Telephony: One wire...Many services
Government turns to integrators for telephony shopping<@VM>Gig-BE: How DISA is ahead of the curve
- By Joab Jackson
- Aug 14, 2003
Harris Corp.'s John O'Sullivan
The trend Bruce Fleming of Verizon Communications Inc. and others see is that of treating of voice traffic as just another form of data to be carried over a data network.
Henrik G. de Gyor
Mark Foster, NeuStar's senior vice president and chief technology officer, suggests leveraging existing data networks to provide redundant communications for federal agencies. "It can be cost prohibitive to put in a duplicative set of phone lines," he said.
With its pending $200 million universal computing connectivity solicitation, the U.S. Postal Service wants an integrator to combine telephone calls and data traffic on the same networks.
In a $1 billion, 10-year contract to upgrade and maintain its Washington services, the Air Force is seeking one integrator to combine support for both software and telephone services. On Aug. 1, Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., Raytheon Co. of Lexington, Mass., and others submitted proposals for that job, according to Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va.
And for the Army, teams led by General Dynamics Corp., Falls Church, Va., and Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md., are competing to build the $10 billion Warfighter Information Network-Tactical project. Each team is creating prototypes and simulations to show how it would provide converged voice, data and video communications for soldiers on the battlefield.
In each contract, the message is clear: Agencies want both telephone services and data networking services from the same provider.
"The public branch exchanges are still being used, but new procurements are much more data-intensive," said Bruce Fleming, technology officer at the federal network systems of Verizon Communications Inc., New York.
The trend Fleming and others see is that of treating of voice traffic as just another form of data to be carried over a data network.
For the agency, combining voice and data traffic can save the cost of operating separate networks. For the integrator, running voice over a data network allows it to use IT capabilities to offer new services* and gain competitive advantages.
"If you look at the managed network services environment, the movement is toward letting the system integrator put the pieces together," said Howard Stern, an analyst at Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va.
"Having customer and mission knowledge is a key characteristic to network opportunities. That's where you really add the value," said John O'Sullivan, vice president of programs for Harris Corp.
"I would rather be putting customers in advanced technologies than selling them dumb minutes," said Diana Gowen, vice president of civilian and military networks for WorldCom Inc., Ashburn, Va. "Then, you are building a partnership with them."
According to Input Inc., a Reston, Va., market research firm, the federal government will spend $11.9 billion in fiscal 2003 on its telecom needs, growing to $13.9 billion by fiscal 2005.
Much of this is still for plain old telephone service, both long-distance and local. The government services unit of AT&T Corp., Bedminster, N.J., doesn't see a lot of overlap between contracts for telephone services and those for data networking services, said Lou Addeo, president of that division.
But other contracts are increasingly calling for feature-rich services.
Heads turned last year when Harris won the Federal Aviation Administration's $3.5 billion telecommunications infrastructure contract in July 2002. Harris won the work because of the combined powers of technical innovation and understanding the agency's mission, said O'Sullivan, who oversees the FAA work.
The 15-year contract calls for extensive upgrades. The contractor must improve the communications conduits at more than 5,000 FAA facilities. The contractor will intertwine a number of separate data and voice networks into one infrastructure.
The work involves replacing more than 35,000 circuits, as well as extensive upgrades of switching and routing services. It also involves bringing in more data-rich services, such as network monitoring and control tools, as well as a state-of-the-art security system.
FAA was flexible about how the winning contractor could do all this.
"They allowed teams to innovate both from the technical perspective and from a business model perspective," O'Sullivan said.
The freedom allowed Harris to develop its own set of performance metrics and to design the infrastructure using commercial technologies.
"There are a lot of ways you can innovate within a performance-based model," O'Sullivan said.
In May, EFJ Inc., Lincoln, Neb., won a $580,000 contract to provide digital land mobile radios to the Agriculture Department's Washington buildings.
The key requirement: voice-over-Internet protocol capability in the repeaters, said Jim Ridgell, vice president of the federal business unit of EFJ's two-way radio subsidiary, EF Johnson. According to Ridgell, the agency plans to integrate its land mobile radio voice and data traffic into a single data network infrastructure.
Integrators and agencies are finding that one way to cut costs is to combine data networks with voice networks.
[IMGCAP(2)]Telephone equipment from makers such as Alcatel, Avaya Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. allows phone calls to be run over IP networks. Breaking calls into individual packets uses bandwidth more efficiently than dedicating a line to each call.
It also simplifies an agency's infrastructure, requiring only one set of cables in each building, rather than two, said Neal Shact, founder and chairman of the VoIP Council, an organization formed by VoIP vendors and service providers to promote the use of Internet telephony.
In July, reseller PlanetGov Inc., Chantilly, Va., was awarded a blanket purchase agreement from the Army to provide VoIP phones and related service to all of the Defense Department, the maximum amount per order being $5 million.
According to Mary Souther, vice president of PlanetGov, the company has developed a specialty installing combined data and voice systems on military bases and government office buildings, counting the Army, the Navy and the Defense Information Systems Agency as customers.
Usually, the projects involve equipping new buildings, Souther said. Even when the solicitations didn't require a combined voice and data network, PlanetGov has won work by showing the value of that approach.
"Typically, if we do a business case analysis, we can demonstrate what they are spending now vs. what they will be spending on a converged network," Souther said. "In almost every study, the return of investment comes in about two years. The chief financial officer has to take note of that."
It's not only hardware costs that are saved in such scenarios. Verizon's Fleming points out that VoIP reduces the cost of support personnel as well. An agency or an integrator may have two sets of technical support people, one for voice networks and the other for data networks. Converged networks reduce that number.
