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October 24, 2002 Phone computers merge in telephony



by Barbara Black

Concordia will become a pioneer in communications delivery this spring, when the university’s cable-based telephone system is changed to delivery via the Internet.

“Other universities have tested it, and some school boards have adopted it, but I think we’re the first university in Canada to completely replace existing telephony architecture with voice-over-internet protocol telephony,” said Andrew McAusland, executive director of IITS (Information and Instructional Technology Services).

However, this is proven technology, and many large institutions are actively looking at the system. McAusland knows its importance to employees: “The one thing you don’t fool around with is the telephone system!”

What will this mean to the average employee is a change of phone number and, where appropriate, stationery, and not much else. The phone number will change because all calls will be routed through a single university switchboard, but you’ll keep the last four digits of your current number as an extension.

The various telecommunications installations around the campus will undergo a few adjustments. Some areas of the university will need to be rewired, and the employees affected have already been informed. McAusland expects the system to kick in sometime in May 2003.

It’s a timely concept, since the new three buildings will have the system built in. There are two major benefits to installing it in the rest of the university: savings and enhanced capability.

Maintenance costs will be much lower, McAusland said. “Right now, we’re spendng $1.3 million a year for our phone lines. We have about 3,800 centrex phone lines, each costing approximately $30 a month. We’re going to reduce that to between 250 and 300 servicing the same number of handsets.

Installation by Bell Canada will cost between $4.8 and $5 million, but with savings of about $900,000 a year, this capital expenditure should be recovered in about five years. McAusland added that up to $3 million of this outlay would have had to be invested anyway in upgrading the data network.

A converged voice, video and data network will improve the university’s core capabilities. Demand has been exponentially increasing, with enhanced classrooms and library facilities, and the introduction of the portals project to provide customized Web access to individuals.

For example, the university now maintains about 46,000 alcor e-mail accounts for students, faculty and staff, but extending the portals to some 200,000 alumni will require a major overhaul of the alcor server. In fact, McAusland said, the entire data network of the university is being rebuilt for greater efficiency and reliability.

The voice-over-Internet protocol has some interesting features. Phone users will be able to use a desktop computer instead of a phone set for some voice communication. Phones can be moved from one room to another with little or no support staff intervention or cost.

Various applications can be delivered to your computer over the phone, including a video component. In fact, your voice becomes an application on your data network. You’ll get a new phone, and you will be able to plug it in wherever there’s a computer network jack.

Before it is implemented, there will be demonstrations of the new technology, and, where appropriate, training sessions, under the leadership of Frances Weller.