Sprint ended January with a bang, announcing three major enhancements to its IP portfolio that are geared toward the carrier's government and enterprise customers.The enhancements include the commercial availability of a private IP backbone that Sprint created for its security-conscious government customers including the FBI, the Army National Guard and the Department of Homeland Security. Sprint also announced the availability of a network-based VPN solution that supports the Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) standard as well as a new remote access VPN offering that supports the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) standard."These announcements are substantial from a number of perspectives," says Steve Leckoff, group manager for IP services at Sprint. "If you look at our VPN capabilities and the peerless [private] IP VPN network, we really view these as being the flagship platforms for our VPN capabilities going forth."The private IP backbone is peerless, meaning that it doesn't connect to the public Internet. This native IP backbone has been operational since June and is available at the same price as Sprint's regular IP backbone."This is for customers who are looking for the ultimate in security but want to tap into the flexibility and scalability of IP," Leckoff says. He adds that the only way a customer could have a more secure backbone for their VPN is\u00a0 "to build out and manage their own network."Sprint's MPLS VPN offering has been anticipated by enterprise customers, who are interested in the emerging standard for network-based VPNs. Sprint's MPLS VPN is available in the U.S. only but will be available globally later this year. Sprint also plans several add-ons including firewall, filtering, remote access and other security services.Sprint also added an SSL remote access VPN for companies that prefer to use Sprint's regular IP backbone, which is connected to the public Internet. Previously, Sprint supported the IPSec security standard with its VPNs."The key benefits of SSL is that it is very easy for customers to implement," Leckoff says. "Every enterprise workstation already has an SSL interface. This service allows customers to leverage that."Sprint officials say they will continue to expand their IP VPN offerings and geographic reach in 2004."You'll see continued expansion of our footprint in key emerging markets that our customers are interested in. You'll also see continued expansion of our VPN portfolio," says Steve Parrot, group manager for Sprint Link Dedicated Internet Services.Part of Sprint's strategy for 2004 is closer alignment with the partners it uses to provide IP services overseas. Already, Sprint's SLAs cover 70 countries that Sprint's IP services reach through partners."When we use other partners for Internet access, we back it up in terms of the latency, packet loss and availability with strong Sprint SLAs," Parrot says.Sprint's goal is to provide its global IP services - whether directly or from a local partner - with a common customer service experience backed up by unified SLAs.Sprint is offering the "skin in the game that customers are looking for," Parrot says. "We're not just a provider but a partner."Sprint will be expanding its IP VPN offerings this year because more U.S. multinational corporations are ready to migrate off legacy network services such as frame-relay to less expensive and more flexible IP-based offerings."We see continued movement toward IP VPNs in 2004," Parrot says. "They've been [available] since 1999, but only in the last year have we seen substantial movement toward IP VPNs. CIOs are ready to swap out the old technology and invest in new features. We believe we will be at the forefront with our portfolio...which we can provide on a global basis."