Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Even the President Gets Hooked on Broadband

Once you have broadband, you never want to go back, which is presumably why the Air Force Air Mobility Command and the Defense Information Systems Agency are looking for commercial satellite communication firms to continue to provide high-speed Internet service on the fly to Air Force One and the other 17 planes that fly senior leaders around the world.

Boeing originally provided broadband to Air Force One via its commercial service that linked airlines to the Internet, but Boeing folded that business, called Connexion, last summer because of poor sales. However, Boeing continues to provide the broadband service to the Air Force VIP fleet, which transports the president, vice president and other pooh-bahs, including the secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, State and top military commanders.

While internal Air Force budget documents indicate the service is satisfied with Boeing, whose airborne broadband contract runs through fiscal 2008, the Air Force's request for proposals seeks alternative suppliers capable of providing broadband voice, video, data and video teleconferencing services to the VIP fleet, with 50 or more users connected at the same time.

Besides the Boeing 747s which serve as Air Force One, the VIP fleet also consists of 757s, 737s and Gulfstream executive jets, with the bulk of the aircraft based at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

DISA also intends to beef up VIP air fleet service through the specialized AT&T “Northstar” network, which provides T-1 circuits (1.54 megabytes per second) from a terrestrial network in the United States over UHF radios to Air Force One.

The Northstar network provides close-to-complete coverage for aircraft operating in the continental United States, according to a background paper from MITRE, but DISA wants to extend the network's reach and has awarded a sole-source contract to AT&T to provide on a 24-hour notice two teams of personnel and gear ready to install a temporary ground site wherever Air Force One or the command post aircraft travel.

While a T-1 circuit pales in comparison to the 5 megabytes-per-second service offered by Connexion, it’s good to know our leaders can still do some serious Web surfing and download a lot of PowerPoint slides (the digital glue of government) on the expanded Northstar network at 1.54 megabytes per second while zooming around at 35,000 feet.