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Sprint touts off-Net networks

Carrier says demand is on the rise for its "Peerless IP," which gives companies private networks that are discrete from the Internet.

Telecommunications giant Sprint announced on Thursday that it has signed up more than 25 financial and insurance companies for its private IP network offering.

Sprint's new "Peerless IP" service enables companies to use standard Internet-capable network hardware and software to build stand-alone data networks that don't connect to the Net. Rather, they are supported by Sprint's private network.

This network-off-the-Internet was designed for use by the federal government, but now, Sprint says, more companies are concerned about better security and reliability, and demand for Peerless IP access has increased.

"Sprint's ability to build a secure, peerless network designed to federal government specifications had tremendous appeal, because as a bank, we are constantly working with sensitive information," Rudy Wolfs, chief information officer of financial house ING Direct, said in a statement.

Sprint's offering replaces other dedicated network technology, such as X.25 and frame relay, that required specialized hardware to connect together. By continuing to use their standard equipment to transfer data via Internet Protocol, customers cut expenses.

Peerless IP's creation was prompted by a Bush administration push to have separate networks connect to emergency responders in times of crisis and for classified data. Federal agencies have repeatedly been criticized for their lack of computer and network security.

Still, Bruce Schneier, founder of network threat monitoring service Counterpane Internet Security, noted that the greatest advantage of dedicated networks may be in their ability to guarantee availability, rather than increase security, though it may help with security, too.

"Banks have been connecting to each other for decades," he said. "If they can get off the Internet, it makes sense."

Sprint's customers will connect some 3,000 sites using the network, the company said. Pricing information was not available.