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Ford Dealers Move To IP Network

For years, Ford dealers have used a satellite network to exchange data on car repairs, warranties, credit status, and other customer issues with Ford headquarters. Now many dealers are trading in their satellite network and shifting to a new IP-based network designed to provide faster and more reliable access to that information.

The FordSecure network, introduced on Tuesday, has been tested by several dealerships. It's been under development for the past 18 months and was built by auto industry system integrator Reynolds and Reynolds, using a Private IP service from MCI Communications.

"The immediate benefits are speed and availability," says Bob Dull, comptroller for Beau Townsend Ford in Vandalia, Ohio, which was the first dealership to test the network in July. Dull, who serves as the IT guy at the dealership, says Ford dealers have used the satellite network since the early 1990s, but many felt it was time to upgrade.

"With the satellite, there were times when there were too many users and you had to wait your turn to access warranty information," Dull says. That's not a good thing when customers are waiting to schedule appointments for car repairs. "Now our access to information is almost instantaneous. This has been a real smooth rollout."

The dealers are getting much more bandwidth with the new network. "Just five years ago, the vast majority of dealers--90% or more--were using 56 Kbps lines and outbound dial-up access," says Jim Aten, VP for network services at Reynolds. "Now the smallest circuit we deploy is 156 Kbps and most dealers are going higher than that to 256 Kbps or more. There is massive use of Internet-based traffic on the dealers' WAN infrastructure."

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