"Since I'm treating my voice as data, I'm reducing my costs. The people an agency would have to staff would be data people only for the entire network," Fleming said.
But running phone calls through a data network does more than save money. By using a data framework, the integrators can draw on digital tools to give the agency enhanced services.
Take Electronic Data Systems Corp., Plano, Texas, for instance. For its $6.9 billion Navy-Marine Corps Intranet project, it offers desktop videoconferencing services.
Service members can use a $700 device, from VCON Ltd., Herzliya, Israel, to talk with one another through a live video feed, or leave video mail messages for other parties. The unit plugs into the universal serial bus of a user's computer.
VCON plans to sell at least a couple hundred of these devices to NMCI users in the coming year. Because EDS put a robust converged network in place, additional videoconferencing capabilities add only minimal overhead to the network load. EDS not only acts as a reseller, having negotiated with VCON for a bulk order, but it also benefits by offering the Navy and the Marine Corps support for the VCON implementation.
WorldCom, which operates under the name MCI, has also looked to IT for competitive advantage, even if the services IT brings mean a short-term loss in revenue.
For one agency, the company developed a call center that fields and directs phone calls from citizens. Because the system is so efficient at routing calls, WorldCom takes a hit on long-distance revenue, as the length of the average call has shrunk. But WorldCom's Gowen doesn't mind.
"What we do is keep moving customers into newer and newer technologies that reduce [their] costs and reduce revenue for us. But we're increasing revenue on the other side," Gowen said, referring to the profits the company gains in offering new services.
PlanetGov also uses IT technologies to offer enhanced services. It offers customers the feature of storing voice mail and e-mail on one server, allowing workers to check either from a desktop computer, or from a laptop computer while on the road. The company also can offer the ability to stream live news feeds to the desktop for no additional charge.
"That's a great feature that you just wouldn't be able to get in an ISDN architecture," Souther said.
[IMGCAP(3)]Offering the additional services made possible by converged networks is a cornerstone of future business of Lockheed Martin-spinoff NeuStar Inc., Sterling, Va.
NeuStar works both in the telecommunications and data communications markets. Wireless phone companies hire it to provide the database to enable number portability, or the ability for users to keep the same phone number when they switch carriers.
On the data side, it runs the data registry service for the .us, kids.us, .biz and .cn Internet domains.
Looking down the road, NeuStar sees opportunities in combining the two worlds, said Mark Foster, NeuStar's senior vice president and chief technology officer. It offers a routing database service as a disaster recovery solution that allows a large organization to dynamically reroute calls in case of an emergency.
Calls can be forwarded to other telephone networks or data networks, should an agency's main trunk line become disabled because of disaster or terrorist strike. Employees can still communicate through home phones, cellular phones or Internet phones, depending on what arrangements the agency made beforehand.
"If you look very near term, there are hard requirements for federal agencies to have redundant communications, yet it can be cost prohibitive to put in a duplicative set of phone lines," Foster said. "Why not leverage the existing data networks to provide that redundancy?" *
Staff Writer Joab Jackson can be reached at
Not all agencies are outsourcing their data and voice networks as a managed service. The Defense Information Services Agency is taking an in-house approach to expanding the wide area network used by the military and intelligence agencies to communicate.
For the Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion, or Gig-BE, project, the agency hired Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, to evaluate and integrate the next-generation equipment needed for greater bandwidth.
This is a change in focus for DISA, said Warren Suss, president of IT consulting company Suss Consulting Inc., Jenkintown, Pa. Whereas before, DISA simply might have leased more bandwidth from a service provider such as WorldCom Inc., "now, with the new strategy, it is buying hardware directly and acting as its own integrator," Suss said.
DISA "feels like it's been held back in the marketplace, so the drive behind Gig-BE is to build its own network," said Royal Collette, vice president of federal programs of photonic switch vendor Calient Networks Inc., San Jose, Calif.
Although most agencies wouldn't take this in-house approach, there are good reasons for DISA to do so, Suss said.
One reason is that service providers may not be able to meet the military's bandwidth needs. They have been slow to upgrade their lines in the past few years. Network-centric warfare is a growing concern for the services, and this translates into increased bandwidth use.
For instance, the emerging use of unmanned aerial vehicles can produce tremendous amounts of data sent from the field to the command centers, Suss said.
"Traditionally, the speed at which agencies can grow their networks always has been limited by the maximum speed on the core backbone that the providers have," Collette said.
Because of weak demand from their corporate clients, service providers have not been increasing the throughput capacities of their networks. As a result, agencies are limited to leasing conduit space in 2.5 gigabytes-per-second increments.
To ensure bandwidth will be available, DISA will lease fiber-optic lines and equip them with next-generation optical technologies that will enable 40 gigabit-per-second throughputs.
The request for proposals called for core and edge Internet protocol routers, multiservice provisioning platforms, optical transport systems and optical digital cross connect switches, according to Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va.
Another advantage to going in-house is cost savings.
"They are taking advantage of fire sales," Suss said. Telecommunications hardware vendors face a lackluster market in the commercial arena and are willing to negotiate on price. Likewise, service providers have a lot of unused but installed fiber that could be leased wholesale.
DISA is expected to spend up to $877 million acquiring next generation technologies. So Gig-BE is seen widely as the big deal of the year in both the commercial and government markets.
"DISA represents the biggest bang for the industry this year," said Robert Collet, chief engineer for the government services unit of AT&T Corp., Bedminster, N.J. AT&T is helping SAIC in the selection process.
Equipment and solution vendors submitted their proposals in June and are waiting on the response from DISA, due in August.