BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold interviewed Simon Davies CEO of Spectra Group at the Company’s Headquarters in Kingstone, Hereford, UK
“To what do you attribute the rapid success of your Company? The Editor asked
“During my Army career I established an expertise in managing complex military networks and when I left I saw a gap in the market for the provision and management of such systems. I see the key to our success as listening to what our customer requires and then to execute that requirement in the most agile manner. Another facet is our ability to make fast decisions and relay these to our customers.
I also saw that the current tactical systems in service needed enhancements to provide wider and better coverage, particularly using satcom. To that end, I established Spectra in 2002. During that time, particularly in Afghanistan, where the terrain and mountainous regions denied the use of line-of-sight communications, the nature of conflict changed and so did the information requirements of the commander right through to the front line soldier. Now, more than ever, the provision of reliable and resilient BLOS (Beyond Line of Sight) voice and data communications is essential at the tactical level. With a number of its personnel boasting a military background, Spectra has first-hand knowledge of the true value in having such services available, and the damaging effects of failure.”
“What brought you your first break?”
“I always wanted to run my own business and had laid plans for Spectra whilst I was still serving. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in a huge growth for the deployment of security teams to protect installations and personnel. These teams required advanced comms systems and training which I could provide; thus, Spectra Telecoms Solutions was born in 2002.”
“How did you fund the start up?”
“From my own resources, I started working out of one room in Hereford. We used a local Security Company’s training site to do our training courses. Shaun Barry was the company’s first employee, he joined in 2005 and is still with us today.”
“The growth of Spectra has been spectacular; how did you grow the business?”
“We have been lucky, and also frugal, which enabled us to not only grow the company but ride out any early challenges, which every start-up faces. To expand our network capabilities, I purchased an IT company which was part of Helyx SIS. This took our turnover to the half million pound mark. In 2006 I bought a recruitment company, Specialist Resources, which specialised in hiring out contractors. We had up to 600 contractors on our books who we would utilize when required to deploy world-wide. We decided to close this part of the business in 2014 as it did not fit our future expansion plans and demand had declined significantly. By 2007 we employed 10 people and I decided to streamline the management by buying out my three shareholders and to consolidate the business into Spectra Group (UK) Ltd. Up to that point we traded under four names, Spectra Telecoms Solutions, the original company, Spectra IS Services, Spectra Telecom Resources and Spectra Telecoms Training.”
“What took you into the satellite services business?”
“We saw that as a natural progression from our existing networks business. We undertook a survey of clients in 2008 and found that there were very few companies offering a fully managed solution that provided end to end services. The proximity of the BT Madley satellite site gave us an instant platform to offer services across the world. We leased services and accommodation at Madley and won our first contract soon afterwards. We have now built our own tailor-made facility at a site near our HQ and use a number of global suppliers of satellite services to offer our clients a worldwide footprint. Our biggest partner is Inmarsat who have Global L- Band and Ka Satellite networks and who are also a partner for our SlingShot hardware; they recently placed a very large order on us for Slingshot equipment from a customer in Canada.”
“You moved into manufacturing in 2012. What would you say is your most important product to date?”
“Without a doubt, Slingshot. We started development of Slingshot in December 2012 and were in full production in August 2013. We have now sold over 2000 systems across the world and many new contracts are in an advanced stage and we are expecting a number of large orders over the next 6 months from various overseas organisations. The requirement was to deliver the benefits of UHF TacSat at a greatly reduced cost and without the limitation that exists on the number of available channels. SlingShot delivers this by attaching a small and lightweight appliqué by coax to the radio’s antenna connection. The appliqué converts the radio frequency to L-Band SATCOM frequency for both voice and data. The system is being evaluated by the UK MoD to enhance the existing Bowman system which will hopefully take the system to the level required by the new Morpheus Requirement. Global sales are conducted through a Distribution Channel Partner Network who provide equipment and services to end customers. The Channel Partners include; Inmarsat, Airbus, Trustcomm and Satcom Direct. We also subcontract elements of the manufacturing, such as the antennas, to specialist manufacturers based in the UK and California.”
