Ross Wilkers

TELECOM

How AT&T plans to transform VA's infrastructure

Under a $752M EIS task order AT&T will modernize a network infrastructure serving 9 million vets a year

The Veterans Affairs Department has tasked AT&T to help modernize that agency’s communications network infrastructure covering what is widely regarded as the U.S.’ largest integrated health care system.

Under the VA’s responsibility is 1,255 health care facilities that include 170 medical centers and 1,074 outpatient sites that serve 9 million enrolled veterans each year.

Many of those facilities are several decades old with much IT and physical infrastructure in place also. That factor is near front-of-mind for AT&T as it works under this 12-year, $752 million task order announced Wednesday.

“That’s where it’s about ensuring they’re focused using on the newer capabilities. When you talk about networking today, it’s truly a hybrid of both wireline and wireless, and taking advantage of advances in technology,” said Chris Smith, vice president of civilian and shared services for AT&T’s public sector and FirstNet arm.

Some of those newer capabilities on the table for this order include wide area networking, virtual private networking and managed network services.

Through this Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle task order, VA essentially wants to turn its data network into one based on Internet Protocol and help the department further undertake cloud adoption.

Having more wide area networking functionality in place at the facilities is intended to help VA doctors and other medical officials access a veteran’s health record on their connected mobile device, in lieu of paper or fax-based sharing.

Regarding which type of connectivity makes sense overall, Smith told me that can mean “fiber to the premise and in some cases fiber to the building to the end point” or “wireless where it’s the right fit, where you don’t want to redo infrastructure.”

For the wireless aspect, Smith broke that out into two sides of the equation: the internal working systems VA employees use and the guest network for veterans and the family members or other caregivers accompanying them on their visit.

The second piece comes into play regarding the VA’s ongoing push for shorter wait times of patients and to create a more positive experience.

Of course, no conversation about telecom network modernization in the federal government can be had without bringing up the transition to 5G. Smith said the VA has the ability to purchase mobility services and access to AT&T’s 5G network through this order.

Bigger picture however, there is what the VA wants to better enable with a 5G construct in place given the higher amounts of data that can be transferred across the network at greater speeds.

“One of the capabilities within the 5G space we expect a great deal of expansion in use cases for is multi-access edge computing: the ability to compute large amounts of data and information right at the edge of the network,” Smith said.

That translates to more potential for advances in the use of augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D imaging, and how medical officials carry out their protocols and methods in caring for patients by using those three functions.

“It’s a little bit of a back to the future moment, where we’ve been very focused on centralizing information into data centers and the cloud,” Smith said. “The generative power of the 5G platform is going to allow us to do that computing at the edge.”

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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