Finding its net voice
- By John x_Zyskowski
- Sep 18, 2000
When the command at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard transferred responsibility
for the yard's phone system from the facilities staff to the information
technology department as part of a centralization project, the department
did what many computer shops in the same situation would love to do: It
hatched a plan to run those phones over its own IP-based computer data network.
Besides putting the phone system into a much more familiar technical
environment for the IT staff, the new voice-over-IP (VOIP) system will provide
shipyard employees with phone features they've never had before, such as
voice mail, caller ID and call histories. And best of all, the new system
will pay for itself within two years.
The bold move to this new technology puts the Navy shipyard at the forefront
of a trend to run voice communications over data networks, a move often
referred to as convergence. Although VOIP technology has improved immensely
during the past year, there are still many challenges — not all technical — that adopters need to overcome if they are to build effective systems
and recoup their investments.
The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility
in Hawaii has tackled many of these issues, and with the help of its VOIP
vendor, Cisco Systems Inc., is moving ahead swiftly with its plan to deploy
more than 3,000 IP phones that will replace most of the command's traditional
The yard services ships that are part of the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet.
At about the same time the command's IT department was assigned responsibility
for the phone system, the shipyard learned that a change in its telephone
services contract was going to raise prices for its existing 2,500 phone
lines significantly, from $26 to $42 per phone per month.
To avoid the cost increase, the shipyard's IT department evaluated two
new options: install its own PBX phone system or deploy a VOIP system.
"We didn't pursue the PBX ultimately because, among other factors, there
are huge training issues," said Stephen Sasaki, the assistant to the chief
information officer at the shipyard. "There would be a huge learning curve
to bring up a new piece of equipment that we had no understanding about,
given that we're inherently a data shop."
Cost was chief among those other factors guiding the shipyard to pick
VOIP over PBX. A return-on-investment analysis prepared at the behest of
command CIO John Harris showed that a $1.3 million VOIP system would pay
for itself in less than two years, compared to about five years for a PBX
Furthermore, an implementation plan was devised in which the cost of
the system would ultimately be paid for by actual telephone line cost reductions.
The net result is that the telephone budget will remain constant for the
next two years and then is expected to drop significantly once the installation
There are several components to the dramatic savings of the VOIP system.
One is the much greater line efficiency that the VOIP system achieves when
connecting the shipyard's phones to the outside world via the public switched
telephone network (PSTN).
With the shipyard's traditional phone lines, each telephone required
its own direct line to the PSTN via the service provider's switch, in this
case AT&T. By using VOIP, the shipyard can take advantage of a statistical
trend that typically occurs at most enterprises: 90 percent of telephone
calls stay within the enterprise. That means that the VOIP system requires
the number of outside lines to be only 10 percent of the total number of
IP phones, as opposed to the one-to-one ratio required by traditional phones.
savings on those monthly recurring costs really is our biggest payback,"
The VOIP system also cuts the shipyard's costs for handling service
requests. With the current telecommunications contract, AT&T charges
the shipyard $40 for a service call, for such services as activating, deactivating
or relocating a phone. And internal procedures mean that such requests can
take as long as two weeks to be completed, according to Sasaki.
a phone with VOIP, the shipyard's IT staff can simply connect an IP phone
to the local-area network and configure it centrally using a network autodiscovery
feature. The job can be done in a few hours or less because the phone carrier
does not have to be involved.
Urge to Converge
In choosing to pursue the VOIP option, the Pearl Harbor shipyard joins
a small but growing number of organizations merging their voice and data
There are now more than 50 vendors offering VOIP solutions, from established
telephony providers like Avaya Inc. (formerly Lucent's enterprise networks
group) and Nortel Networks Corp. to start-ups like Altigen Communications
Inc. and VocalTec Communications Ltd.
When the Pearl Harbor shipyard surveyed the market for VOIP solutions
last November, it considered several but ultimately chose Cisco's in part
because the base already had an existing contract with the vendor as part
of an ongoing network upgrade plan.
The shipyard became one of about a dozen Cisco customers worldwide participating
in the vendor's VOIP early adopter program. The customers were the first
ones to use Cisco's new Call Manager 3.0 VOIP software that can scale up
to support more than 100 VOIP telephones. By participating in the early
adopter program, the shipyard receives direct consulting services from Cisco
to help build the VOIP system.
"What was key with any of these early adopters was an organization that
wants to really move out quickly on the technology," said Mike Rau, Cisco's
director of systems engineering for federal sales. "Pearl Harbor is a phenomenal
The shipyard began its VOIP deployment earlier this year with a limited
rollout of 100 phones to the IT department. The idea was to get feedback
more quickly and not risk disrupting phone service to other shipyard employees
while the VOIP technology was tested.
To provide a better environment for running VOIP traffic, Cisco recommended
that the shipyard install switches throughout its network. "Dedicated switching
to the desktop eliminates the data collisions on the network that can rob
bandwidth and result in packet loss," Rau said. VOIP systems convert a person's
voice into digital form, then breaks it down into smaller pieces called
packets that are sent across the network.
Network latency in excess of 150 milliseconds and packet loss are the
chief culprits behind call degradation in a VOIP network, according to Rau.
Symptoms include problems with call clarity, echoing, cutouts and even
In addition to extending the switching capabilities of its network,
the shipyard uses quality of service features built into the network, especially
on the newer equipment, to give voice data priority over other types of
data on the network. This also helps minimize packet loss and latency.
Another common concern for VOIP adopters, and one of special importance
for a defense installation such as Pearl Harbor, is protecting the power
supply that keeps the phone system running.
Traditional phone systems carry a small amount of electricity to power
the phone. And telecom companies have years of experience in keeping phone
systems up and running, even through general power outages. Data networks,
on the other hand, traditionally have not been designed to carry power.
To solve this problem, Cisco now offers what it calls an inline power
feature in some of its networking gear so that the copper-based, twisted-pair
data network can carry power to the IP phones. The shipyard has connected
this new equipment to several battery-based uninterruptible power supplies
(UPSs) that will provide several minutes of back-up power during power outages.
The shipyard's long-term plan is to buy a diesel generator to provide power
for longer periods of time than possible with UPSs.
The Backup Plan
But even with these provisions, the shipyard will retain some of its traditional
phone lines, mostly connected to fax machines, to have in the event of an
A certain number of traditional phones will also be retained to continue
supporting a feature called pre-emption, in which any voice call can be
interrupted and overridden during an emergency. That feature is not currently
available with VOIP.
Since the initial rollout of 100 phones, the Pearl Harbor VOIP system
has been extended to 200 more users in a cross section of the organization's
departments. The shipyard plans to deploy about 3,000 more phones commandwide
by next September.
Sasaki said the shipyard would like to use the savings on telecom costs
to finance several related projects in the pipeline, such as building a
wireless system for the IP phones and a unified messaging system that would
consolidate users' voice and e-mail systems.