Mississauga’s VoIP project nears completion

The City of Mississauga, Ont. announced Wednesday the implementation of a converged voice, video and data network over IP.

The largest municipal VoIP deployment in Canada, the $3.3 million Cisco-based network is expected

to save the city about $500,000 a year, provide new services and increase employee efficiency.

City of Mississauga project leader Norm Baxter says by the end of April, about 60 of the city’s 77 or so facilities will be connected to the network.

“”We’re 80 per cent complete,”” says Baxter. “”Basically we started in the middle and we’re spiralling our way out. We’ve installed 1,600 sets and we’ve got another 700 to go.””

What the new network means to the city is a considerable cut to the cost of communications, says Baxter.

For the last 15 years, the city, which already had an advanced data network but lacked a centralized telephone system, had been using traditional telephony, like most organizations.

“”We did not have private switching; we were on a completely outsourced telephony model,”” he explains. “”We were at the point where our operating communications budget for telephony was $1.2 million.””

Since existing contracts were about to expire, the city decided to look at possible alternatives, says Baxter.

“”We determined it was appropriate we should go to the marketplace, given the technological advances and changes that had occurred over the period we’d been using our traditional technology; obviously, it had experienced growth and change.””

What the new network means to city employees is four-digit dialling among municipal employees at all sites; an online employee directory, along with other directories, such as calls placed, received and missed, which can be viewed from the browser screen of the Cisco phone.

Employees who move around will also benefit from shorter reconnection times, which have been reduced to a couple of hours from a couple of weeks, since the IP phone reconfigures itself.

The new network also features an enhanced 911 (E911) capability, which helps emergency response teams identify the location of a 911 call.

“”To put that in practical terms, in the City of Mississauga we have a tower building with 11 floors,”” he says. “”In the old system if someone dialled 911, emergency response would be aware that the call was transmitted from 300 City Centre Dr., but there are 2,000 people working at 300 City Centre and 11 floors.

“”What the IP transmission will do is tell you an emergency call came from 300 City Centre on the 10th floor, for example. In parallel, we will transmit an alert to our own internal security and let them know a particular phone is in an emergency state and it allows them to prepare to provide whatever assistance they can.””

Mississauga decided to go with Cisco, says Baxter, because it was “”technically sound,”” and allowed the city to leverage its existing fibre optic network.

“”Some of the other proposals quite frankly were a blend of old and new technologies. We felt the Cisco one was more of a clean-sheet approach to managing our telephony needs and that it provided us with the maximum capabilities moving forward.””

Brent Rebus, vice-president, enterprise and SMB operations at Cisco Systems Canada, says Cisco has more than 300 VoIP customers and 120,000 IP phones deployed across Canada. Although he had no numbers available, he says many of Cisco’s customers are public sector.

Contrary to popular opinion that government is mired in the past when it comes to technology, “”public sector organizations are often early adopters,”” he says. “”Educational organizations were the first adopters of centralized computing.””

VoIP is a natural fit for municipalities, he adds, because of the savings it offers.

“”There’s a constant demand for doing more with less, so now is the time for harnessing IP and offering it to your constituents,”” he says. “”At the end of the day, the benefits are compelling.””

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