By Jeff Erlichman
, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media
The Army's Defense Wide Transmission Systems (DWTS), Army has been a longtime user of VoIP to achieve its mission.
You need to look no farther than the US Army Defense Wide Transmission Systems (DWTS) to see practical examples of how VoIP is making an impact.
According to the Army, DWTS manages more than 40 diverse projects – supporting warfighters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Germany, Korea, Japan and CONUS – and spanning the product areas of transmission systems, satellite communications systems, fiber optic networks, microwave networks, tech control facilities, power systems, wireless networks, and services including operation of network management centers and management of a multi-billion dollar contract.
“DWTS has deployed VoIP technology since 2002 to support user requirements worldwide,” said Paul Brown, Project Leader in a recent interview with 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media.
“Specifically, VoIP has added value by decreasing the tactical cable infrastructure required on the ground. In an IP environment, VoIP enables both voice and data to share the same network infrastructure, thus reducing costs time and cost to implement.”
Greg Fornino, Project Leader said during the same interview that when pushing communications to deployed locations, VoIP has allowed the physical footprint to shrink by eliminating legacy equipment such as multiplexers and PBXs.
“Not only does the physical footprint shrink, but the knowledge-base required to support these networks decreases as well,” Fornino said. “Voice is still voice, but when the infrastructure and equipment changes from a command-line programmed "big-iron" PBX to a converged VoIP solution configured by a web browser, the supportability increases.”
The tools available to support the converged network and infrastructure, plus the remote accessibility of IP equipment (for configuration and management), allows for consolidated support.
In the short term, Fornino said DWTS has no plans to move away from VoIP. “The reliability is now very close to the “five 9s” (99.999%) of traditional PBXs,” he explained. “VoIP provides the capability we need now at a right cost.” But in the long term Fornino thinks they could possibly move to more CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) applications, and, in some cases, perhaps utilize integrated soft phones rather than desktop units.
VoIP has been a key element providing communications capabilities and a technology DWTS has been following for more than a decade. “Using VoIP has allowed PM DWTS the ability to increase the number of user instruments without increasing cable infrastructure. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, as our user base increased significantly on the ground, we were able to deploy more user VoIP instruments with minimal effort and cost,” explained Brown. That experience also has paid off in deployed environments since 2000; deployed in Kosovo, it allowed the Army to reduce the amount of contractor support needed at remote base camps.
The ability to very quickly and remotely perform adds, moves and changes – rather than dispatching technicians – allowed DWTS to provide more real-time support; while the flexibility and growth potential with VoIP is unmatched by traditional PBX technologies.
“The ability to very quickly and remotely perform adds, moves and changes – rather than dispatching technicians – allowed us to provide more real-time support.” Fornino remarked. “The flexibility and growth potential with VoIP is unmatched by traditional PBX technologies. Being able to support an entire base camp of thousands of users with a half-rack of servers vice an entire shelter, significantly reduces cost and enhances the user experience.”
Success for DWTS isn't always easy and they are constantly faced with challenges they must overcome, such as how to develop a Wide Area Network transport connection to support the number of VoIP users at a deployed location only in relation to the available bandwidth.
In use today by DWTS, its leaders see a rosy future for VoIP. Brown said that as networks are upgraded and IP is implemented throughout organizations, he expects more users will opt for a VoIP solution – similar to what is now happening in the commercial sector with cable and telephone companies.
Fornino added that “there probably won't be a significant change to the user, but VoIP will continue to make inroads into the legacy telecom realms, eventually displacing the big-iron support two-wire phone.”
As experienced VoIP pros, Brown and Fornino have sound advice for those who are tasked with writing a RFP for VoIP.
“I would advise them to be sure they understand the limitations of the network and capability; and to determine the QoS requirement and to develop the network to support those requirements,” counseled Brown. Fornino urged prospective buyers to involve personnel from enough disciplines that can understand the requirements and limitations of equipment and technology. “Often, RFPs go out with unrealistic or impossible requirements within the realm of a realistic cost. It's one thing to want, it's something else entirely to need,” Fornino explained. “The requirements need to be clear to prevent ‘scope creep’."
Mobility was a major selling point of VoIP in the early years, but by now it’s just one of the features included according to Fornino. “The backend administration is of course lessened, but to a user, they don’t really care how the phone works, they just want dial-tone.”
The capability of a soldier to be able to take their phone with them and have the number follow, allows the saving of costly support dollars. The benefit of mobility rests solely in its cost reduction benefit.
Plus Brown said that with VoIP, “the user can move the instrument within the network to a new location without the requirement of an add/delete function on a PTSN (public switched telephone network) switched system. This reduces maintenance costs and the delay associated when moving to a different office location on a network.”
VoIP can be implemented on installed network infrastructure, thus reducing the time to implement associated cabling for a PTSN “POTS” system. In addition to reduced time, the reduced infrastructure significantly reduces associated project and maintenance costs.
“VoIP is cheaper and offers faster rollout of the services,” Fornino added. “The two-wire telephone works so well that no one thinks about it; if there wasn't a tangible benefit to VoIP, we wouldn't be doing it. VoIP offers faster rollout, cheaper costs and increased flexibility.”
When VoIP is talked about, it is hard to leave what is happening in the world of Unified Communications (UC) out of the discussion. Brown and Fornino were no exceptions.
“Unified communications to me is interoperability, selecting a technology that is "uniform" across the DoD and services. Uniformity goes a long way to ensuring mission success,” noted Brown.
Fornino said, “To me, this means a “one network” approach. In the past, we had voice networks, data network, video networks and legacy circuits (such as AUTODIN). A unified network allows these technologies to ride the same pipe. This reduces bandwidth costs by sharing equipment, and media.”
The result is reduced administration by reducing required maintenance. With the possible exception of extremely sensitive or secure circuits, a unified network just makes sense Fornino added.
“Why have overlap and duplication when the technology exists to eliminate it? We owe it to the taxpayer to ensure we save money wherever possible.”