MWJ: What led you to launch a military-grade, 5G network technology company to combat these types of attacks and help secure America's infrastructure?
Robert Spalding: As a career military officer, B-2 pilot and military strategist, I came to the conclusion that our nation’s critical infrastructure – our telecommunications and computing networks – has become the key to ensuring the sovereignty and independence of our constitutional republic. At the same time, in spite of the constant cyber-attacks like Colonial Pipeline and physical attacks like last year’s Nashville bombing, America is not really on a path that ensures people, companies and our way of life are protected.
This reinforces the fact that innovation in telecommunications and data center infrastructure has been predominantly related to software applications and smart devices. We believe it’s time to change that.
MWJ: Please elaborate on the nature of the threat that SEMPRE is addressing.
Robert Spalding: We know that the Chinese Communist party is trying to become the Saudi Arabia of data. Why? Because data drives AI, and they want the ability to both monitor and influence populations, not just in China but around the world. We also see this play out across our social media platforms. Big tech companies collect a lot of data on people, and their goal is to influence our consumption patterns. With 4G, you had the ability to opt out of cloud services or carry a flip phone. With 5G, the phone is built into the city, so rather than the phone tracking you, now the city’s tracking you, and you really have no recourse. That’s the problem we’re going after. Who is protecting your data privacy and security?
MWJ: What types of products/services are available and relative costs compared to normal 5G networks?
Robert Spalding: We’re not a carrier. We’re an infrastructure provider, and our goal is to provide secure, survivable infrastructure as a service. Think of us as a combination of a tower company and a data center company. If you look across the United States today, we have in each SEMPRE tower a microcosm of the entire infrastructure. We view our job as helping our customers have the most secure, resilient infrastructure in the world, so that they can provide their customers with the unparalleled service Americans expect.
MWJ: How are you able to integrate with the current infrastructure to implement a hardened 5G network?
Robert Spalding: 5G standards specify a number of different ways networks interoperate. Our technology is meant to be open and compatible with industry standard network interfaces.
MWJ: What is done to protect against EMP attacks?
Robert Spalding: The SEMPRE Tower has been designed according to US military standards and will withstand a high-altitude nuclear event and continue to operate. We took the time to create a very specific approach to encapsulating an entire gNode B in a protective layer of filters and steel and other techniques, such that every single one of our towers will survive a high-altitude EMP. And we certify every tower.
Additionally, when you deploy 100 of our towers, you’ve actually just deployed a distributed data center across a given geography, which brings a new layer of resiliency and survivability. You might take one of our SEMPRE nodes off line, but there are 99 others with more than 600 computing cores available to you. Each tower is a closed, tamper-resistant ecosystem. It’s a game changer in terms of approach and architecture.
MWJ: Are there any differences in the antenna and RF portions of the system than a normal 5G implementation?
Robert Spalding: We use standard, commercial off-the-shelf equipment. These subcomponents are then integrated in a way to protect them physically, from EMP as well as from cyber intrusion. If you look at our tower, it looks like a 40-foot iPhone. It has the compute, the radio network, and it’s self-contained. Most of the processing is done at the tower. That’s the way we look at it from a device perspective.
MWJ: What is done to protect the network from hacking or malicious software attacks?
Robert Spalding: Our approach was to look at all elements of the technology stack as it relates to telecommunications and computing infrastructure, to include the device. When you look at critical infrastructure today, there are numerous vulnerabilities throughout. Starting with the data layer we designed a platform that was secure from the inside out.
We did this by consolidating the two into one hardened infrastructure in order to simplify the job of physically protecting it. As far as the data, encryption both at rest and in motion is fundamental. Our approach to security is based on a concept known as surety, which comes from the US nuclear force. It applies to the people, material and procedures used to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear force. We call our mission-version of this concept SEMPRE Surety. Except, we apply it to our customers’ data.
And then we go a step further with our methods and procedures when it comes to operating our system remotely. There can never be one person just running the whole network. There can never be one person doing software updates.
MWJ: What is different about the computing hardware compared to normal networks?
Robert Spalding: We use commercial off-the-shelf computers, but in a non-standard configuration. This allows us to process data for certain applications without introducing latency into the 5G network.
MWJ: How are you able to implement additional protections and still maintain low latency?
Robert Spalding: Jon Huppenthal, our hardware CTO and a protégé of Seymour Cray, is the designer of the tower. That experience has been leveraged to design a very flexible yet unique low-latency compute platform. Processing speed is one other area of differentiation that is crucial to SEMPRE’s business.
MWJ: How does SEMPRE deploy its 5G towers differently from conventional approaches?
Robert Spalding: We go to market just like a tower company. The prices are comparable, if not even more attractive than a tower company, because being a tower company’s only half of our business. The other half is a data center company, so the price is actually quite competitive with standard steel towers. On top of that, we can put up a tower in two weeks, compared to the industry standard, which is about 18 months. Additionally, we’re not replacing anything. We’re an overlay and enhancement to all existing 5G networks. Our goal is to start at the data and then move out and make sure the entire network is secure end-to-end.
MWJ: What future plans do you have for further development of the products/services?
Robert Spalding: Our area of focus in the coming years will be on survivability, security, zero latency and expanding the amount of spectrum covered by the SEMPRE Tower. Also, if you look at a map of the United States, most of wireless data processing is centralized and co-located on the East and West Coasts. What we’re trying to do is fill in the spaces in between with added compute that brings the full capacity of 5G to communities that are underserved today.