Senate jumps into 21st century with voice over IP

Senate officials will apparently soon convert the entire Senate phone system to voiceover Internet protocol (VoIP), according to a request for information.

Comments are due Friday on a plan that was posted July 20.

The RFI states the Senate "wishes to consider merging its voice and data infrastructure and transitioning from a Time Division Multiplex (TDM) voice network managed solution to an Internet Protocol (IP) or IP-enabled solution."

Based on the document, it is unclear whether the updated system would include other data services beyond voice functionality.

Jim Dolezal, a lead consultant at Suss Consulting and former chief of telecommunications services at the Interior Department, said, 'There's nothing here about connections to the wireless network or what other kind of data services would be supported,' but he noted that the language of the RFI implies officials may expand the network's capabilities.

The RFI seeks "comments and recommendations for a single comprehensive Operations Support System for voice, wireless and data services,' the document states. 'Such a system must interface with the wireline voice system. . .'

According to the notice, the Telecommunications Modernization Project (TMP) would scale to a minimum of 12,000 lines, covering Capitol Hill, the out-of-state alternate computing facility and Senators' home offices.

Voice-over-IP technology generally enables people to use the Internet to transmit telephone calls. It sends voice information digitally in discrete packets rather than in the traditional circuit protocols of the public switched telephone network.

Officials from the Senate's Sergeant at Arms office stated in the RFI that they want commercial hardware and software, which has been in use for at least a year in a large customer environment.

'They are moving in the right direction. The capabilities are here. . . They really want to use existing technology and proven technology. It's a very safe approach,' Dolezal said.

Currently, the House of Representatives and most federal agencies rely on old-fashioned digital voice services, he added. 'This is a case where the Senate is really stepping forward to replace all their voice services with voiceover IP. Agencies have done it on a piecemeal basis. I think this RFI is indicative of where all agencies will be going,' he said.

The Education and Interior Departments have tested the waters but are not exclusively using the Internet for voice over IP currently.

Interior has plans to implement a hybrid voice-over-IP telephone system for its Washington, D.C., area offices.

More than a quarter of the Education Department's employees use Cisco Systems voice-over-IP phones. In a little over a year, 90 percent of Education's workforce will be on the voice-over-IP network, Education officials said.

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