Voice over IP coming to NMCI

If plans by officials at the Navy and EDS work out, the Navy Marine Corps Intranet could soon become one of the largest systems using voice-over-IP technology in the world.

Officials at neither the Navy nor NMCI's lead vendor, EDS, would provide any firm dates for the addition of voice over IP to the system's contract. Navy Capt. Chris Christopher, deputy director of future operations for NMCI, said the transition to voice over IP is inevitable, and he wants to add the technology to NMCI sooner rather than later.

Tom Whalen, EDS' NMCI voice program manager, said company officials are discussing the addition of voice over IP as a contract line item, and they have targeted roughly 350,000 potential voice-over-IP users. That would make NMCI "one of the biggest enterprise voice-over-IP deployments in the world," said Bill Laurie, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard global account manager at Avaya Inc.

Navy officials' push to add voice over IP mirrors plans by Defense Information Systems Agency officials to transition from switched voice service to voice over IP on their global networks. DISA officials also plan to spread the technology's adoption by local and long-distance carriers and commercial enterprises.

Christopher said Navy officials' plans to add voice services to NMCI should come as no surprise because the contract, which has a potential value of $8 billion, was awarded almost three years ago.

Navy officials want to use NMCI as a single enterprise network to support voice, video and data. Carrying voice traffic as IP packets means voice "just becomes another application on the network," Christopher said. NMCI serves about 200,000 users.

Whalen said he anticipates that EDS officials will take an evolutionary approach to the technology's introduction rather than a wholesale replacement of the entire existing switched voice infrastructure at Navy and Marine facilities.

EDS officials plan to use a voice-over-IP gateway to connect a base's existing switched voice infrastructure to the NMCI wide-area network (WAN), operated by MCI. This would allow the NMCI WAN to transmit voice calls as data packets among bases hooked up to the network. The new method would bypass the switched voice networks, such as FTS 2001.

This would then set the stage for replacing older phone gear with voice-over-IP phones throughout the Navy and Marine infrastructures. But Christopher and Whalen declined to provide a timeline for a full-scale transition to voice over IP.

Marlin Forbes, vice president of defense and international markets for the MCI government markets defense and international markets group, said Navy officials can achieve savings of between 20 percent and 30 percent by moving from switched voice to voice over IP.

Once EDS adds voice over IP to the NMCI contract, Forbes said he expects that all voice traffic among callers hooked up to NMCI will be handled as voice-over-IP traffic on the WAN. Off-network calls, such as between a caller at a Navy facility in Virginia and Central Command headquarters in Florida, would be handled by existing government voice contracts, such as FTS 2001, Forbes said.

Local calls in the Washington, D.C., area between numerous Navy and Marine Corps facilities and offices also would be handled as voice-over-IP calls, Forbes added.

The Navy has an extensive network of voice switches installed at bases throughout the United States served by NMCI, and officials will need to upgrade their systems to handle voice-over-IP traffic. Upgrades must be certified by the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Chuck Saffell, president of Nortel Networks Ltd.'s Federal Solutions Group, said the company's Navy switches will require minimal upgrades — either new software or, in some cases, a new card to support voice over IP. Saffell added that Nortel's voice-over-IP gear has already passed JITC certification tests.

Officials at Avaya, another JITC-certified equipment supplier, said they doubt they will have trouble updating the company's gear to handle voice-over-IP traffic, Laurie said, with only a software change required in most cases. Saffell emphasized that these upgrades will not happen overnight and will require two to six weeks to complete, depending on the number of voice users on a base.

Laurie said he viewed the addition of voice over IP to NMCI as only the beginning of the technology's use in the Navy. Avaya officials have installed voice switches on a wide range of carriers and amphibious vehicles, and Laurie views the extension of the service to users on ships as inevitable.

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Voice over IP

Vendors see a huge growth in voice-over-IP adoption. Among the numbers:

Approximately 4 percent of the 408 million enterprise lines worldwide were IP-based, representing about 16.32 million lines.

By 2007: Vendors expect that 30 percent of the 408 million enterprise lines worldwide will be IP-based, representing 133.4 million lines.

Source: Avaya Inc.

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