Toronto Convention Centre boosts antenna coverage

Five months after the Metro Toronto Convention Centre implemented voice-over-IP for staff using mobile phones, telecommunications manager Chris Taylor reports a 98 per cent satisfaction rating.

Taylor’s IT department plans to

boost antenna coverage within the facility’s two buildings spanning more than one-million square feet in downtown Toronto.

“We installed two antennas yesterday. On our list, I think, we have two left. There could always be nooks and crannies where somebody’s going to pop up and say, ‘Hey, we need some coverage in here.’”

Despite the convention centre’s decision, the public sector tends to add the technology to new buildings or re-located offices instead of existing sites, says Roberta Fox, a senior partner with Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont.

Governments have shied away from introducing VoIP to existing government offices because, “financially, why would you? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” explains Fox. “There isn’t a cost benefit to do that, and governments have a hard time getting capital anyway.”

Much of this adoption of VoIP is occurring on the trunk side – that is, connecting building to building as opposed to communicating with the public – because provincial and municipal government offices have many locations, Fox says.

“I would guess anywhere from 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the government sector clients have been doing that…very quietly. So that’s been going on for about two years.”

Fox anticipates eventual changes to the public phone network of government offices as they communicate more with international clients. For now, though, there are still incompatibilities and issues around not having 911 capabilities. So the public sector will continue to use for the most part a public switched telephone network to communicate with people beyond government walls, she says.

Another drawback to bringing in VoIP services is that some government IT staff are “not as current in technology” so they may not be as familiar or as comfortable deploying voice-over-IP, she adds. Yet, she says, this discrepancy may have more to do with budget cutbacks that have dampened plans to invest in skills training rather than the calibre of IT workers.

Government agencies that switch to VoIP, however, will have access to applications once available only to large organizations of 500 to 1,000 people because they have been scaled down to suit smaller systems, Fox says. She explains a government office of 50 staff can enjoy the sophistication of auto attendant, unified messaging and voice recognition, among other features.

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre shifted to VoIP because its wireless phone system, Nortel Companion, was no longer being manufactured, resulting in no maintenance agreements and difficulties buying replacement parts, Taylor says.

He says the idea was to install a wireless data system so the convention centre can use the same networking backbone to run both systems.

Taylor says convention centre staff use 94 VoIP-enabled mobile phones, and show managers also have an option to rent these phones. Testing for last September’s VoIP roll-out lasted four months.

The convention centre chose a VoIP system by SpectraLink Corp. of Boulder, Colo. because its technology doesn’t depend on proprietary systems. “Other manufacturers such as Siebel or Cisco required a lot of Siebel or Cisco technology to be implemented for them to work,” Taylor explains.

SpectraLink’s network-agnostic philosophy worked well for the convention centre: Its PBX phone switch is courtesy of Nortel, a local-area network comes from Extreme Networks and a 802.11 wireless network is supplied by Chantry Networks.

The convention centre’s future use of IP phone technology will be confined to mobile phones because the existing phone system, a Nortel Option 61C PBX, is “more than adequate” for the 200 staff members using it, Taylor says.

“Our exhibitors, nowadays, when they want actual dial tone from us, they need analog dial tone. People who are on the exhibit floor who order telephone lines, they don’t use it for voice communications anymore.

“It’s generally if they want a credit card machine, or a fax machine, or a computer modem. And for those applications, they need just plain old dial tone.”

Fox Group Consulting predicts mobile devices and traditional phone systems will converge in a few years. So for instance, government employees may be able to take home their office handsets at the end of the day to use as personal communications devices complete with a myriad of applications, says Fox.

Given that government’s coffers are always stretched, “getting things that do more with the same amount of money, or more with less money, is going to be a good thing.”

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