FTS users left hanging as AT&T scraps X.25




Come June, AT&T Corp.’s FTS 2000 Network A users will no longer be able to buy
X.25 service.


AT&T’s imminent withdrawal from the X.25 market, coming at the height of year
2000 preparations, will force agencies on Network A to migrate to frame relay service from
AT&T or to find other network providers that offer X.25 service.


John Harrison, director of the General Services Administration’s FTS 2000 Systems
Oversight Center, said GSA has discussed the problem with AT&T and fellow FTS 2000
contractor Sprint Corp., and “both vendors have put good offers on the table.”


AT&T will give incentives for all its customers to move to frame relay, he said,
and Sprint will give incentives for buying its X.25 service.


Meanwhile, agencies also are in the midst of planning transitions of their
telecommunications and networking services from the FTS 2000 contracts that expired this
month. In the new bridge contracts GSA set with the FTS 2000 contractors, Sprint will
offer X.25 service, said Dennis J. Fischer, GSA’s Federal Technology Service
commissioner.


AT&T’s withdrawal from the X.25 market is not “a surprise to us, but
maybe the timing is a little inappropriate,” said Lt. Cmdr. Dave Newton, chief of the
Communications Services Branch of the Coast Guard’s Telecommunications and
Information Services Command. “I see this as the beginning of FTS 2000 transition
issues.”


The Coast Guard, one of the government’s largest X.25 users, has been pondering
new services as well as a new provider, Newton said.


“Depending on the timing, we may be able to take advantage of the FTS 2001
award,” he said. But FTS 2001 services are too far off to count on, he added, so
“we’re not putting any eggs in that basket.”


Jan Baskin, public relations director for AT&T, said that suspending service was a
corporate decision.


“We’ve never been a dominant provider of X.25,” she said, and the
service accounts for only a minimal percentage of AT&T’s federal business. X.25
users have been offered other services such as frame relay, she said. Sprint met with the
same customers in November and is ready to take up the slack created by AT&T’s
decision, a Sprint official said.


“The fact that AT&T is withdrawing doesn’t mean the market is going
away,” said Jim Payne, an assistant vice president at Sprint, but “it’s
always complex when you transfer a live service from one vendor to another.”


Baskin said the decision to drop X.25 was a business decision, not a year 2000 issue.
GSA’s Harrison said year 2000 played a part, however.


“One of the reasons was that the existing network is not Y2K-compatible, and it
wasn’t feasible to make it compatible,” he said.


X.25 service is required under FTS 2001, and if AT&T wins the contract late this
month, it will have to find an X.25 subcontractor.


“I can understand [AT&T’s] predicament,” Harrison said. “They
can’t come in and say they will move everybody over because they don’t know
whether they will win.”


X.25, the baseline standard for 56-Kbps packet switching over public networks, evolved
in the mid-1970s as an alternative to leased line connections.


Its robust error detection and retransmission capability were designed for the noisy
analog lines of that era.


Subsequent protocols such as frame relay raised transmission speed by taking advantage
of the quieter digital infrastructure and streamlining the error detection and
retransmission features.


“There are a lot of users” on Network A’s X.25 network, Harrison said.
“It’s nowhere near what the voice traffic is, but it is important.”


Newton said the Coast Guard is converting an internal administrative X.25 network to
IP, but many of the remote sites now served by AT&T’s X.25 service will probably
stay with X.25.  

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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