January 23, 2009
It will be a seven year undertaking but by 2014-15, virtually every telephone on campus will be operating on a single data network.
Rick Bunt, associate vice-president of information and communications technology, said the Board of Governors has approved a plan to upgrade the university's remaining 3,900 analog telephones and related equipment to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology which will eliminate the complexity and cost of operating two phone systems on campus. It will be a process he described as "benign technology replacement that shouldn't disrupt anyone's life."
The groundwork for the changeover was laid in 2002-03 when the first VoIP phones were installed in the new College of Kinesiology building, said Bunt. At that time, responsibility for the telephone network was transferred from Facilities Management Division to Information Technology Services. But with 6,000 telephones in the "fleet," the change from analog to the VoIP telephone system has taken place only in new construction and when units relocate on campus.
Bunt said the seven-year plan is financially neutral. Funding will come from the savings incurred by not having to maintain the older, more costly analog system and from the existing budget for renewal and expansion of the telephone system.
Along with changing the equipment of desks, Bunt said the university's business model for operating the phone network will also be reviewed. "We run our own telephone service on campus and we think we save a lot of money and provide better service by doing that," he said. "The whole operation is self-contained financially with a big piece of that budget coming from charges to users. Our model has never been changed even though industry costs for some services have dropped as the technology has improved."
He added there will be broad consultation on the new business model which he said could be in place as early as the start of the next academic year.
A telephone replacement steering committee will be charged with developing a priority list for the work, which Bunt expects will be carried out building-by-building rather than unit-by-unit.
Although the VoIP technology has proven itself to be reliable and offers users features not available on the analog system, Bunt identified some risks associated with the plan. The first is that the telephone industry will withdraw support of analog equipment before the university has completed its seven-year replacement project. If that happens, Bunt said the university will be forced to upgrade to VoIP in a shorter time frame.
Similarly, the fast pace of technology change "could mean that we will be into replacing equipment we put in at the front end of this project before the seven years are up but that's accounted for in the financial plan."
The final risk is associated with the direct link between VoIP telephones and the university's computer network - if the network goes down, the phones go down. Bunt said the university will make provision to ensure service is available from the emergency phone locations that dot campus, and there may also be additional emergency phones installed at other key locations. "We know this is a risk so it will be part of the plan we develop for this project."
Office of Communications, University of Saskatchewan