Concordia rips out analogue phones in favour of VoIP

Montreal’s Concordia University is taking an economics lesson to heart by replacing its costly analogue phone system with voice-over-IP.

The university is in the process of adding a new computer science building and fine arts

building to the campus and is rebuilding its network in the process. It made sense to take a look at a cheaper alternative to analogue phones at the same time, said Andrew McAusland, executive director of instructional and information technology services.

“”The cost savings in the voice-over-IP environment, for us anyway, are so significant, that we can pay for rebuilding the data network (and) deploying voice-over IP,”” he said.

Concordia is replacing 3,400 analogue lines — which cost about $30 a month each — with IP phones provided by Cisco Systems Canada. Universities are rapidly becoming one of the most important VoIP customers for the company, according to Brantz Myers, national manager of enterprise marketing.

“”We’ve seen the best, earliest uptake of our telephony IP solutions in the academic domain,”” said Myers. “”It started really with the colleges — I’d say we’ve done 15 colleges (in Canada) and we’ve moved into the larger universities in the past year or so.””

Canada as a whole is on the forefront on VoIP adoption, he added. Cisco has sold 1.4 million IP phones globally — about 10 per cent of them here.

One of the first things Concordia made sure of before replacing analogue phones was the reliability of IP devices. “”It’s one thing for somebody to turn their computer on and not be able to get on the backbone or on the Internet and it’s quite another to pick up the phone and there be no dial tone,”” said McAusland. “”We’re working hard to build in massive redundancy in the system.””

According to McAusland, Cisco and the university’s telco provider Bell can guarantee a 99.999 per cent uptime, which is actually marginally better than analogue. Next up will be adding applications to the IP lines like calendars, scheduling and announcements.

Myers said that IP phones have a few advantages — other than cost — over their analogue predecessors like the ability to reassign a phone number to any phone on the system with relative ease. The problem with that, however, is being sure of the physical location of a number in the event of an emergency. Cisco has developed an e-911 VoIP application to make sure that location and number are always in synch.

Concordia has also wirelessly enabled its network and is adding access points across the campus to provide 802.11 coverage. “”About 110 classrooms now have computers, projectors, CD, DVD and sound systems — and wireless,”” said McAusland.

Students with laptops will be able to move from classroom to classroom and hook into the school’s network wirelessly. Newer laptops should already be wirelessly-enabled, said McAusland, but the school also sells Cisco 802.11 cards that can plug into older models.

It’s definitely to a student’s advantage to own a laptop, but McAusland said that the university’s mandate is “”really geared towards accessibility. So we have to make sure that all students have the same access to technology. We can’t favour students who happen to have a couple of thousand bucks to buy laptop, so we have to be careful to balance that out.””

Students without laptops can borrow machines from the library on a two-hour loan basis, but McAusland foresees more demand than the school can handle. There are about 70 laptops now available for loan, but Concordia will be adding cart-based laptops which can be moved from classroom to classroom. Considerations are also underway for a laptop purchase program or subsidy.

Concordia will soon experience true convergence between wireless and IP. The university is planning to issue mobile VoIP phones based on 802.11 to some of its employees.

The upgraded network should be finished some time in June, and Concordia plans to have a 90 per cent wireless penetration rate by the end of the summer.

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