The blue and yellow wiring, cables and cords that wind the walls and ceiling of a room at Ellsworth Air Force Base represent the integration of old technology running on fiber optic cables with a telecommunications system Completely upgraded IP, strengthening an essential function of the base: communication.
Each blue and yellow cord grouped along the wall represented a single phone on base, said Rick Davis, a telecommunications specialist with the 28th Communications Squadron. They also represented an old way of doing things, using underground copper cables throughout the base. Empty blocks on the same wall represented a new path: Internet Protocol, or IP, technology.
The base’s telecommunications system hadn’t been updated since 2008. Davis said the life cycle of such systems should be seven to ten years, at most. Like an old car, the availability of parts for the system became increasingly difficult to obtain, and reliability became increasingly fragile.
People also read…
The old system used what is called TDM technology, or time domain multiplexing technology, and relied entirely on fiber optic and copper cables. The new technology that is sweeping through the base phone system uses the Internet.
“It just overlaps the computer network, so to speak,” Davis said.
The initial trigger for the system overhaul was a mandate from the Department of Defense. They had to get rid of old technology and switching systems. The base first considered upgrading its system in 2014 – a process Davis described as long and tedious.
Preparation, contracts and paperwork finally brought them to November 2021, when the project officially began. The project took place over eight months and three phases, one starting last November, two starting in March, and the final phase in July, when the project completed its final transition.
“You don’t want to affect the mission,” Davis said of the deployment. They worked after hours, often on Friday evenings, which allowed them to work on weekends in case something went wrong. Davis said that of all the projects he’s worked on, he’s never had one as good as this one.
They also created a brand new audio conference bridge, as part of an upgraded voicemail server – both of which had already been installed in 2008 as well.
Day-to-day operations throughout the eight-month implementation included rerouting cables from larger refrigerator-type cabinets to smaller ones, cable labeling, and various port configurations.
While IP technology is the star of the new system, another notable aspect of the redesign was the integration of old technology with new.
“That was really cool,” said First Lt. Benjamin Martin, Captain, Plans and Resources.
He explained how the phones worked – a cable physically running from a central core, through the ground, to any building on the base – and that was the only line from that phone to the central core .
The new system still uses the old cables, but plugs into a modern network switch and then runs over fiber optic cable.
“So instead of having one line to one phone, you could have 30 lines to one,” Martin said. “A copper cable that goes into a network switch, and it transmits all of this information through a fiber optic cable to the building where it’s located.”
The new system incorporates the old technology without having to use the single point of failure on individual lines.
“It’s all networked,” Martin said.
The new system also provides significant cost savings as future projects do not require fiber optic cables to new facilities. Everything will be connected to the network.
From a maintenance perspective, base network professionals are no longer limited to troubleshooting a single line on a single phone — they can log into the network switch and troubleshoot multiple issues at once.
New technology also brings learning curves.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan McCary described himself as a “server guy, not a phone guy”. Yet he was responsible for setting up the server that contained all the phones and was to contain configuration files and specific settings from the Department of Defense.
“I kind of had to figure out how to do it on the fly,” he said.
McCary found a solution during two weeks of high stress. Now, when the phones are plugged in, they get an IP address and contact McCary’s server, picking up whatever files they need.
Although the system works with existing base phones, they are slowly replacing them with the latest and greatest. About a quarter of the base have new phones, with plans to replace the rest as funds become available.
With their new system, Ellsworth is leading the way as the first Global Strike Command base to upgrade.
“It’s really good to be a frontrunner for Command bases,” Martin said.
He described communication as “absolutely vital” to their mission.
“So many critical aspects of the base depend on telephone communications, such as tower operations that launch planes safely,” he said.
Phones are the primary means of communication for people on base, Martin said, “so that definitely protected us better from a security posture.”
Through all the hurdles and headaches, as the first base to get up to speed, McCary said they hope to share the lessons learned with other bases as they begin to get up to speed. level.
They also prepare for the future.
“We’re going to have a lot more people who need phones,” McCary said. “We’re going to need newer technology, newer servers, and new stuff that can keep up with the recent additions coming.”
The system could support a small town, Davis said. The plus: its reliability.
“We’ve really positioned the foundation for this future growth with a reliable system,” Davis said.
–Contact Laura Heckmann at [email protected]–