FTS 2001 players go for DSL

FTS 2001 players go for DSL

Help is close at hand for agencies looking to simplify voice, data services

By William Jackson
GCN Staff

Agency telecommunications managers are eager to simplify voice and data networks that now depend on multiple local exchange carriers.

'I want to get rid of these LECs,' said Maj. Jim W. Lewis, logistics officer for the Marine Corps recruiting service in the Southeast.

Lewis manages 1,000 telephone lines from 100 LECs in his region.

The monthly bill for local service runs to $48,000, he said, and telecommunications is the recruiting service's single largest expense.

Lewis attended last month's FTS 2001 user conference in Kansas City, Mo., which was sponsored by the Federal Technology Service and contractors Sprint Corp. and MCI WorldCom Inc. He listened to their pitch for integrated networks that promise a single point of contact and a single bill for local and long-haul voice and data services.

'For recruiting demands scattered around like we are, this is ideal,' Lewis said. 'We're not on a single base.'

But Marine recruiters and other government customers will have to wait before they can get the full benefit from Sprint's Integrated On-demand Network (ION) or MCI WorldCom's On-Net global services.

Neither company can offer local phone service under FTS 2001 before next year. Although ION is a cornerstone of Sprint's FTS 2001 offerings, it has only limited availability and is not yet part of the government contract.

Wait for it

Both vendors already have backbones in place to handle large volumes of traffic. But they are racing to finish the last-mile infrastructure that will bring the services to customers.

MCI WorldCom has a presence in 89 metropolitan areas that are home to about 70 percent of U.S. businesses. Sprint has broadband metropolitan area networks, or BMANs, in 37 cities and expects to serve 78 by early next year.

But neither ION nor On-Net will ever be completely independent of the local copper loops controlled by incumbent LECs.

'We're never going to have a local connection to every place every customer is going to be,' said Paul Adams, media relations manager for MCI WorldCom.

Both companies will rely heavily on digital subscriber line technology, which makes broadband connections over existing twisted-pair telephone wiring.

Sprint took an early lead in the integrated- networks market when it announced ION last summer ahead of MCI WorldCom's On-Net. But ION requires deployment of customer premises hardware called an integrated-services hub. So far only seven commercial customers, all on BMANs, are using the service.

Sprint plans to introduce ION this summer to large companies in about 50 cities not linked by BMANs, and ION should be available to small offices in the fall or winter. In the early phases, ION will resell local dial tone from LECs. The service will not have its own local dial tone until early next year, when it will roll out to residential customers.

End-to-end traffic

Although On-Net was announced later than ION, it is an off-the-shelf product that already has 22,000 users and is competing with regional Bell operating companies around the country. On-Net makes voice and data connections through points of presence integrated with the network itself, rather than requiring customer premises connections. Its biggest advantage is that traffic goes end to end over a managed MCI WorldCom network.

'We're solely responsible for the traffic,' said Brian Brewer, MCI WorldCom's senior vice president for product management. 'There is no middleman.'

Even when the company uses unbundled access from a local carrier, the connection is in effect part of On-Net. 'It doesn't hit their switches; it doesn't hit their billing system,' he said. 'The responsibility is ours.'

When ION is fully available, Sprint's integrated-services hub will have native interfaces for most common data, voice and video services, integrated into a single asynchronous transfer mode data stream over Sprint's Synchronous Optical Network. The hubs will be managed as part of the Sprint network.

MCI WorldCom touts the ubiquity of On-Net, which has 45,000 miles of fiber-optic cabling in the United States and in 52 cities in 32 other countries. MCI WorldCom either owns or controls most of its transoceanic network links.

Sprint shares its transoceanic links with an average of 12 other users per cable, but nearly all its network traffic in the United States travels over Sonet rings. The ring configuration reroutes traffic without losing the connections if a cable is cut.

The advantage of self-healing rings became apparent during a recent break in MCI WorldCom's fiber cabling in the Washington area, where some customers were without service for up to eight hours.

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