Spectrum goes international

May 31st, 2016

News Coverage:

May 29, 2016

Spectrum goes international

Auburn engineering firm sees growing fiber optic market

Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette

Spectrum Engineering Corp. operates out of a building without a sign on the Allen-DeKalb county line, and occasionally, says president Scott Bowles, someone will stop by and ask if the building is available for wedding receptions.

It’s not.

Inside the small company, which has 22 employees, engineers are busy designing networks – electrical systems, fiber optics – for everything from hospitals and factories to universities and municipalities.

Spectrum, which operates in 10 states, has entered the international scene, engineering fiber optic networks for Bermuda, and last month the company was hired to plan and design a fiber optic network for Georgetown, Guyana, and serve as project manager.

The job entails some challenges the company hasn’t faced before. It has to do everything from map the location of poles and addresses of buildings and, using that information, create a design with all the details needed to build a fiber optic system.

Projects like that are opening new opportunities for Spectrum as small countries try to develop high-speed communications systems.

Spectrum was founded in Michigan in 1979 as an engineering firm that specialized in designing electrical systems.

The company later moved to the Fort Wayne area and expanded into fiber optics in 1984, when the city of Auburn asked it to design a fiber optic system for the city’s electrical utility. Then in 2003, Auburn, facing the loss of a major employer unless it could be provided with reliable broadband service, again turned to Spectrum.

“They designed the solution,” Mayor Norm Yoder said. “They had experience in fiber optics. We were very fortunate. Spectrum Engineering has the skills.”

The result was Spectrum’s first involvement with fiber to the home, designing a network that not only provided adequate broadband to businesses but telephone, internet and television service to the city. The system, along with preserving jobs, has since attracted businesses to the city, Yoder said. Then in 2012, the company was approached by Bermuda to design a fiber optic network in the capital that was affordable to small businesses.

Bowles said he would have laughed if “you would have told me five years ago we’d be working in Bermuda.”

Now his company is working in Guyana.

International jobs have their challenges. In some places you can’t rent a car. Hotel prices skyrocket during the tourist season. There are logistical challenges getting materials to the sites.

In Guyana, mapping information needed to build a database to design the system is all on paper. Also, the country doesn’t have much money so margins are thin.

But projects like this will help Spectrum build Guyana’s economy, Bowles said. 

Internationally, more opportunities for small engineering firms will emerge, said Ellen Satterwhite, a spokeswoman for the Fiber to the Home Council. “It’s the gold standard we’re all headed for. Broadband is not a luxury. To be part of the global economy you have to have connectivity.”

Bowles said more opportunities are coming, including ones in Aruba and other islands and even towns in the Amazon, as well as some other jobs he says he can’t talk about yet.

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