Sprint team lands $50M pact to upgrade distance-learning net

The Army's Training and Doctrine Command has awarded Sprint a contract worth nearly $50 million to upgrade its dedicated video distance-learning network in a deal the company says is the largest of its kind in the government.

Under the five-year Video Tele-Training (VTT) Network contract Sprint and partners VTEL Inc. and Commercial Satellite Systems Inc. will upgrade the hardware and communications capabilities at the 118 sites that make up the network nationwide. They will also provide 10 to 20 portable and self-contained deployable systems that can be brought into the field.

This contract replaces one awarded five years ago to Oklahoma State University and team members Southwestern Bell and Hughes Satellite Systems. The network has been operating for about 10 years.

"On the communications side we'll provide terrestrial services in the continental United States " said Greg Taylor the government account manager for the Army at Sprint. "It's a switched data service where we offer dial-up bandwidth as needed so we don't require large pipes. There's a cost advantage to that. In the past everything was pure satellite [communications]."

Sprint will also maintain a network operations center at Fort Eustis Va. and will provide gateways to all Defense Department and commercial video networks including those overseas "so the options to connect...in this network go beyond the 118 sites " Taylor said.

By the end of the year Sprint will upgrade 26 sites the remaining sites will follow next year. The company also will provide real-time network management and around-the-clock diagnostic services at all sites.Unlike most videoconferencing networks the VTT Network is dedicated to training according to Walter Breckons chief of the Video Teletraining Division in the Army Extension Training Directorate's Training Support Center Fort Eustis.

"We use distance learning for our soldiers worldwide " Breckons said. "We have 123 systems scattered worldwide including in Germany and Egypt. It saves time and money if the soldiers don't have to come back to the school. It also enables military training and continuing education training courses for soldiers."VTT is open to other federal agencies Breckons said. "If they have a requirement to train their people they can lease equipment from us and subscribe to the network " he said.

Analyst Warren Suss president of Warren H. Suss Associates Jenkintown Pa. said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the contract represents the largest dedicated distance-learning network because the market is fragmented and agencies typically buy services from content providers on an as-needed basis.

Suss said new satellite technology and falling prices should drive the demand for distance-learning services. He pointed out though that "it's surprising to see how many agencies haven't made greater use of video teleconferencing. It's the most underused service on the FTS 2000 contract for example."

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