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The videophones, which cost
about $400 each, use analog voice signals on traditional lines.

Being separated from the family—it’s a soldier’s age-old lament. But the
Air Force has found a way to unite soldiers and their families using full-color video

The service is using videophones at 22 air bases in Europe, including
Bosnia-Herzegovina, to let service members see and speak with their families around the
globe using standard telephone lines and television sets.

The Air Force is touting the inexpensive, easy-to-install desktop video system by 8x8
Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., as part of a quality-of-life initiative.

The Air Force Communications Agency at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and U.S. Air
Forces-Europe headquarters in Ramstein, Germany, spent about six months creating the

AFCA last November developed a concept of operations for videophones that laid out the
technical requirements, which USAFE adopted quickly.

“We decided it was a good idea because we have a lot of deployed people who are
separated from their families for as many as 120 training days per year,” said Capt.
Dan Birrenkott, branch chief for Airborne and Satellite Communications Systems at Ramstein
air base.

AFCA spearheaded the servicewide videophone effort. The agency has been buying and
distributing 8x8’s ViaTV VC105 videophone system to Air Force installations that have
a large number of personnel separated from their families.

“If you’re away from your family, you get the opportunity to make what we
call morale calls,” Birrenkott said. “Each local commander decides how often
personnel can make a phone call and for how many minutes. Of course, we’re using the
military telephone system so it can’t interfere with the mission.”

use 8x8’s ViaTV Videophone over the Defense Switched Network to exchange live
video images with their families at home bases in the United States and elsewhere.

The videophones, which cost about $400 each, use analog voice signals on conventional
telephone service lines, instead of the digital lines required by videoconferencing

“It uses the same amount of resources off the military telephone system as a
voice-only call,” Birrenkott said. “But this adds the video dimension to

The complete audio plus video signal is encoded and sent across the analog telephone
circuit at 33.6 Kbps through the built-in modem.

In addition to the videophone, the Air Force’s technical requirements for the
system include analog Touch-Tone service and telephone and a connection to a National
Television Systems Committee-standard television.

“What we recommend is a 27-inch minimum TV,” Birrenkott said. “Although
it would work with a smaller TV, you get better resolution and usability with a larger

The Air Force has installed the same package at both ends of the transmission to
maximize the system’s performance. But the ViaTV Videophone can work with any system
compatible with the H.324 standard for data and video transmissions.

An entire unit of soldiers used the Ramstein videophone hookup at Easter to talk to and
see their families, who were at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Birrenkott said.

Family members on this side of the Atlantic and soldiers overseas make reservations
with a base to use the equipment. Bases usually keep the videophone system in Family
Support Centers or communications units. Birrenkott said that installing the videophone is
as simple as connecting a VCR to a television.

Installation takes about 30 minutes, according to the USAFE concept of operations. The
CONOPS document suggests that the system be used in a room with adequate light. The face
of the caller should be highlighted and the background a solid color for good image

The television, with a small color camera above it, should be about 5 feet to 12 feet
from the user. The television can display the video images of both callers. Users speak
into a telephone handset, but speakerphones or headsets can also be used.

“One of the things we looked at was whether we could incorporate videophones into
our deployable units when they go out on a short deployment or an exercise,”
Birrenkott said. “But we determined we couldn’t do that because of the quality
of the telephone lines on deployment over tactical networks.”


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