Technology has come a long way since the time when two-way pagers were the latest in instant communications.
Today, Spohn represents Hughes Network
Systems, based in Germantown, Md. Ever on the cutting edge, he is
immersed in satellite broadband communications—a technology Hughes
invented. With satellite broadband, large amounts of data can be
transmitted over satellite connections. Hughes’ system is called
DIRECWAY and it offers such products and services as wide area
networks, high-speed Internet and intranet access, distance learning
and video conferencing, continuity of operations and
“We try to point out that satellite has come
of age,” he said. “For example, even at the gas pump, when you input
your credit card information, the data is going over a Hughes
satellite. At Wal-Mart, they transmit price markdowns by satellite.”
“From a homeland security perspective,” he
continued, “satellite is thought of in emergency-response scenarios.
For example, during the Columbia shuttle disaster, they used Hughes
satellites to transmit pictures of the wreckage.”
Many non-military organizations fail to
examine satellite broadband as an option, however. “They think it’s
expensive, big, bulky and unreliable. They think it’s difficult to
integrate and they’ll have to change their software. But the cost of
equipment has come down. The equipment costs are negligible. Now, in an
enterprise, you are looking at equipment that costs under $2,000.”
Satellite broadband is Internet protocol (IP)
based, contributing to its low cost. The IP network uses very little
power and, if disrupted, re-establishes contact with the network within
a matter of hours, allowing it to resist denial-of-service attacks.
Routers can be programmed to switch from landline to satellite
communications as needed.
Satellite broadband can also withstand the rigors of an emergency.
“On [Sept. 11, 2001] and during the blackout
[of Aug. 14, 2003], a lot of companies thought they had their
communications covered,” said Spohn. “They would make their lines
redundant. The reality is that on Sept. 11, the streets caved in and,
although they had diverse sources, the connectivity was broken and
there was denial of service. The few organizations that remained in
communication — for example, the YWCA — had thought of diverse media
like wireless and satellite as a result of their preparations for Y2K.
“On Aug. 14, the communications were so tied
up on cell-phone networks that people’s batteries were gone after a few
hours and, as a result, they were out of luck.”
Spohn considers himself an evangelist for the technology and promotes it with a true believer’s fervor.
He also has considerable experience with
security-related customers. During his nine years at Skytel, he built a
government sales organization from the ground floor up, eventually
achieving several hundred million dollars in annual revenue. In the
process, he developed a client base that included the White House,
Pentagon, departments of Justice and Treasury and many of the agencies
now in the Department of Homeland Security.
Spohn’s government experience derives from 10
years spent with the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a call
center manager and contracting officer. But Spohn had an
entrepreneurial streak and he left SSA to co-found Symtech Solutions in
Philadelphia, a regional communications services company that entered
the market to take advantage of opportunities offered by the
divestiture of AT&T.
From Symtech, Spohn spent five years at VMX
Octel, a voicemail and voice-processing manufacturer, taking it to a
market leadership position.
Given his knowledge of the telecommunications
market and government needs, Spohn radiates confidence about the
capabilities of satellite broadband technology and its role in homeland
security. As he put it: “It’s not your father’s satellite any more.” HST