Army marches toward VOIP

The Army plans to migrate all of its circuit-switched voice communications to packet-switched voice-over-IP technology, said Col. Scot Miller, head of the organization that builds and runs the Army's global telecommunications network.

The transition to VOIP, implementation of a unified communications architecture and the movement to centralize IT applications in area processing centers are the three primary initiatives that will dominate the agenda of the Army's networking group for the foreseeable future, Miller said.

The primary advantages of VOIP compared to the older technology it will replace are that it will let the Army carry voice and data traffic on a single converged network in addition to supporting a variety of new services that combine the Army's other business and military applications with voice calling and messaging, said Miller, who is project manager of Defense Communications and Army Switched Systems.

Although the Defense Department may not authorize the use of VOIP for the Army's crucial command-and-control traffic for another year or two, 'it's a guarantee that we're going to go to an all voice-over-IP construct,' Miller said during a presentation to the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council in Arlington, Va.

The Defense Information Systems Agency, as the lead agency responsible for the Pentagon's networks and IT systems, is evaluating VOIP to assess whether it meets the strict availability and operational standards that are necessary before it can be used to carry command-and-control voice calls for the military. DISA likely won't approve the use of end-to-end VOIP technology until 2009 or 2010, Miller added.

In the meantime, the Army is preparing for its migration to VOIP with a small pilot of the technology and has started, on a small scale, to install VOIP-enabled circuit switches at network hubs. As it introduces initial VOIP capabilities into the network, the Army will start to allow noncommand-and-control users to subscribe to VOIP services but will preserve circuit switching in significant portions of its voice infrastructure to support command-and-control calls, according to Miller.

In the second phase implementation, the Army will extend VOIP availability by installing VOIP equipment in local-area networks on Army installations and gradually supplant circuit-switched calling with VOIP. When it becomes technically feasible, command-and-control users will be allowed to subscribe to VOIP services, Miller said.

In the third and final implementation phase, the Army will install VOIP equipment in all of its networking hubs and outlying installations, eliminating the last of its circuit-switched gear and completing the transition of all users to VOIP, Miller said.

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