Sprint comes back swinging after missing on Networx Universal

Telecom company hangs tough in the government market

For 18 years, Sprint Nextel Inc. has been a fixture of the government market, holding both FTS 2000 and FTS 2001 telecommunications contracts. So it was a shock when the company was shut out of the General Services Administration’s Networx Universal contract in March 2007.

Although it was stung, the company came back swinging and nabbed a spot on Networx Enterprise two months later.

As the head of government programs, Bill White has been driving hard to burnish Sprint’s image as a committed federal telecom provider. He spoke with contributing editor Sami Lais about the company's strategy.

WT: How has Sprint’s federal group tried to overcome the loss of Networx Universal?

White: For the last few years, we’ve really tried to reconstitute our federal division with a focus in four areas. Obviously wireless services and especially wireless data services [are one area]. As government becomes more mobile in serving its constituents, having a turbocharged wireless network to address all the data needs, whether that’s e-mail or other applications, becomes increasingly important. The second is our Multiprotocol Label Switching and IP services. We offer a couple different flavors of that on Networx. I think we’re still unique in that we offer our peerless IP solution and an MPLS solution that’s completely isolated from the public Internet and that offers an additional level of protection against a lot of the security concerns and vulnerabilities, such as denial-of-service attacks.

Third is our convergence strategy — blending wireless and IP capabilities for secure mobile communications. Our convergence play doesn’t look like Verizon’s or AT&T’s. Part of our strategy is encouraging the agencies to fire their local exchange carrier and move to an all-IP solution on a platform like Microsoft Unified Communications. That lets them do away with their [private branch exchanges] and desktop phones and access all their integrated capabilities through their Microsoft software.

And fourth is our unified communications and the ability to integrate the cell phone and PDA with a voice-over-IP PBX. A federal worker can have a single number, a single e-mail box and a single voice-mail box and carry around on their hip all of their PBX capability.

WT: Wireless has always been appealing, but then there’s the reality of dropped calls, buildings where you’re incommunicado.

White: If you are going to try to mobile-enable your customers, then you have to ensure there’s a strong signal in the building. I think today that people make something like 60 percent of cell phone calls from the office building where they work. We have a dedicated solutions team working with federal agencies to ensure that works. The cell device has become an integral part of how people communicate, and that’s why integrating it with the PBX is so attractive. But the real sizzle is around this new 4G technology, which is anywhere from five to 10 times faster than 3G service. The key point here is for applications that are latency sensitive, such as voice over IP or video files or video surveillance, applications that require a lot of bandwidth. This really opens a whole new realm of possibilities for wireless.

WT: Let’s talk transition for a minute. A year and a half ago, Sprint’s FTS 2001 business had increased by about 3 percent because agencies had made such so few awards under Networx. Is that still the case?

White: Our FTS 2001 revenue has held up pretty well. It kind of lines up with the pace of the transition. It’s not really all that surprising. It’s been a big challenge for GSA and the agencies as well to digest things when they are also being thrown other complicating factors like [the Office of Management and Budget's] Trusted Internet Connections mandate.

WT: How has the transition affected your business at agencies where you are the incumbent?

White: We’ve proven to our existing customers that we can do what I call a paper-only transition. I came on at the tail end of the transition from FTS 2000 to FTS 2001, and that was very painful for everybody. One of the promises we had then was that if you stay with Sprint, it’s a paper-only transition. Well, it was anything but that. We had to disconnect and reinstall on our systems, so it turned out to be a pretty exasperating situation for everyone. But [with Networx], we have proof with real customers of where we received the transition order to migrate services and were able to complete that transition of FTS 2001 to Networx within a 10-day period.

WT: Are you seeing interest from agencies in doing this “paper-only” transition?

White: We’ve seen an increased interest. Whether they actually pull the trigger is something else.

WT: GSA has been lauded for the flexibility that it built into Networx, but lately, with the transition lagging, some are now calling it excessively complex.

White: It’s not simple. But I think what you see happening is the government adopting services and solutions in the same fashion as Fortune 500 enterprise customers have.

WT: What do you mean?

White: Particularly with a large enterprise, a market I spent 15 years working in, a team would sit down with a customer to understand their business problem, then design a solution to tackle that problem. It’s like putting together a puzzle of different pieces of the solution, in some cases using off-the-shelf components, in other cases, you need to customize a little bit. That’s how agencies are approaching acquisition of their telecom, their IT, their networking solutions. It’s a combination of traditional transport services, management services, security services and other value-added capabilities. To make it even more complex, agencies are layering on their security requirements. It’s a different way to work. To make the contract successful, you need to have the flexibility to be able to put together those unique bundles and do it in a timely fashion. We did a lot of that over the second half of the FTS 2001 contract so now we’re just carrying forward into Networx.

WT: And you’re doing that on Networx Enterprise?

White: There is still a fair amount of misunderstanding as to the value of Enterprise versus Universal. Take the recent Defense Information Systems Agency statement of work that went out against Networx Universal. It’s an IP-only statement of work, and those services are available on both contracts. As a matter of fact, we had bid on the prior statement of work, which was protested and [then recompeted]. If agencies are looking for the best bang for their buck, they should look for their services on Enterprise, because that’s where they’re going to have the maximum number of bidders.

About the Author

Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.

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