Harris pursues FAA telecom biz

San Diego—Harris Corp. announced last week at the annual convention of the Air Traffic Control Association that it would lead a team of Baby Bells and other companies in pursuit of the Federal Aviation Administration's expected contract for integrating its telecommunications systems, which has an estimated price tag of at least $2 billion.

The company will face stiff competition from long-distance carriers that traditionally have been more successful at winning telecom contracts than integrators such as Harris. But Harris' solid coalition of regional Bell operating companies, in addition to its partnership with Sprint, should enable the company to compete head-to-head with the likes of incumbent MCI WorldCom.

The Harris team includes Sprint, Ameritech Corp., Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, SBC Communications Inc., US West and Raytheon Co. Harris plans to announce other team partners in coming weeks.

Telecom consultant Warren Suss, president of Warren H. Suss Associates, said the proposed contract could mark "one of the largest telecommunications awards of the decade." He said the program has "attracted a tremendous amount of interest from industry."

Suss said MCI and AT&T are likely to bid against Harris and that MCI, which currently has much of the FAA's telecom business, will be the "team to beat."

"The competition on the program will pit integrators against carriers," he said. "It sort of depends upon what the actual [request for proposals] looks like, which is due to be released by the end of this month. If the FAA succeeds in having both kinds of teams bidding, it will be a real choice for the FAA to make. Up until now, FAA has always gone with a carrier team."

Robert Coulson, business development manager for Harris' electronic systems sector within the information services division, said the Harris team fits the FAA's needs perfectly.

"We're going to focus on providing the customer with a price management program that will allow him to take advantage of changes in the telecommunications market for the life of the contract," he said.

Coulson said the structure of the bid will ensure that the FAA will be able to take advantage of new services and lower pricing throughout the life cycle of the contract.

The FAA is expected to release the RFP within a few weeks and to narrow down the field of bidders by March. The contract is expected to be awarded by December 2000.

The contract, which will run for a base period of three years with an option for a 12-year extension, will call for the integration of voice and data telecom systems at more than 5,000 facilities. The winning bidder will replace more than 35,000 circuits, upgrade switching and routing services, improve network monitoring and control, and provide network engineering services.

The upgrade would affect telecom systems ranging from radios used by pilots and air traffic controllers to the FAA's office phones. Data and voice capabilities are to be integrated into the new network.

"The FAA intends for the services provided under the program to take advantage of emerging technologies and associated downward trends in telecommunications service pricing while meeting the FAA's current and future traffic and performance requirements for operational and mission support," said Tammy Jones, an FAA spokeswoman.

Under the terms of the contract, the FAA will consolidate the Leased Interfacility National Airspace Communications System, the Administrative Data Telecommunications Network, the Data Multiplexing Network and the National Data Interchange Network.

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