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The View From PacStar
Year In Review
by Robert Frisbee, CEO, PacStar

For PacStar, 2007 was an important year of “transition under pressure” for our customers, mainly the United States Military, federal agencies, state and local governments and first responders. They are all under tremendous demands to provide critical, real-time information to the front line, whether a soldier on patrol in Iraq, or a city government in California preparing for the next fire storm or earthquake. Real-time flow of information is now considered a significant success factor when determining whether or not a mission or an operation will succeed or fail.

These information flows deliver voice calls, video, mapping, surveillance information, incident response and a host of other applications. This type of data is often most critical in the places where it is the most difficult to deliver—remote, dynamic and infrastructure-barren environments.

Available solutions are a mixed bag. In the commercial space, technologies such as DSL, Wi-Fi, WiMAX and others are delivering broadband entertainment and business information to expanding geographic “pools” of information-rich regions. These technologies have less impact on military and disaster response operations as they still require fixed facilities, and also due to the security concerns relating to some wireless technologies.

Satellite is the one technology not dependent on geography. In addition, satellite-based systems have become quick to set up, deploy, move and redeploy. That is why satellite communications systems are on the forefront of delivering the new information-rich applications.

The communications systems users currently manage are not able to deliver the complex voice, video and data our soldiers and disaster response personnel rely on to make critical decisions. Thus, our customers have been put in an unenviable position of transitioning to new capabilities while still having to maintain and manage existing systems that have difficulty handling IP-based communications. It’s like trying to build a freeway and drive on it at the same time. While your clients are literally getting shot at, chased by hurricanes and forest fires, they are required to function at the highest operational levels possible in exceptionally difficult and taxing environments.

To meet the new challenge, the trend is to leverage the broad capabilities of satellite as the back-haul in deployed situations and move to what is known in military and disaster response circles as Everything over IP (EoIP). EoIP will allow organizations to send complex information—voice, video, and data—easily and cost effectively. Our clients are taking this transition seriously. The new CIO of the Army recently stated communication systems for the information war fighter are of the same importance as every other major battlefield weapon system. Dependability, performance and satellite bandwidth are all of critical importance.

Recognizing the need to change, the government is shifting its resources to an all IP infrastructure. In the last year alone, major initiatives have been launched, including the GIG-BE backbone initiative, new standards for digital voice exchanges and a shift in military base IT infrastructure to IP-based technology.

PacStar was able to successfully introduce and implement a number of initiatives during 2007. We expanded our leadership in the advanced deployable communications market by delivering integrated communications networks offering best of class capabilities tied together with easy to understand software wizards that allow the military and the government to easily deploy, manage and maintain complex networks. These capabilities use satellite bandwidth as the conduit to deliver enhanced IP-capabilities to military installations, forward operating bases, National Guard units and disaster responders.

We saw increased satellite-based deployments by the US Military in Afghanistan and by the National Guard for disaster response in the United States. We have also been extremely active in deployments to remote corners of the world. The following two examples illustrate how PacStar is helping our customers meet end users’ needs.

The satellite enabled PacStar 5500 was chosen by United States Central Command (USCENTCOM— the command structure overseeing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq) to provide a reliable and secure voice, data and video communications system easy to deploy, use and manage and one that could also be used by the Afghanistan National Army (ANA). Additionally, PacStar provided on-site support to deploy the system and train the ANA personnel who had little to no IT experience. We went as far as to translate thousands of pages of technical manuals into Dari, the language most commonly used in Afghanistan. Training on the system is made easy with PacStar’s proprietary IQ-Core™ Software that automates all normal functions with user-friendly wizards and allows the unit to be fully operational in less than 10 minutes. This eliminated the need for highly specialized IT technicians in the field.

Commenting on the success of the program, Lt. Gul Agha of the Afghan National Army stated, “I had never seen a computer before I started this training and was very unsure of the benefits, but with the training they explained everything to us and now I can understand the benefits. It saves so much time and manpower and makes our army as good as other armies. As an Afghan that makes me very proud.”

Additionally, PacStar and LGS, a subsidiary of Alcatel-Lucent, are working together to provide the U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) with a rapid response cellular solution and satellite capabilities to communicate in and out of the disaster area. The U.S. Army Reserve Command has positioned the LGS Tactical Base Station Router (TacBSR) and the PacStar 5500 to support a number of its posts across the country for Disaster Response (DR) and Continuity of Operations (COOP). The system can also be used as a portable mobile communications package to support both forward deployed operations and communications capability during man-made or natural disaster support efforts.

