Navy ships video over phone lines

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

Using a video collaboration tool that does not gobble up bandwidth on its local-area network, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is visually connecting its employees during emergency situations.

Video Network Communications Inc., a provider of visual networking solutions, recently finished the initial installation of its Visual Networking Systems solution at the shipyard. The product uses telephone lines to deliver point-and-click, TV-quality video capabilities for multipoint video communications, on-demand access to camera feeds and data collaboration, said Mike Bennis, director of government sales at VNCI.

The shipyard's primary mission is the overhaul, repair, modernization and refueling of nuclear-powered submarines. It is among the most experienced naval shipyards in submarine design, construction, modernization and maintenance, and is diversifying in the deep ocean submersible and special operations arenas. No one from PNS was available to comment for this story.

"There are 35 workstations using our technology to communicate with one another during an emergency—whether it's staged or real," Bennis said. "They are in several rooms [in two buildings] and everyone can see one another and collaborate with one another."

The solution is a point-and-click application that requires virtually no training and can be used on any desktop PC, Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh or workstation, Bennis said. The shipyard is on a 32-user switch, but has plans to upgrade to a 64-user model.

Feeds from individual stations can be pumped to large screens throughout the complex or to the rest of the stations. As briefings take place, users "don't have to leave their stations to get the latest and greatest information from the control center," Bennis said.

"The gem of the whole technology is that we're using the existing telephone lines in very old buildings to deliver TV-quality video," Bennis said. "There's no new infrastructure for a system that otherwise would have been impossible or cost-prohibitive."

Bennis said VNCI solutions are generating a lot of interest from government agencies because they avoid typical shortfalls by delivering content to any machine without touching the LAN, while using existing phone lines.

"They almost embrace me when I tell them we can do it with existing lines and it won't touch the LAN," he said, adding that "they don't want to put video on the LAN" because it eats up bandwidth.

The VNCI solution costs $3,000 to $5,000 per seat. Installation at PNS was completed in mid-June with the help of its partners—the Presidio Corp., the project integrator and Wire One Technologies Inc., a video applications service firm, which provided some large monitors in strategic locations.

VNCI's work at PNS is "exactly one step ahead of where the corporate networking people are right now," said Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst for multimedia and bandwidth networks at Cahners In-Stat Group.

Kaufhold said that VNCI using telephone lines to deliver its solution would serve the company well in its continuing relationship with the Navy because ships are hooked up with phone lines, but not necessarily Ethernet.

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