Ford enlists 50,000 VoIP phones

Ford Motor Co.’s decision to pay SBC Communications Inc. US$100 million to deploy and manage a network of 50,000 VoIP phones is being touted by the carmaker as a money saver as the carrier plays up its entry into the heavyweight division of VoIP vendors.

The Ford deal is believed to represent the second-largest such deployment in the U.S., behind only The Boeing Co. and its 60,000 VoIP phones. The contract is huge for SBC, which has many managed VoIP customers but none with more than about 10,000 phones, says Brian Buffington, executive director of managed services at SBC.

“It’s a big VoIP deployment in itself, but this is only a small part of Ford,” says Mark Winther, group vice president and general manager for worldwide telecom at IDC. This deal only covers Ford’s southeastern Michigan offices. When Ford adds in its national and international offices the deployment could be huge, he says

Ford sees the deal helping its bottom line.

“The immediate benefit is going to be efficiencies in cost and operations related to moves, adds and changes,” a Ford spokeswoman says. The car manufacturer would not comment on how many other carriers it considered before selecting SBC.

SBC will have a “large team of folks but we can’t say how many” and will manage the network from within Ford’s facility, Buffington says. SBC was reluctant to offer details about Ford’s deployment.

SBC is providing Ford with a customized version of its PremierServ-IP Telephony Advantage platform, which is based on Cisco Systems Inc. gear.

“In the case of Ford, it is such a large installation we’ll have network engineers and technicians on-site,” Buffington says. SBC will fully manage the installation, which includes VoIP phones in 110 offices in southeastern Michigan and Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. The carrier also will manage and monitor the network daily.

SBC is using Cisco CallManager clusters to support the phones. The clusters will be deployed in centralized data centers managed by the carrier. Ford is using SBC’s GigaMan metropolitan Ethernet service to connect multiple locations to its data centers.

The VoIP system uses a proprietary Cisco technology called Survivable Remote Site Telephony (SRST) on the routers deployed at Ford’s remote sites. If the router detects the IP link is down, SRST automatically contacts the CallManager at the data center over the public switched telephone network, therefore maintaining connectivity. This lets users avoid downtime simply because they might have lost IP connectivity.

As Cisco’s CallManager currently does not support the Internet Engineering Task Force’s Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), the phones that Ford initially will deploy are based on Cisco’s Skinny Client Control Protocol, which is a proprietary version of the ITU’s H.323 standard. Cisco says Ford is interested in SIP and plans to use products based on the specification in the future.

Ford has used SBC Centrex services since 1986, so the company does not have a large staff of telecom experts, Buffington says.

The VoIP deployment, which is expected to begin within the next couple of months and stretch into 2007, will be used with the Centrex service for some time.