New system keeps phone lines open

The devastation that followed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center a year ago included severe disruptions of telephone network systems that choked wireless and landline calls among individuals, companies and first responders.

Now, Ascendent Telecommunications Inc. has developed a system that mirrors an organization's telephone network system, enabling seamless communications in case of outages and disruptions, even if part of the system is destroyed.

The company's new Continuity of Government solution — called AscendentCOG — is a derivative of its core technology and allows individuals to perform desktop telephone functions from wireless remote devices, whether cellular, satellite, or voice over IP, said Stephen Forte, co-founder and chief executive officer of the 9-year-old Los Angeles-based company.

"The idea is people would need to communicate using the same methods they're used to...and allow them to continue their operations and address the recovery crisis," he said.

The way it works, he said, is that an AscendentCOG server is integrated into an agency's private branch exchange (PBX) or Centrex switch. When a call is received, the COG server acts like a redundant system to the PBX network. If something happens to the PBX, the COG will take over so that people can still make and receive calls to their office phones by using wireless remote devices.

But the technology also goes a step further.

Forte said if the core facility was completely destroyed, a recovery server, located in a remote facility, would be updated in real time with replica of the dial plan from the COG up to the point of outage. Calls coming from the public switched telephone network would automatically be re-routed to the recovery server, which routes the calls to satellites and the Internet.

The new system also has a roll call feature enabling one person to send interactive notifications via voice, e-mail or short messaging service to an entire company if need be, said Forte, eliminating the phone tree system of people calling people. Those receiving the message can then enter some type of response.

"If we send out 5,000 notifications and we get 4,500 replies, we now know there are 500 people to account for still," he said. "This happens in minutes rather than hours."

The system is also extending the Defense Department's Multi Level Precedence and Preemption classification to wireless devices. For example, during a crisis, a senior military official, who is getting a busy phone signal, can enter a code signaling one of the parties to terminate the conversation or simply break into the call.

But he said the new system shouldn't be considered an "insurance policy. We can perform a massive service to any enterprise in the form of continuity, but have a product that can add to the day-to-day return on investment," he said.

The new technology has been so well received, Forte said, that its patent is being accelerated through executive order. The company has installed the system in several commercial enterprises but also in the U.S. Agency for International Development and at a couple of Marine Corps and Army installations.

Pricing depends on a government's size, and the new systems start at $20,000 to $30,000, he said.

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