Cal Shintani leads capture strategy, corporate strategy and proposal development functions for Oceus Networks as senior vice president and chief growth officer at the Reston, Va.-based mobile services contractor.
Shintani last spoke to ExecutiveBiz for a Q&A conversation on his role at Oceus and GovCon market trends in June 2012, nearly five months after he joined the company in his current roles.
He recently caught back up with ExecutiveBiz for this two-part interview, where he offers forecasts on how he sees the FirstNet public safety network initiative evolving in the year ahead, mobile areas the military are looking at and where state and local governments will focus efforts on broadband networks.
ExecutiveBiz: What trends have you observed in the federal broadband and mobile sector over the past year?
Cal Shintani: If you think of the traditional federal users, they are people working at large buildings with great cellular access such as folks in the Pentagon or at a big military base. At Oceus Networks, we focus on those users who don’t have broadband access, such as the deployed military: soldiers or Marines deployed in the middle of a big training range, Navy sailors out at sea or the public safety community responding to emergencies in remote areas.
From a tactical broadband perspective, many of the federal users who we initially contacted said they weren’t sure they needed this tactical cellular capability. They already had traditional communication tools like handheld “push-to-talk” radios for the police and special military radios for the Army.
Then, when we started participating in exercises with these folks, and all of a sudden they had the capability to use full-motion video and were even able to take advantage of some of the apps that they used at home, they started to become interested. They realized how they could use this capability to augment their current communications functions and saw the value that both of these types of communications could provide to improve their missions.
And just like those of us in offices, once you get broadband access, you want more.
ExecutiveBiz: What areas of mobile communications are defense agencies starting to emphasize?
Cal Shintani: The first hurdle that we had to get through was DoD saying that they had to communicate at least at the secret level. At first, they were not interested in cellular communications because it didn’t help them do their job if they couldn’t pass voice, video or data at the classified level.
Fortunately, the National Security Agency came up with a new process called “Commercial Solutions for Classified,” which actually helps shorten the timeframe to get something authorized to operate at a classified level. A couple of years ago, we were one of the first companies to go through that process. Now, some of our systems achieved the authority to operate and to transmit voice, video and data at the secret level.
After that, the DoD became much more interested in this capability and started focusing on how they could improve their mission by using full-motion video, taking sensor data or other high-bandwidth data and transmitting it around the battlefield more quickly.
Currently, our military gets a feed from an unmanned aerial vehicle or sensor, and in some cases they have to download it onto a DVD. Then they take it over to somebody else because they don’t have the bandwidth to transmit it.
Now, with the capability to look at that video feed in real-time, or near real-time, they can do things much more effectively. We have also seen them use Blue Force Tracking when every soldier has an Android device on his or her uniform. The commander then knows where everybody is and can also collect some basic biometrics on their troops. The other area of emphasis is that the military realizes they need to look at mobility differently now.
Today, most of us think of “mobile” in regards to the users moving around and the command post or data centers as static. With tactical mobility, the Army’s command post is moving at the same time as all of their users. The way you manage your network and your enterprise, and how you approach doing your business, is a lot different when everybody is moving. We have been focusing a lot of our R&D on helping that capability, where everyone is mobile.
We have also been working extensively with the U.S. Navy out in the Western Pacific. We just finished an exercise with the Navy where they were examining many ways to leverage tactical wireless capabilities. One area is telemedicine. We have many ships at sea that only have one senior enlisted person on board who is a very well-trained corpsman but not a doctor.
They provide care to the best of their ability to sick or hurt sailors at sea, however, if they had telemedicine capability or the ability to consult with a doctor at a large naval hospital on shore, this would help them treat their patients more effectively. The Navy is also researching how to improve maintenance or logistics support using broadband at sea.
If they were able to take a picture of damaged machinery, or record an audio file of the sounds of a turbine engine and send it in real-time to the maintenance depot for assistance, they could repair their equipment much more quickly. We’ve had several instances of these innovative approaches when we were operating with the Navy in the Western Pacific.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you see the public safety market evolving in the year ahead?
Cal Shintani: Everyone in the industry is looking at FirstNet, the first responder network that was established by Congress and being executed by the Commerce Department. FirstNet is building the first nationwide public safety broadband network. FirstNet released a draft RFP in May for nationwide roll-out of the first responder broadband network capability.
Congress has already set aside a section of 700 megahertz bandwidth within the LTE spectrum right called Band 14. FirstNet released this draft RFP to share their thoughts on how to achieve this nationwide roll-out and request feedback from government and industry partners. Part of this architecture is called a large core, similar to the way the carriers such as AT&T and Verizon support the major cities around the nation.
FirstNet also realizes the network has a critical need to have deployable LTE capability that provides coverage and enhanced capacity where it is impractical to install permanent towers. Carriers today have cell-on-wheels that provide connectivity beyond the extent the fixed network’s reach. Oceus Networks’ sweet spot is the deployable capability.
We provide FirstNet Enhanced System on Wheels, dubbed “Responder,” which is a self-supporting, private network that operates on its own during emergencies without the other cell tower infrastructure. Responder provides the best of both worlds, providing LTE service with and without backhaul – essential capabilities when delivering communications for first responders in the field under harsh conditions.
When that larger infrastructure comes back online after a disruption or backhaul failure, we sync back up and are good to go. That has really been our focus in the public safety market. We won a key deal with a small business partner in New Jersey called JerseyNet, a federal grant program to build an entire architecture of deployable systems for first responders.
JerseyNet delivers a key capability for New Jersey and is designed to reduce risk and enhance the understanding for how deployables can be used in the FirstNet architecture. We have passed factory acceptance testing and are starting to roll out systems there.
It’s a fast paced and challenging program, delivering roughly 40 deployable LTE nodes within a 9 months from start to finish. We are excited to go live this summer and really demonstrate the value these resilient deployable systems bring to public safety.
Click here to read part two of our Q&A with Cal Shintani.