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U.S. Troops in Iraq Connect With Family and Friends via TelePresence

Thursday, May 1, 2008  
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U.S. Troops in Iraq Connect With Family and Friends via TelePresence provided by Cisco, Verizon Business and Wal-Mart Team With SkyPort and the USO

Cisco, Verizon Business and Wal-Mart, along with SkyPort Global Communications and the USO (United Service Organizations), are helping provide virtual family reunions for U.S. troops serving in Iraq. A lifelike, immersive video communications technology – known as Cisco® TelePresence – allows the troops to bridge the distance and speak to and see loved ones at home.

The collaborative effort to support the troops includes the use of Cisco TelePresence to allow troops based in Iraq to connect with friends and family members back home. The free connections, using Verizon Business’ Private IP network and a SkyPort satellite uplink, are available 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, and link two remote bases in Iraq to two Wal-Mart stores: one located near Camp Pendleton in Temecula, California, and one located near Fort Drum in Evans Mills, N.Y. Two specially equipped family-gathering rooms were built in the Wal-Mart stores and opened April 2. They will be available through July 6.

Cisco TelePresence replicates face-to-face interaction so realistically that it feels as though everyone is in the same room, even though they may be thousands of miles apart. While videoconferencing has been intermittently available to service men and women, the Cisco TelePresence deployment represents the first lifelike communications of its kind between these particular troops and their families back home. Families from Camp Pendleton and Fort Drum are using the technology to reconnect with loved ones, see children and even hold virtual birthday parties.

The Cisco TelePresence rooms are located at the Wal-Mart Store in Temecula, Calif. (32225 Highway 79 South, Temecula, Calif.) and at the Wal-Mart Store in Evans Mills, N.Y. (25737 US Route #11, LeRay, N.Y.). To use the system, a soldier at one of two bases in Iraq stands in front of a TelePresence camera, which is attached to a Comtech 570L modem. The modem sends the soldier’s voice and life-sized image to a Telesat satellite at 3 Mbps using a 1.8 meter dish. The transmission lands at a Telesat teleport in Maryland, and is then carried to the end points over fiber optic cable. As the soldier talks, he or she sees and hears family members on a screen taking part in the conversation from the other side of the world.

An initial concern about the venture was that the HD video signal required too much bandwidth to be carried with high clarity via satellite. For normal corporate video conferencing, Cisco’s TelePresence uses three screens, which consume 16 Mbps bandwidth each way, too much to carry on a satellite connection. However, by using only one screen, SkyPort engineers were able to show in a series of tests that the HD signal would not degrade. Skyport has installed satellite ground links at two bases in Iraq where soldiers and marines can access a Cisco TelePresence system to have live conversations with family members and friends. This is the first example of Cisco TelePresence being deployed via satellite.

SkyPort is a global communications carrier providing managed, secure, broadband satellite and terrestrial communication services to a range of government and enterprise clients. With its global network, engineering expertise, and owned infrastructure at the highly secure Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, SkyPort exceeds the security and reliability standards of its clients. SkyPort was honored by the World Teleport Association as the fastest-growing teleport operator in 2006 and received the National Guard's Minuteman award in 2005 for outstanding disaster support during Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

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