“We needed a reliable solution that allowed us to continue to use our mobile phones even if there was a total communications outage,” said Lt. Colonel Lenell White, signal operations chief, USARC. “LGS and PacStar were able to provide us with a deployable network system with full cell phone capabilities that gives us the vital back-up we need to accomplish our missions.”

Peering ahead into 2008, we see two issues challenging our industry segment near-term… they are the global issues of abundance and scarcity

Abundance describes the sources and the demands within our client base for information, delivered through complex voice, video and data networks. It is transforming our business and creating sensational new requirements. These requirements stem from the operating effectiveness of high quality information delivered in real-time to the right person over secure lines to ensure it is shielded from enemy hands.

Information for our troops is now considered a critical weapon and key to the warfighters’ effectiveness and survival. Required information ranges from images (coming from satellites, drones or a team member), weapons systems availability, maps, enemy and ally identities, command and control directives and an endless list of additional requirements.

Information for disaster responders can mean the difference between life and death, not to mention mitigation of massive property loss. Information for diplomatic missions informs and shapes a successful foreign policy, as well as directs crisis planning and response.

PacStar clients are demanding transformational capabilities. Push-to-talk radios no longer support the soldiers and firefighters in the field. Dial-tone support is no longer effective for the diplomatic mission abroad.

Scarcity, on the other hand, describes the available infrastructure for last-mile delivery. An overbuild of fiber optics in the last century provides excellent transport to major cities and pockets of broadband-to-the-home are transforming play, work and media in parts of the world. However, a large percentage of the world still lacks this infrastructure. It is here that PacStar’s verticals live and work, succeed or fail, and in these settings success can literally mean the difference between life or death.

What creates scarcity? Last mile to remote or shifting locations almost always means satellite communications. This is the one technology that can reach anywhere efficiently, regardless of geography and market density. But global satellite capability is ailing. There has not been a major systems launch since Iridium in 1996.

Our troops, our embassies, our disaster response personnel face skyrocketing needs for bandwidth delivered to regions of the world that lack built-in network infrastructure. The war on terror, efforts against global poverty, demands caused by increasingly frequent disasters, all focus on that large percentage of the world without broadband infrastructure. And no viable long-term investment plans have yet developed.

What can be done? There are partial solutions available on the technology side. The inherent efficiencies of IP systems can condense large amounts of information into smaller pipes and deliver it efficiently on available systems. Use of alternate delivery systems such as WiMAX, Wi-Fi, 3G, free space optics and others can push bandwidth deeper into the unsettled (disrupted, developing, remote, damaged, etc.) parts of the world. Long-term solutions must include new technologies launched in satellite configurations. Such will require smart, realistic planning and serious investment.

“We are looking forward to commercial and government organizations coming together to address the critical shortfalls in satellite deployments, and to give our customers access to the information they need in the field, any time, any place.” said Robert Frisbee, CEO of PacStar.

In the meantime, PacStar will continue enabling our verticals to meet their abundant requirements in this environment of scarcity. We are delivering the first fully converged IP systems meeting new US Military requirements for deployed and base communications systems (the DISA standards for “Deployed Voice Exchange” and “Small End Office”). These deliver huge economies of scale and innovation for converged communications systems.

We will continue to lead the design and delivery of software-enabled IP systems that support capabilities in the field. We will work with partners and clients to maximize information, security and manageability of the new communications capabilities.

PacStar will remain dedicated to keeping our troops, Guard units, first responders, diplomats, government officials and others safe and effective through modern communications, in this challenging age of abundance and scarcity.

Robert Frisbee joined PacStar in April 2000 to provide executive leadership, strategic planning, and organizational development expertise. Mr. Frisbee has more than 30 years of senior executive experience in conceiving, implementing, and managing successful large-scale initiatives in the telecommunications sector.

Before joining PacStar, Mr. Frisbee was the founder and chief operating officer of FirstPointe Communications, a fiber-optic-based telecommunications company with revenues exceeding $150 million the first year. Prior to that, he was a founding officer (vice president of sales, marketing, and business development) of Electric Lightwave, a competitive local exchange company that attained revenues of over $100 million per year, and completed a public offering in 1996. Mr. Frisbee holds an MA in public administration from Harvard University, where he specialized in international telecommunications policy, and a BA with honors.