NMCI to take on enterprise wireless

Navy officials plan to add enterprise-based cellular data and voice services to the Navy Marine Corps Intranet within weeks, said Navy Capt. Chris Christopher, deputy director of future operations for NMCI.

Service officials want to add cellular service to the intranet as part of a plan to make NMCI the single enterprise network used by all Navy services, Christopher said. Earlier this month, he said that officials have started to work on using voice over IP to make voice calls via NMCI, a move he called inevitable.

Officials are still debating whether EDS, the NMCI contract holder, or the Naval Supply Command's Fleet and Industrial Supply Center, San Diego, will manage the cellular service, said Rolf Holman, EDS' vice president for portfolio management solutions.

The company already provides some cellular service to Navy and Marine users through NMCI, but not on an enterprise basis, which would enable officials to take advantage of economies of scale and cost-saving strategies, such as the pooling of users' minutes, Holman said.

Cellular phone companies make money when users pay overage or underage charges for either exceeding or not using all their allotted monthly minutes, Holman said. Techniques such as departmentwide pooling would help eliminate the waste of airtime and extra charges, he added.

Bill Marsh, chief technology officer and co-founder of Traq-wireless Inc., a company that helps large companies manage employees' use of work-assigned cell phones, said the Navy could save a significant amount of money by managing use on an enterprise basis.

Marsh said Traq-wireless has helped companies such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. and FedEx Corp. save 30 percent to 50 percent on cellular phone costs by managing use as part of an enterprise network. He said Traq-wireless has a partnership agreement with EDS, but neither he nor EDS officials would say if Traq-wireless was working on the NMCI deal.

EDS officials are in talks with executives at the major cellular carriers to provide service for NMCI, Holman said. He added that company officials plan to standardize on the types of phones provided to Navy users and to use secure Research in Motion Ltd. BlackBerry mobile e-mail terminals.

Holman said centralized management of cellular service would give Navy officials insight into the department's spending on mobile voice and data as well as a contract vehicle that will provide the department with the best deal it can get. Holman said he expected Navy Secretary Gordon England to approve the deal shortly.

Broadband planned

Navy officials understand the frustration that remote users of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet experience when accessing the service via a slow, dial-up connection. They intend to provide remote broadband access as soon as possible.

Rear Adm. James Godwin, NMCI director, said at a press briefing last week that remote-access service to NMCI "is one of the biggest areas we have to deal with. It's slow and it has to be worked on."

Godwin said that Navy officials have already determined that enough broadband access points and pipes are available nationwide to support the intranet. The catch to providing such a service is a user-friendly interface for such a service.

Officials already have tested one such interface, but Godwin said he found it not as user-friendly as it could be. He did not say when he expected the Navy to provide broadband service for remote NMCI users.

—Bob Brewin

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