Sprint Goes for Government Gold
Sprint says the network, which it claims is the only one of its kind, will be lit and ready for government use by the end of June.
The new intranet will use the same architecture as Sprint’s SprintLink network, but will have no links to the Internet and no handoffs to other carriers, says Sprint spokesman Steve Lunceford. The carrier will provide dedicated routers for the intranet traffic and local loops at agency headquarters and field offices to ensure that the traffic is completely isolated from the Internet, he says.
After it has been turned on, the network will have the same number of points of presence as the overall SprintLink OC192 backbone -- approximately 350 -- and will include 15 nodes.
“I think it was timely,” says Berge Ayvazian, a senior research fellow with Yankee Group. “We’ve seen a number of agencies interested in migrating to closed IP networks with no [gateways] to the Internet… The other carriers that offer virtual private networks over IP tend to leave backdoors open to the Internet in areas that make the government agencies uncomfortable… By keeping it segregated from the Internet, [Sprint] is meeting government requirements.”
“This is very secure,” agrees Lisa Pierce, a research fellow with Giga Information Group Inc.. “Security issues will cause many types of government agencies to be favorably disposed to this type of network.”
But while Pierce doesn’t question Sprint’s security claims, she does doubt whether the carrier is the only company offering this kind of secure, "government-grade" network: "The problem with most secure government networks is that there is no available information about them. I think that there are other agency-specific networks out there that, due to their nature, can’t be discussed.”
The fact that Sprint has been able to come out and announce the upcoming launch of this government-targeted service could mean that the company isn’t aiming for the most secretive agencies, she says.
Other observers insist that there is a big difference between customized offerings and the standardized offering Sprint announced today. “This is the first offering that took a look at all the [government] bids, and realized that they all look alike,” says Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Networks Architects, a Washington, D.C., consultancy. He points out that the major differentiator is often the cost to the customer. “Any time you go from customized to standard, it’s cheaper.”
Whether or not Sprint’s new network is truly innovative, the carrier claims it has found a way to offer the new service with barely any impact to its bottom line. It claims to be using redeployed Cisco routers and existing fiber for the intranet traffic. Sprint says it doesn’t expect to make much in the way of capital investments at all. “It’s Sprint’s fiber network. We’re just slicing off a wavelength [for this],” Lunceford says. “The main cost will be in extra man-hours… I think we’ll be able to do this at very, very little cost.”
“I don’t think it will be expensive at all,” Dzubeck agrees. “We’re looking at wavelengths. We’re not looking at boxes.”
Not all industry observers buy Sprint’s low-cost story, however. “Until one gets a number of users on it, it’s an expensive network,” Pierce says. She also questions Sprint’s claims that the new network will yield the same level of performance as the SprintLink network offers. “Performance is theoretical until you get traffic on the network."
Sprint isn’t worried that it will end up running an empty network, though. The carrier wouldn’t name any names, but it says several government agencies have voiced interest in signing up as soon as the network is switched on.
That is probably true, says Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. , pointing out Sprint is already well positioned in the federal domain. While the new network will allow the company to win new government contracts, it will also make it easier for it to sell upgrades to its existing government customers, he says. “This serves double duty.”
— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading