Lance Spencer, client executive vice president of Defense for AT&T, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about his near-decade of experience with the company as well as his career history overseeing the evolution of the cybersecurity space and the intelligence community.
In addition, Spencer also discussed the work that AT&T is doing toward 5G capabilities and the experimentation of the technology for the use of U.S. warfighters across our military service branches and the mission for the Department of Defense (DOD) during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.
“We are helping DOD explore the lower latency, massive connectivity, and faster speeds our 5G delivers to transform their mission capabilities. We were selected to participate in more DOD 5G experiments than any other telecommunications carrier.”
You can read the full interview with Lance Spencer below:
ExecutiveBiz: Tell me about your role at AT&T and the company’s focus in the Defense Sector.
Lance Spencer: “I recently celebrated my 10th anniversary with AT&T. Before that, I served as a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force in the U.S. and overseas with a primary focus on cybersecurity. I’ve also spent much time in Intelligence and served as a Space Officer.
I joined AT&T as the Strategist for the U.S. Air Force team in 2012. My role has evolved and broadened. In the last year or so, I’ve moved to oversee our DOD and Defense work under the strong leadership of Jill Singer.
I’ve grown in my career as AT&T has grown as a business. I recognized very early that AT&T offered groundbreaking capabilities to the Department of Defense and other government agencies.
As a former Air Force officer, I can help the DOD better understand the benefits and value of using commercial capabilities instead of trying to build everything privately, from scratch. Under my leadership, our teams are focused on educating DOD about the transformative connectivity and related capabilities AT&T offers and helping DOD find new, efficient, and effective ways to drive innovation and maintain global competitive advantage.
We focus on ensuring we deliver the best we can bring to DOD. That includes working with DOD to help them capitalize on the considerable investments we make in our networks. Over the past five years, from 2017 to 2021, we invested more than $135 billion in our wireless and wireline networks, including capital investments and the acquisition of wireless spectrum.
AT&T has been working with the U.S. military for more than a century. That’s a fantastic pedigree to have, and often, we’re at the forefront or behind the scenes. We provide critical connectivity capabilities to DOD and other federal agencies to support how they conduct their missions and achieve success. Across our company, from the top on down, we take great pride in supporting the military and their families.”
ExecutiveBiz: You announced a collaboration with Northrop Grumman in early April. Tell me a little bit about that and why it’s significant to DoD?
Lance Spencer: “We’ve entered into a collaboration agreement with Northrop Grumman to research and develop a 5G-enabled digital battle network. We plan to deliver a cost-effective, scalable, open-architecture standalone 5G solution to help the DoD connect distributed sensors, shooters, and data from all domains, terrains, and forces: like how smart devices connect and share data in our everyday lives.
This digital battle network is expected to bring together the high speeds, low-latency, and cybersecurity protections of private 5G networks with the flexibility and scalability of AT&T’s commercial 5G capabilities. We expect it will offer a critical capability to support the DoD’s vision for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
The collaboration with Northrop Grumman reflects recognition of where DoD is in advancing and bringing leading-edge, commercially proven technology capabilities to their missions. We’re seizing the mantle of research and innovation so DoD doesn’t have to.
This allows the DoD and its leadership to avoid integrating advanced capabilities and technology like this on their own. It will enable us to discover the innovative solutions for DoD’s challenges and makes it easier for DoD and other agencies to bring those solutions into the federal market.
“By taking on the challenge of researching and developing a leading JADC2 solution, we allow DoD to avoid financial and resource investments they would otherwise have to make to develop these solutions independently.
We plan to connect Northrop Grumman’s operations platforms with our robust, reliable, and resilient networking capabilities and edge solutions to provide DoD a uniform platform to exchange data and have data visibility and access.
I think that’s extremely important and powerful. The agreement with Northrop Grumman is an excellent example of how private sector companies can work together to solve DoD’s challenges and bring the best solutions to the DoD and the federal landscape.”
ExecutiveBiz: How will 5G capabilities transform DoD’s mission?
Lance Spencer: “As you think about Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), it’s an example of how DoD envisions its digital transformation. A key aspect is ubiquitous access to JADC2 data. That’s a capability that demands 5G and a unified network platform.
Among the key benefits of 5G are its lower latency, massive connectivity, and faster speeds. 5G handles data faster and better than prior generations of connectivity. It opens the door to ubiquitous access to government data, machine-to-machine communication, and the enablement of advanced technologies like augmented and virtual reality to unlock new, effective, and safe training methods, wargaming, and much more.
One of the most significant problems in the DoD operating environment today is the foundation of the networking layer. They still employ a circuit model where someone has a mission, they get a circuit, and that’s how they communicate.
Instead of government data moving seamlessly across government domains and systems, there are data silos and consolidation of information. It’s a considerable challenge to access all the available data, so DoD needs a uniform and interoperable network mesh to underpin its enterprise.
