Navy sails with VOIP

The Navy plans a revolutionary upgrade of shipboard communications systems to handle voice-over-IP (VOIP) phone calls and converged voice, video and data traffic.

The IP convergence project will provide a significant increase in shipboard throughput, which will enhance warfighting capabilities for afloat forces, said Robert Wolborsky, program manager for network information assurance and enterprise services at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar).

Those ships rely on satellite communications and have data rates over a single satellite circuit that top out at 1.5 megabits/sec.

Spawar expects to complete the VOIP phase of the project by 2006. It will start work on a program to dynamically manage shipboard bandwidth next year.

Spawar plans to provide shipboard VOIP capability through an evolutionary upgrade of the existing Automated Digital Network System (ADNS) developed by Science Applications International Corp., which uses data routers from Cisco Systems.

The ADNS upgrade, known as Increment II, will occur on about 110 surface ships and will free up bandwidth by reducing the number of satellite circuits to and from the ships allocated to handle voice calls, Wolborsky said.

Currently, ships allocate a certain amount of bandwidth to voice time-division multiplexed circuits, whether or not a voice call is being made, which he called a waste of bandwidth.

The enhanced ADNS system will also include software to ensure the quality of voice service, with voice packets taking precedence over data packets so calls are not broken up, he said.

Delores Washburn, network domain chief engineer for the Navy's ForceNet project managed by Spawar, said that later in the year Spawar wants to start fielding ADNS Increment IIA, which will provide the capability to dynamically manage and allocate bandwidth.

The IIA upgrade will add management of video along with voice and data, for a converged network, Washburn said.

Besides helping to better manage ships' limited network resources, Wolborsky said the shift to IP will help eliminate separate shipboard switches and wiring to handle voice calls distinct from data networks, for savings in weight and space.

Craig Mathias, an analyst with the Farpoint Group, said VOIP is such an established technology that it "makes sense [to use it] just about anywhere." He said the Navy will gain efficiency by using one IP network for all traffic.

The VOIP revolution

Although voice-over-IP (VOIP) technology may be revolutionary on Navy ships, it has been gaining acceptance throughout much of the Defense Department and in some civilian agencies. In March, the Defense Information Systems Agency said it planned to convert all its long-haul voice traffic to VOIP using six upgraded Nortel Networks switches to manage trunking and handle IP traffic.

Meanwhile, more than a quarter of the Education Department's workforce uses VOIP phones in its Washington, D.C., headquarters and branches nationwide. The Interior Department hooked up its headquarters to a VOIP system in May.

The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard helped pioneer VOIP in the Navy, installing its system in September 2000, well ahead of other federal facilities, which were still trying to understand the acronym and technology.

— Bob Brewin


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