Tech Success: Videoconferencing goes to war

IT Solutions in action

Project: Remote videoconferencing

Agency: U.S. military agencies

Partners: C-Cubed Corp., Springfield, Va.; and Polycom Inc., Pleasanton, Calif.

Goal: To allow soldiers and other military personnel to communicate from remote areas.

Obstacle: Traditional videoconferencing equipment is made for conference rooms. But traditional networks do not serve many areas where the military operates, such as the Iraqi desert.

Solution: C-Cubed integrated Polycom's ViewStation system into the briefcase-sized ViewCASE videoconferencing system. The ViewStation is designed to work as an appliance connected to a television monitor, so it is easy to use. Satellite connections enable remote communications, even at high speed. Communications can be encrypted for secure transmissions.

Payoff: U.S. troops in the field used the ViewCASE during the war in Iraq to discuss war plans and strategies.

David Lind, manager of advanced technologies for C-Cubed, said he chose Polycom's technology because it is designed to work as an appliance connected to a television monitor instead of an expensive computer monitor.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Polycom, C-Cubed join forces on mobile system for military

As the price of videoconferencing technologies has dropped, Craig Reichenbach has seen their use rise in the federal government. The technology has improved so much that now the U.S. military is using secure videoconferencing units in the field.

"Videoconferencing has been growing in the federal marketplace for years. We're seeing more and more requirements in the Defense Department and in civilian agencies," said Reichenbach, vice president of federal operations for videoconferencing firm Polycom Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.

One new system the military is using in the Persian Gulf region is the briefcase-sized ViewCASE, a rugged, secure, portable unit that incorporates Polycom's ViewStation videoconferencing system. ViewStation transmits video at up to 30 frames per second, cancels audio echoes and tracks voices, so the camera focuses on the speaker.

Systems integrator C-Cubed Corp. of Springfield, Va., builds ViewCASE, and has provided the military with about 100 units. David Lind, manager of advanced technologies for C-Cubed, said he chose Polycom's technology for the ViewCASE because it is designed to work as an appliance connected to a television monitor instead of an expensive computer monitor.

"I can hook a computer into it, but the monitor in the [ViewCASE] lid is an LCD television screen. You don't have to buy an expensive computer monitor, and Polycom can reboot by turning the system on and off and can be up and running in seconds," Lind said. "When you're in a hurry, you want to make sure it is as simple as possible, so nontechnical people are not going to have to worry about interfacing with specific computer-related programs."

ViewCASE units cost $36,000 and up, depending on the satellite connections chosen, Lind said.

"In one hand, you have 12 pounds of satellite antenna, and the other, 32 pounds of Polycom. You can connect to anywhere in the world with power, which can be a 12-volt car battery," Lind said. "It's been amazing. For less than 50 pounds, we can do videoconferencing literally anywhere in the world."

Military needs were a driving factor in creating the ViewCASE, which provides collaboration capabilities, high-quality video and encryption capabilities. The ViewCASE can communicate via satellite, Internet Protocol or Integrated Services Digital Network connections, Lind said.

"They were looking for a mobile solution for videoconferencing, and really there were none. Because of the excellent technology that Polycom provides, we took the ViewStation as our starting point, and integrated it into this case," Lind said.

The war in Iraq "really brought this [technology] into the forefront," said analyst Andrew Davis, managing partner of Wainhouse Research LLC in Brookline, Mass. "There is a very select, focused need for visual communications in places where there is no network, such as on the battlefield. And while videoconferencing has failed to capture the mainstream of corporate America, in terms of deep deployment, the government is a huge market for this technology. In a lot of cases, the government owns its own network, so they don't have to pay network fees, making this technology even more attractive."

At FOSE, a government information technology trade show in Washington last month, the ViewCASE was exhibited in a Hummer vehicle equipped with a Cyclone Global Area Network Land Mobile Terminal. The dome-shaped terminal, a power supply and steerable antenna produced by EMS Technologies Inc. of Norcross, Ga., allows Web surfing, e-mailing, transfer of data and videoconferencing, even while the vehicle is moving at high speed. FOSE is produced by PostNewsweek Tech Media, publisher of Washington Technology.

ViewCASE units are used by a range of agencies, including the State Department, National Security Agency, Army Signal Battalion and Signal Brigade, Special Operations Command and Army Central Command. Some units are being used in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Japan, Lind said.

Government customers, however, are reluctant to talk about their use of the ViewCASE "because what they are doing with it is secret, discussing things such as war plans and strategies," he said.

The ViewCASE can be taken to the battlefield and used to communicate back to headquarters, or it can be used from remote locations to communicate with medical centers.

"If the one expert is at Bethesda Naval Hospital, [the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.] and the patient is in the South Pacific, videoconferencing is the way the diagnosis is going to be made," Lind said.

The nation's governors, who have conference-room videoconferencing, are considering the purchase of a portable system that can be used for first responders, Lind added.

"This kind of a system would allow an emergency response team to take a flyaway system with a 12-volt car battery and be able to conduct videoconferencing anywhere," he said. "This is exactly what the first responders need to communicate with emergency agencies to better evaluate the situation." *

Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at gemery@postnewsweektech.com.

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