Using a network mesh allows for data-level encryption and protections to manage the data itself and not be so concerned about managing the pipe that delivers the data. As we look at emerging commercial solutions applied to challenges such as privacy and data protection, you need to have that uniform network fabric.
It’s critical because it obviates the need to compartmentalize data. We often refer to a “network of networks” as the vision for what DoD truly needs. This applies to classified as well as privacy, HIPPA, and other protections. It’s about protecting data in a unified network fabric.”
With 5G, we bring the network right to the edge of where the mission takes place. We can now create a 5G ‘bubble’ in an operational location that connects many devices and sensors into an operational ecosystem. Within our massive global infrastructure investments and relationships, these private “bubbles” can nonetheless operate securely across our enterprise. That provides DoD with exceptional mobility capabilities, data transfer speeds, availability, resiliency, and significant cost avoidance.
Proper 5G connectivity at the edge is essential. We see more and more data distributed to the edge and at the point of need. As that happens, 5G will become foundational to DoD’s technology systems and mission delivery capabilities.
Over time, edge capabilities will be automatically integrated with 5G nodes, providing very low latency and high data access. That’s necessary for autonomy, IoT, and other operations that need to happen at the edge.
It also provides resiliency, so even in a degraded environment, you have your data with you. You’re not reaching halfway around the globe for it, but you still can operate as a global enterprise with our underlying network.”
ExecutiveBiz: DoD is experimenting with 5G. What is AT&T’s role in these experiments for the U.S. military?
Lance Spencer: “AT&T is participating in an array of Department of Defense (DoD) programs to help it modernize its communications capabilities to defend the homeland and protect freedoms worldwide.
We are helping DoD explore the lower latency, massive connectivity, and faster speeds our 5G delivers to transform their mission capabilities. We were selected to participate in more DoD 5G experiments than any other telecommunications carrier.
In one of these experiments, we’re delivering AT&T 5G on a private network to power the connectivity to enable a “smart warehouse” at Naval Base Coronado. What’s important about this private network is that it also leverages our investments in our network, including the ability to roam globally while still providing all the attributes of a private network.
We recently demonstrated a variety of 5G-powered technology solutions at the warehouse. Among the use cases we demonstrated at the warehouse were 5G-enabled AR capabilities to support military training and operations; 5G-powered high-definition video surveillance; Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning use cases that use AT&T 5G in a cloud environment; 5G-enabled Augmented Reality to support advanced put/pick technology operated via a hands-free mobile device, and Zero Trust Architecture cybersecurity support. All of this is powered by the 5G private network we’re delivering for DOD at the Base.
In addition to the DoD’s formal 5G experimentation program, there are several initiatives where we are working with DoD and the U.S. military to deliver AT&T 5G services.
We are delivering AT&T 5G and a broad array of Networking-as-a-Service capabilities to support the work of more than 24,000 military personnel on U.S. Air Force bases Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Also, we are working with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) to explore and develop 5G and edge computing-based maritime solutions aimed at benefitting national defense, homeland security, and industries such as shipping, oil and gas, recreational boating, and more.
The NPS and AT&T experiments with 5G and edge computing are expected to result in the identification of advanced technology solutions such as a connected system of uncrewed and autonomous vehicles that can improve critical elements of national defense, such as multi-domain situational awareness, command and control, training, logistics, predictive maintenance, and data analytics.
We are also collaborating with DoD to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base. We’re delivering 5G and MEC capabilities to help Tyndall become a ‘Base of the Future.’”
ExecutiveBiz: Any final thoughts?
Lance Spencer: “It is critical DoD take advantage of the innovations and modernization investments private sector companies like AT&T make to advance their technologies. It allows DoD to avoid those costs and benefit from the learnings commercial providers achieve in the private sector.
DoD can avoid wasting resources on problems we’ve already solved and instead focus their resources on solving DoD’s unique problems and commercial integration. Commercial providers have already solved many problems DoD is trying to solve today. Our solutions are widely available and very often meet military requirements.
DoD can help itself further by making it easier for commercial companies to bring reliable, robust, resilient, and secure capabilities to the military. DoD’s unique standards, policies, and requirements add cost and complexity often without delivering value or added capability.
We’ve proven that our commercial standards and products exceed military requirements in many situations. Commercial reciprocity is critical to achieving military needs.
And finally, we have extremely strong commercial alliances bringing integrated and interoperable capabilities for end-to-end delivery, data access, and user experience, sometimes with billions of dollars of co-investment.
DoD can take advantage of these benefits. Often, DoD directs contract awards for specific point solutions that force teaming among non-complementary commercial providers. Allowing companies like AT&T to bring our best-of-breed industry alliances forward allows us to show the true strength of a “Whole of Nation” approach.”