SBC to Build Voice-and-Data Network for Ford

In another testing ground for large-scale voice over IP, SBC Communications will work with Cisco to create a converged network with 50,000 IP phones at Ford's southeast Michigan facilities.

SBC Communications announced Sept. 21 that it has won a contract to build a converged voice-and-data network for Ford Motor Co. The planned three-year deployment, which represents the largest VOIP deal yet for the RBOC (regional Bell operating company), includes design, resale, installation and ongoing, on-site management of Cisco IP phones and clustered Cisco Call Manager 4.0 telephony servers.

About 50,000 IP phones are to go into the project at 110 Ford facilities in southeast Michigan, including Dearborn headquarters.

SBC Communications Inc. has provided off-site, Centrex switching for Ford since 1996, and an SBC Ethernet GigaMAN network links up Ford facilities around Detroit. Brian Buffington, SBCs director of managed services, would not give out many deployment particulars but allowed that some portion of those Centrex lines may remain active after the deployment is completed.

Rick Moran, vice president of marketing for IP communications at Cisco Systems Inc., confirmed that the Cisco Call Manager platforms would run as IBM servers on Windows OS, and that phones would initially use Ciscos "Skinny" variant of the SIP call control protocol, although "network interfaces will move toward SIP."

Local and long-distance service, to be provided by SBC, will be gatewayed off the Ford network and will run over SBCs PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) lines. A Cisco Unity server, for voice mail, is also part of the package.

SBC and Cisco are taking a cautious approach to what will be–together with its recent contract win at Boeing—a closely watched, large-scale deployment of packet-based telephony.

SBC announced in its release that network consulting subsidiary Callisma Inc. will work with Ford throughout the project to guide the integration of telephony onto Fords data infrastructure. All communication network elements will be pretested to work with Fords existing communications infrastructure in SBC staging centers in Memphis, Tenn.

Ford expects to save money over the cost of two separately managed voice and data networks, in the ease of configuring relocated phones and in operational efficiencies gained by tying in remote workers and teleworkers. The manufacturer will be testing Cisco wireless LANs as well, according to Moran, and Cisco Wi-Fi phones are under discussion.

Moran described a range of possible applications for Fords converged network as the deployment takes shape over time. "From a manufacturing perspective, how do they take on things like computer-aided design, to make dispersed groups work as one?

"How are they going to use videoconferencing, even if its just to save driving around Detroit to get to meetings, or getting around weather challenges if they cant get to their prime location? How might they use video from design site to design site? This is the start of looking at using this converged network to do more than just move voice."

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SBC, like its fellow surviving Baby Bells, has launched a range of VOIP services in response to similar offers from startups and from traditional long-distance players, including AT&T. In addition to professional design and installation services, it offers businesses a hosted IP switching service, based on its own VOIP switches and the Level 3 network of IP-PSTN-gateways.

Technology Editor Ellen Muraskin can be reached at

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