BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network).
In all these cases, it’s just like we see every day at home and with our cell phones, our users are demanding more and more bandwidth into their home, into their company, or into the military battlefield. To keep up with that demand we’re advancing hardware and software technologies inside terminals to make them smaller and more robust, and at the same time unleashing new generations of higher capacity Ka-band satellites.
Hughes will be launching our next generation EchoStar® XVII satellite over North America in mid-2012 which will operate with new Jupiter™ high-throughput Ka-band technology to deliver well in excess of 100 Gbps capacity. We already have plans for future high capacity satellites in the works. These new satellites allow us to offer much more capability than what is available today to meet this increasing demand for more bandwidth and services.
In my group in particular which focuses on the DoD community, we look to leverage our commercial technology for the military so they can cut costs and meet the growing bandwidth requirements across the DoD and government. That’s the bigger picture.
ExecutiveBiz: In the future, will Hughes focus more of its attention towards military operations?
Lober: Yes, Hughes is fundamentally a commercial company, but satellite is one of those technologies that plays very well in both commercial markets and military markets because it’s a communication anywhere type of technology.
The past few years we have dramatically increased our focus on government military markets, not only in the U.S. but around the world.
And with the current budget environment that we’re seeing within the DoD, we think the use of commercial technologies and networks will be able to help the government better manage its communications requirements, while saving quite a bit of cost and meeting the growing bandwidth needs.
ExecutiveBiz: – The U.S. is starting to pull out of the Middle East and is re-structuring its forces. We also see the government turning to new technologies in order to fill voids in personnel.
How can Hughes capitalize on this restructuring process with defense forces both domestic and foreign?
Lober: There are a variety of issues out there. First, even though we’re seeing a pullback in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have interests in other parts of the world that I’m sure will be of concern in the future. And even with fewer users in the field, we’re continuing to see the bandwidth needs grow.
Some of that’s being driven by the operation, getting real-time video down to an individual deployed in the field. Some of its culturally driven in that you have young people that have grown up with YouTube and the Internet. The idea that they can’t have a good amount of bandwidth to do what they need/want to do just about anywhere is really an issue that the military is facing, even in terms of recruiting.
This is also illustrated by the fact that if you look at where the military was 10 years ago, 80 percent of the bandwidth they were using was coming off of military satellites and 20 percent was coming off of commercial satellites. Now, only ten years later that’s almost flipped. Right now in Iraq and Afghanistan about 80 percent of the bandwidth being used is commercial and only 20 percent is going over military satellites. There are a couple of ways to help solve that problem, particularly in a constrained budget environment.
The first would be to utilize bandwidth efficient technologies. If you can come up with a network or a device that gets you the throughput that you want but in a much more bandwidth efficient manner, you’re going to come out way ahead in terms of cost and functionality. That is one of the things that Hughes does best.
Because we run such a large network, we try to get as much throughput out of the bandwidth that we own or buy as we can. The military, unfortunately, is using some fairly dated technology. By upgrading some of its network technology, whether it is on the ground hub or at the individual user, the military would be able to get a lot more out of the bandwidth and out of the satellites that they have up in the sky right now. And I think that’s particularly true for what we call airborne ISR, the airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
Using more modern technology, using better network management techniques, and letting the commercial industry help manage the network will help. And I think the net effect will be neutral, even with the budget reduction, you may be able to come out ahead if you use commercial technologies and services a lot more effectively.
ExecutiveBiz: The government is placing more of an emphasis on connectivity and communication. How will these terminals affect military operations and the private sector?
Lober: Well, there are similarities. If you fly Southwest Airlines for example, you have access to an in-flight internet over the Hughes network. For five dollars you can be in the air on your laptop, tablet, or mobile device and continue those e-mails or texting. And we’re seeing the military looking for the same type of things. When troops deploy, particularly special operations type troops, they would like to have uninterrupted connectivity from the time they leave their base-while they’re on the airplane and once they reach the ground.
That’s really what mobile networks are all about, and satellite is a great solution for that because you have that connectivity whether there are mountains, or you’re in the middle of the ocean. Your terrestrial networks are typically going to drop off, because they won’t reach that far, or they’ll be blocked by some sort of an obstacle. Satellite can keep our troops connected worldwide.
Hughes is building out our Ka-band network through our own satellites and through partnerships around the world with providers in Europe and the Middle East, so that we can offer mobility and satellite services to fixed sites, vehicles, ships, and airplanes. It’s really a very similar solution for the military.
ExecutiveBiz: Okay. My last question would be as this type of technology becomes more readily available, how is that going to influence the cost it typically takes to implement?
Lober: Well, going back to the commercial side, we’re really effectively trying to provide our customers with more bandwidth and throughput at similar costs. On the military side, I think we can see quite a bit of improvement.
The military currently has networks running that are using dated technology. These networks are extremely expensive, but by transitioning to more modern equipment, which is really not that costly, the military could operate that network in a much more cost-effective manner.
ExecutiveBiz: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Lober: We’re excited about the work we are doing for the military. It’s growing rapidly. Nobody likes to see budget cuts, but in this type of constrained environment we feel that the advantages we can bring to the military using our commercial technology and our expertise in network management will actually put everyone in a much better spot, given that things are going to have to be done a lot more cost effectively than they have been in the past.