WITS change adds IP; needs at Census met

WITS change adds IP; needs at Census met

The General Services Administration has added IP telephony products to the Washington Interagency Telecommunications System 2001 contract, and the Census Bureau is the first big customer.

A June WITS modification, listing IP Phones and Media Convergence Servers from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., will let telephone traffic ride over IP data networks. The WITS 2001 contractor is Verizon Communications Inc.

'It's being driven by agency requirements,' GSA spokeswoman Eleni Martin said. The most demand has come from Census, which is installing more than 5,500 IP phones at its Suitland, Md., headquarters and other nearby offices.

Slow to get VOIP

The government has lagged behind the commercial sector in adopting voice over IP, said James Canard, business development systems engineer for Cisco.

'It's a new technology,' Canard said. 'But within the last year, I would say it is starting to stabilize.'

An IP phone plugs into a LAN rather than into a voice network. A server replaces the private branch exchange, directing traffic over a data network or through a gateway to the public switched telephone network.

Voice over IP can reduce toll charges over a WAN to remote offices and eliminate the maintenance of separate voice and data networks. But the IP network must have high availability and high capacity to deliver reliable voice service, and upgrading an existing network often is too expensive to make voice over IP attractive.

For that reason, federal users have been buying IP phones and servers primarily for testing.

Census saw a way to replace its aging telephone system while leveraging the cost of a new data network. Besides voice traffic, the Census network also supports videoconferencing and distance learning.

The bureau for several years has wanted to replace a 30-year-old key phone system, Census engineer Cathy Decker said.

'People have been living in the dark ages,' Decker said.

A budget request to upgrade to a Centrex PBX was denied in 1998 because it was too close to the 2000 Census. When the decennial work wrapped, the bureau began planning upgrades that included a new Gigabit Ethernet LAN at Suitland.

The bureau will recover its investment in voice over IP in about two years, by saving $14 per month on each phone as well as reducing the average $200 cost of adding or moving a conventional phone.

Census bought 5,500 of the IP Phone 7960 units and expects to buy another 1,750 with multiline capacity.

They are going in first at Suitland, Decker said, plus a few other offices, including the Census computer center in nearby Bowie, Md. Plans call for eventually extending the service to regional offices.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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