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The US Post Office intends to replace its telephone network of about 400,000 devices with a new centralized IP voice solution from Aastra. The award went to XO Communications, which bid Aastra's Clearspan solution, which is now planned to replace some 550 PBX systems and 7,000 key systems. The rollout is expected to take more than five years.

The Post Office considered multiple proposals from carriers, equipment makers, and over-the-top hosted voice providers, but determined ownership within its data center to be the preferred solution. However, XO will operate and maintain the system as well as provide networking services. For XO, It's an expansion from an existing data and networking services contract.

The voice traffic will primarily route over the Post Office's existing MPLS network powered by XO, AT&T, and Verizon. The network has 30,000 backbone locations and seven peering points.

Larry Wills, Manager of Enterprise Access at the USPS, said that the ROI is in the "tens of millions." He added that "the total cost of the new infrastructure is less than [USPS] paid for its biggest PBX."

With centralization, Wills intends to eliminate capitalized voice hardware: "We spend $4-5 million on PBX maintenance alone." Moving forward, the only distributed voice equipment will be phones. The Post Office intends to standardize on two SIP phone vendors to be announced shortly.

Wills wanted to be further along with the rollout, but federal purchasing practices took longer than expected. The rollout has begun, and it will ramp dramatically after the holiday mail season. The remaining rollouts in 2013 will be at non-mail-processing facilities. The Post Office is anxious to realize the savings associated with the project.

With 30,000 locations and 400,000 users, this will be one of the largest implementations for a single centralized voice solution--a big win for XO, BroadSoft, and Aastra. Wills indicated openness and scalability were key criteria in the selection.

Clearspan is Aastra's turnkey solution that utilizes core software from BroadSoft Inc. Clearspan is targeted at large organizations as a premises-based PBX replacement. Solutions powered by BroadSoft are commonly acquired as a service from providers and carriers around the world-- for example, the hosted voice component of XO's Unify service utilizes software from BroadSoft. Since the Post Office specified that it must retain ownership of the solution, XO bid Clearspan instead of its own Broadsoft-based services.

Clearspan includes BroadSoft software together with utilities for operations and management such as Aastra's OpEasy provisioning tool. The solution is building traction with higher-education and other large institutions that desire a centralized implementation. More recently, carriers, even BroadSoft partners, have begun bidding Clearspan to large customers that desire a premises-based solution. (Related post).

The Post Office intends to use Clearspan for voice and unified messaging. Video is not within the current scope of the project--about 100 USPS locations currently utilize Telepresence. However, adding video to Post Office kiosks may be considered in the future.

The XO/Aastra solution will complement Microsoft Lync, which the USPS uses for IM/Presence.

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.

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