Postal Pioneers

Postal Pioneers

Voice over IP cuts costs on a USPS network

BY WILLIAM JACKSON | GCN STAFF

The Postal Service inspector general's office is bundling voice and data traffic on a single network as it builds out regional offices.

'It's a lot easier and cheaper than to maintain two networks,' said Bob Duffy, the information technology operations manager. Five IG offices have AVVID, or architecture for voice, video and integrated data, networks from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif. Four other regional offices and the Arlington, Va., headquarters will get the equipment next.

The agency is ahead of the adoption curve, said Mark Yefko, Cisco's USPS accounts manager, because 'it's a pretty new organization, and they don't have tons of field support.'

Cuts other costs

Equipping the IP data network for voice traffic will add $10,000 to $20,000 to the bill, but it eliminates the cost of a separate telephone system as well as long-distance tolls between offices. New functions can be added later.


IP phones piggyback on the USPS inspector general's data network to eliminate long-distance costs for manager Bob Duffy.
'They'll pay for the equipment in the first 18 months, maybe less,' Yefko said.

When the 3-year-old IG office began evaluating its telecommunications needs, voice over IP standards were not too advanced, 'but they were starting to come along,' Duffy said.

Postal officials liked the flexibility and economy of voice over IP for a small, mobile staff that would be spread around 22 cities.

Voice over IP also came out ahead in a cost comparison with conventional long-distance circuits available through the FTS 2001 contract.

Extra functions

It was 'by a little bit'a few pennies,' Duffy said. There were greater savings on installation, maintenance and staff, plus extra functions.

The IG office in Atlanta piloted an AVVID network from February through August 2000 and bought the first system in September.

The data network runs under Microsoft Windows NT over T1 links supplied by WorldCom Inc. under its FTS 2001 contract. The smaller offices have Cisco 3600 series routers.

The Cisco Media Convergence Server 7835 with CallManager software provides voice service, and VG 200 gateway modules link to the public switched telephone network.

CallManager 3.0 can handle up to 2,500 IP telephones.

'It's a fun technology, simple to integrate,' Duffy said. The IG employees themselves install the voice system and move phones within an office by plugging the desksets into wall jacks.

The chosen deskset is the 7960 IP Phone for managers and executives, which has a large LCD screen for future-proofing purposes, Yefko said.

'OIG's not doing anything other than the standard phone applications yet,' he said. But the large screen can serve as a browser, and display call and directory information.

With ease

'Once you have voice over IP, it's much easier to do videoconferencing,' Duffy said.
Bandwidth is not an immediate concern.

'We're a new agency, so we don't have much data traffic,' he said. Voice calls consume 64 Kbps, and 'that's a lot.'

But compression techniques can reduce that to 8 Kbps, he said, 'so digital technology will take care of a lot of our needs.'

Reliability is another big concern with voice and data in one basket. Yefko discounted the issue for a properly designed architecture, however.

'Networks are being built with a goal of five nines,' or 99.999 percent availability, he said. That means less than five minutes of unscheduled downtime a year.

Voice over IP might be hard to justify to replace a private branch exchange, but the technology is mature enough for agencies with tight budgets, Duffy said.

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