FTS data transfer is growing

FTS 2000 networks, which started a decade ago supplying mainly long-distance voice
service, are expanding to handle booming data transmission demands.


"Data traffic [growth] is going to continue to be exponential," said Dennis
J. Fischer, commissioner of the Federal Technology Service, at the FTS 2000 Users Forum in
Atlanta last month.


Fischer said he sees the shift as a way for federal users to leverage volume and drive
down their data transmission costs. Sprint Corp., the FTS 2000 Network B contractor, views
it as an opportunity to become a full-service provider for its federal users.


"More and more, we are penetrating into the customers' premises," said Ophir
Gamliel, a system design engineer in Sprint's government division. "We don't view
ourselves as a carrier."


Sprint vice president Jim Payne said data made up only 5 percent of Network B's traffic
when FTS 2000 began. Today, it accounts for 65 percent.


"Data is growing at a far greater rate than voice," Payne said. "Our
salespeople are not selling voice, and they haven't for a long time."


Less enthusiastic than Sprint about the opportunities in data traffic, Network A
contractor AT&T Corp. also sees growth. Network A carries about 80 percent of FTS 2000
traffic.


"We clearly see a trend over the last four years toward data traffic of all
kinds," said John Doherty, AT&T vice president for government markets. "We
expect that to continue."


Payne said frame relay over asynchronous transfer mode is the architecture of choice
for moving data under FTS 2000.


Sprint modified its contract with the General Services Administration in 1995 to offer
frame relay.


One early adopter was the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which brought frame relay up
in December 1995 to link 16 field offices that had been using dial-up connections for data
transfers.


That was "not a good way to do business," said Kenneth R. Oliver,
telecommunications manager for the pension agency. "We saw we needed a wide area
network."


Frame relay's variable packet length makes it protocol-independent and inexpensive for
switching. For Oliver, it was far more economical than leased lines.


"The difference in cost from private lines was like day and night," Oliver
said. "We were the first agency up on frame relay with Sprint."


The pension agency also was the first to run video across Sprint's frame relay network.
The variable packet lengths do not lend themselves well to voice and video transmission,
but the agency has been doing some videoconferencing nevertheless.


During the last three years, the agency went from a mainframe system to a client-server
platform running Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 95.


Frame relay also fueled changes in the way business gets done.


Voice and data are not integrated onto a single network, but moving the data over to
frame relay has made better use of voice and data resources.


"We're in the process of going paperless" by scanning paper records for
online access, Oliver said. "Once we went to the WAN, it gave us total control of
everyone's desktop. So we control what the standard applications are."


That has allowed the agency to consolidate customer service centers.


"We had 20-some toll-free numbers," Oliver said. "We wanted to go to a
single one."


All calls now arrive at a single call center where agents have online access to records
from any of the 16 field offices. "The agent can update the files regardless of where
a [pension] plan is administered," Oliver said.


Using 800 Re-direct, a Sprint service the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. piloted two
years ago, calls can be routed to a local office when necessary.


Desktop PC uniformity lets workers at the local office see the same information as the
call center agent.


"We built our customer service center on that capability," Oliver said.
"Frame relay has been very cost-effective and reliable."


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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