DOD awaits new Sonet network from AT&T

Having won the $5 billion Defense Information Systems Network Transmission Services
contract, AT&T Corp. now must build a nationwide Synchronous Optical Network backbone
to handle Defense's communications flow.


The Defense Information Systems Agency awarded the nine-year DISN contract to AT&T
last month. The contract will help AT&T upgrade its fiber pipeline, which will serve
non-Defense customers as well, AT&T government markets president Dick Lombardi said.


The Defense Department project will require some new construction, Lombardi said,
though nothing extensive. He estimated it would take two to three years to complete a
nationwide upgrade to Sonet transmission rates.


Lt. Gen. Albert J. Edmonds, the departing DISA director, isn't worried that the work
will delay DISN deployment. "The team that did the evaluation is satisfied that
[AT&T] can and will meet all the requirements," Edmonds said.


Now AT&T must work closely with MCI Communications Corp., which in August snared
the Switched/Bandwidth Management Services portion of DISN.


MCI will provide transmission bandwidth manager nodes at sites within the continental
United States that will form the long-haul backbone of the DISN transport layer. The nodal
points will amass information from service regions for transmission over the backbone.


MCI will employ 12 DMS 100 switches from Northern Telecom Inc. for the voice component
of the network as well as 35 Titan 5500 bandwidth managers from Tellabs Operations Inc. of
Lisle, Ill., for the backbone.


MCI's network management software will be Net Expert from Objective Systems Integrators
of Folsom, Calif. The software includes specific management tools for each network
element.


For its part, AT&T initially will provide 73 T3 access circuits and more than 3,800
T1 circuits. The Sonet backbone will consist of 73 links connecting the 35 bandwidth
management nodes. Initially, 87 trunks will run at the 155-megabit/sec Optical Carrier-3
rate. The backbone must eventually support the OC-48 transmission rate of 2.4
gigabits/sec.


DISA last June awarded the first DISN contract, for support services, to Boeing
Computer Services Co. of Seattle. The agency expects to award a videoconferencing
contract, the last of the four initial DISN contract components, this month.


Edmonds called the transmission contract, awarded Jan. 28, a critical piece of the DISN
plan to consolidate more than 100 DOD networks. DOD estimated the savings will run as high
as 55 percent of the $300 million a year it now spends on communications.


The outgoing DISA chief said the strategy of breaking up DISN work among four prime
contractors guarantees DOD access to a pool of expertise and offers the department
flexibility in pricing and upgrades.


Edmonds said the three transmission services bidders, which included Sprint Corp. along
with AT&T and MCI, survived a pass-fail technical evaluation. So in the end, DISA
awarded the contract solely on the basis of the best-and-final offers.


DISA had left open the option of awarding nine separate contracts, one for each DISN
region. "But the fact is that AT&T had the lowest bid in all the regions,"
he said.


The specific transmission levels will depend on DOD needs over the next nine years, but
the contracts are structured to keep prices low, DISN program director Col. Marlin Forbes
said.


Vendors "either give us price and technology, or we move," Forbes said.
"We have it segmented to ensure that it will be easy to move."


MCI's contract has a three-year base period and six one-year options. The transmission
contract has one base year and eight one-year options, but AT&T's Lombardi said his
company is in the program for the long haul.


"We bid this looking at a long-term relationship," he said. AT&T expects
declining high-bandwidth technology costs over the contract's length to make DISN
increasingly more profitable for the company.


Lombardi said AT&T already is in the process of upgrading for Sonet, and the speed
of conversion depends on customer demand. He defended the company against critics who have
said other telecommunications companies are further along on similar upgrades.


"It will take a little longer than our competitors, because our network is
larger," he said.


MCI and AT&T officials spoke positively about their DISN working relationship.


DOD "would be the first to admit it got quite a bargain" through its strategy
of breaking up DISN, said Diana Gowen, MCI's director of DOD programs. Having competitors
work together is an established DOD practice, she said, adding, "I guess we'll have
to learn from that model."


Sprint officials said they had bid aggressively but probably will not protest DISA's
selection of AT&T.


"My take is that it's pretty hard to protest on a low price," said Bill
Brougham, director of Sprint's Defense program office.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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