Sprint unveils new ATM-based service

Although no federal agencies will serve in the first round of beta tests of Sprint's new Project FastBreak, officials at the company said they believe the government eventually will take advantage of the plan to offer customers unlimited bandwidth for simultaneous voice, data and video transmissions.

Project FastBreak, which Sprint announced with much fanfare last week, will be based on the company's new Integrated On-Demand Network. The ION backbone will utilize Asynchronous Transfer Mode technology to integrate voice, data and video and provide high-speed communications services that are indifferent to whether a call is local or long distance. The result will be voice calls that cost an average of 70 percent less than they do now, according to Sprint officials.

In addition, users would not have to purchase dedicated lines to handle their communications needs but would only pay for the bandwidth they use, a Sprint spokesman said. And the same would apply to residential users who would also have access to the same high-speed services. "Someone who is telecommuting will have the same processing power as someone in the office," the spokesman said.

Sprint, which holds one of two contracts under the General Services Administration's FTS 2000 telecommunications pro-gram, expects that agencies will want to take advantage of the new service.

"Eventually, the government will be getting involved," said Jim Payne, Sprint's assistant vice president for FTS 2000. "This is going to offer services and applications they could not do before, and it will be very competitive in pricing."

Payne said the ability for agencies to "dynamically manage bandwidth and pay for exactly what they get" should make the new offering enticing to federal users. He noted that most of Sprint's data customers purchase bandwidth based on their peak requirements, so much of the bandwidth they routinely pay for goes unused. Under Sprint's plan, agencies pay only for the bandwidth they use.

Consultant Warren Suss, president of Warren H. Suss Associates, agreed that the Sprint plan, if it works as intended, could be an enormous boon to agencies. "A lot of federal users are paying for bandwidth that is unutilized or underutilized," Suss said. "So any technology that allows agencies to pay for bandwidth in proportion to its use will be very attractive."

Despite his assertion that the federal government could reap tremendous benefits through the new Sprint service, Payne acknowledged that Sprint did not offer ION services as part of its bid on FTS 2001, GSA's forthcoming contract awards for the government's next-generation long-distance network.

Rethinking Telecom

Payne refused to comment on the specifics of Sprint's FTS 2001 proposal, but he indicated the government may need to rethink the way it purchases telecommunications service if it is to take advantage of the new offering.

"The requirements the government typically has on the street I would define as the old paradigm," Payne said. "Sprint has announced its immediate plans and whether the government joins the vision depends on how its requirements evolve over time."

Suss pointed out that FTS 2001 program officials may have to change their plans to accommodate new technologies such as the one Sprint announced last week. For example, FTS 2001 will allow GSA to assign agencies to different carriers for voice and data service— a plan that would not make sense with a technology such as Sprint's that does not distinguish between voice and data traffic, he said.

"Sprint's announcement brings home the fact that we are in a dynamic technical environment, and agencies have to introduce flexibility into their plans to transition from their current networks to FTS 2001," Suss said.

Dennis Fischer, commissioner of the Federal Technology Service at GSA, said he believed GSA would be able to take advantage of this new technology in upcoming contract vehicles if agencies thought it was something they would use. Fischer had been briefed before Sprint made the announcement.

Suss expressed skepticism that local phone carriers would allow Sprint to place its equipment in their facilities, an essential component of Sprint's plan. He said the regional Bell operating companies have traditionally resisted such arrangements.

Payne said last week Sprint was not yet prepared to discuss specifics about agreements with local phone companies.

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