New fiber net may be lifesaver

Had the new 100-mile high-speed fiber-optic network been in place in Arlington

County, Va., on Sept. 11, communications in response to the attack on the

Pentagon would have been smooth and effective, said the county's chief information

officer, Jack Belcher.

"On Sept. 11, we were totally disorganized from a communications standpoint,"

said Belcher, referring to phone congestion problems. But with I-Net, which

stands for Institutional Network, the county's infrastructure can handle

voice, video and data 650 times faster than it could before, and it is redundant

and secure.

"When will this network be saturated? Regrettably, we won't be alive

to see it," he said.

The network is so fast, said Barry Kane, executive vice president for

Signal Corp., that it takes only 11 seconds to transmit 11M of information,

something that would have taken 11 minutes on the old network.

The system, which has been in development since 1998, was created through

a partnership of Signal, Verizon Communications, Cisco Systems Inc. and

Comcast Corp. Kane said such an arrangement is unusual for such a large

project, where a prime contractor usually subcontracts work out to other

companies. "I had my doubts, but it's worked extremely well," he said, adding

it could serve as a model for how other projects are done in the future.

So far, all the county's fire stations have been connected. By July,

the county hopes to connect all 41 county buildings and 39 school buildings,

Belcher said, adding that the county also is reaching out to hospitals and

the public health community. Discussions also are under way to connect to

the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The cost to link up all county

facilities is estimated at $2.4 million.

Last week, the county demonstrated the network's possibilities with

a mock bioterrorism scenario, Belcher said. Several county officials spoke

with one another in real time from different locations through "theater

quality" videoconferencing, supplied by Norway-based Tandberg LLC, he said.

If a patient in a hospital had a suspicious lesion on his or her arm, hospital

personnel could convey that image in real time through videoconferencing

to experts in other parts of the country, he explained.

Users also could use the network for Internet telephony, saving the

county about $2 million a year in leased T1 lines and annual telephone fees.

In an emergency, Belcher said the system would not be congested.

We're going to "enable government in ways unimagined before," said Belcher.

"I have not yet found a jurisdiction that approaches the capacity that we

have laid down," he said.

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