DSN all VOIP in 2006

That's the view of Marlin Forbes, vice president of defense and international markets at MCI, which handles voice traffic for the Defense Information Systems Agency on the Defense Switched Network.

Forbes said that's the inevitable result of a deal announced last month under which Nortel Networks will upgrade six Air Force switches to voice-over-IP configurations to handle all voice traffic via the Global Information Grid-Bandwidth Expansion.

Forbes added that MCI will continue to handle Defense Department voice traffic on the FTS 2001 network until that contract expires in 2008.

Forbes did not appear too upset by DISA's switch to voice-over-IP technology, and that might be because MCI only takes in about a penny a minute on DISA's voice traffic, according to one industry source.

Even when multiplied by millions of DOD minutes, that rate comes nowhere near the hourly rates of the platoons of MCI lawyers working on marriage proposals from Qwest Communications International and Verizon.

Convoluted contracting

The DISA deal followed a roundabout path, based on information we received from a DISA image therapist.

To upgrade the Nortel switches, DISA officials worked with the Air Force Logistics Center, which developed a delivery order under General Dynamics' Worldwide Integrated Digital Telecommunications Services Systems contract.

General Dynamics then negotiated with Nortel and other subcontractors to meet DISA's requirements, which included an IP-based switch that can support DOD precedence and priority requirements.

This opaque contracting process has at least one Nortel competitor a bit steamed, and we wonder if this could result in a protest.

Autovon flashback

DISA's move to voice over IP will signal the end of an era for some nifty DOD switched voice communications that started with the Automatic Voice Network system, which was based on No. 5 crossbar switches and went live Dec. 29, 1961.

Autovon touch-tone keypads featured an extra set of four red keys on the phone's right side. High-level users could ensure that their calls received priority by pushing buttons labeled "FO" for Flash Override, "F" for Flash, "I" for Immediate and "P" for priority.

One can only hope the new voice-over-IP handsets will have the same buttons to give users a sense of power, especially when the "FO" button is pushed.

Beyond VOIP switches

Kevin Orr, who manages DOD sales for Cisco Systems' federal division, sees a lot of opportunities for voice-over-IP products now that DISA is embracing it as a standard. Orr said the company has already equipped DISA headquarters and the agency's Skyline building in Arlington, Va., with about 2,500 voice-over-IP handsets.

Last month, Orr said, DISA's Joint Interoperability Test Command sprinkled its holy water on the company's voice-over-IP gizmos, meaning Cisco can now sell devices such as its Catalyst line of switches, gateways and CallManager software for use on command and control voice-grade local-area networks, which, of course, has its own acronym, C2VGLAN.

The JTRS desert test

Tim Rider, the amiable public affairs officer for the Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J., tells us that early evaluation models of the Joint Tactical Radio System's Cluster 1 devices will be tested at the Army Electronic Proving Ground at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., from May 10 through May 28.

Rider said the results of those tests will then go to the JTRS Joint Program Office for review. He expects the Defense Acquisition Board to make a decision on the troubled $25 billion program by late summer.

Raytheon's JTRS solution

Tim Strobel, head research scientist for wireless networking products at Raytheon, said the company has the ideal solution for the wideband networking waveform, which the JTRS program just can't seem to master.

Strobel said Raytheon's MicroLight has a waveform compatible with the JTRS Software Communications Architecture, which is understandable because Raytheon developed the architecture. The company's system is capable of data rates of up to 1 megabit/sec at a range of just over 3 miles.

MicroLight can probably operate over a range of between 15 to 18 miles at the same data rate with 30-foot masts at each end of the link, Strobel added.

Raytheon officials proposed MicroLight as part of a bid by the losing team on the JTRS Cluster 5 contract. Maybe the winner of that contract, General Dynamics, should enlist Raytheon's expertise.

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