SlingShot, a small external adaptor for military radios, allows low-latency voice and data tactical communications, with the additional option of connecting to an out-of-theatre rear-base command node. Using Inmarsat’s world leading satellite communications network, SlingShot gives the unique capability to access single-hop L-L band relay from an existing global constellation of geostationary satellites. A Walk-on system was launched at DSEI in 2015, which added an Aviation capability to the existing Manpack, Vehicle and Maritime systems. SlingShot is radio agnostic and can be bolted onto existing tactical radios without compromising the crypto system. The SlingShot capability delivers a tactical command and control COTM system to complement UHF TacSat. Conceived and designed in direct response to military requirements, it already offers clear benefits to those engaged in high-tempo operations, which require reliable and robust BLOS COTM.
“What is the key to Slingshot’s technology?”
“First and foremost its simplicity of operation, small-form factor and low power consumption. Using SlingShot, operators do not have to learn the operation of a new radio, so deployment training is minimal and costs are low. The L-Band omni-directional antennae also delivers true COTM, no need to pause, locate and fix the satellite beam, at high speed even on aircraft. SlingShot uses Inmarsat’s L-TAC™ which provides a flexible service to cater for current, high tempo, operational requirements. The nature of the coverage offered by L-TAC allows beams to be booked on a monthly basis and with the capability of having large, narrow beams, or more specific, multi-headed beams. Such flexibility greatly adds to the ability to move fast and respond to adapting situations. The I4 satellite constellation covers most of the globe, with the poles being the exception. Inmarsat’s L-TAC service delivers dedicated bandwidth or, in other words, is not contended. This guarantees quality of service and, combined with the SlingShot system, means that even on the edges of the beam, voice and data communication is not compromised. Recent tests proved this at 82 degrees North latitude.”
“How many SlingShot variants are offered?”
“We started with Manpack, Vehicle and Maritime systems. The new Aviation capability now offers the same Command and Control Communications of other units, no matter where they are, to each other and to airborne platforms, without the necessity for land-based radio re-broadcast stations. Unlike other BLOS systems, SlingShot delivers robust voice and data COTM (communications on the move) and now with our development in aviation we can provide the same capability on both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.”
“Could you give us an outline as to your current capabilities?”
“Spectra Group has grown to be a leading international provider to Defence and Security, Aid and Emergency, as well as commercial organisations, of secure voice, data and satellite communications in locations with limited or compromised infrastructure. Our ground-breaking SlingShot® system, which is a straightforward and cost-effective way to achieve tactical, secure, beyond line of sight, communications on the move, using UHF and VHF radios, currently exclusively uses the Inmarsat L-TAC™ service, whilst the growing popularity of the SHADE (Spectra Hostile Area Deployment Environment) has led to record airtime revenues, reflected in an Inmarsat award of being one of leading Global Government partners. We now employ twenty eight people, based mainly at our HQ here and at our 2016 year end produced a record turnover of £13 million.”
“What do you see as the next growth area for Spectra?”
“Without a doubt we see cyber services as the next huge growth area. We already deliver cyber services through our existing networks business so this will be a natural progression. We announced a new cyber business in early 2017.
Cyber Attack has been identified as one of the four highest-priority, and the most pervasive of, risks faced by the UK. The others being international terrorism, international military crises and major accidents or natural hazards. We are transferring our 15 years of experience building and delivering compliance of secure networks for Defence, Security and Public organisations to include a whole range of Cyber services that we can offer to our existing customer base and also Commercial organisations, in order to help UK businesses protect themselves from the increasing threat to their Information.
Spectra Group understands the threat to Cyber Security and the vital importance of ensuring that data, be it on servers or voice and video, is available, uncompromised and robust. As well as managing data integrity, Spectra Cyber Security Solutions ensures a high Quality of Service. We are IS27001 and Cyber Essentials accredited and are now introducing flexible solutions to allow smaller businesses to enjoy similar levels of network security afforded to bigger entities.
Simon Davies, 52, was born in Newport, South Wales and served in the British Army from 1981 – 2004 and reached the rank of WO2 . He is married to Rhian with three boys from a previous marriage, Rhian also has a boy from a previous marriage. He is a keen racegoer and has three racehorses in training with Tom Symonds in Ross-on Wye. Simon is a candidate for the 2017 BATTLESPACE Businessman of the Year.