RealTime IT News

Outdated Phone Systems Go The Wireless Way

Wireless VoIP is replacing outdated phone systems that have given up the ghost.

Several companies across Australia are moving to wireless Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as existing phone systems become redundant.

In Victoria, the local branch of Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia (MSSA) and William Angliss College, both have installed a complete Internet telephony system in the past year. Wireless enables the companies to link multiple sites, combine voice and data on the one network, and reduce call costs. In South Australia, councils connect to a new wireless network via VoIP.

The appeal of wireless VoIP is obvious. Voice and data on one wireless LAN creates a central point for communications, improves employee interaction, and access to information. Integration gives businesses a more flexible, scalable phone system with increased bandwidth and lower equipment costs. Workers can be mobile, using applications and devices anywhere within their organisation. For companies, wireless VoIP helps stop the overuse of mobile phones that occurs within many organisations.

Wireless VoIP can operate on packet-based 2.5G or 3G networks. The other emerging trend is 802.11 wireless local area networks (WLAN). Basically, the system is voice on a data network. By comparison, 2.5G or 3G transmits data on a traditionally wireless voice network.

Several councils in South Australia connect to a newly built network, which is a combination of Internet Protocol (IP) and wireless technology. Adelaide-based carrier, Agile Communications, launched the first phase of a national network with a broadband voice and data network from Adelaide to regional areas in April this year.

Kym Glegett, co-ordinator Information Services, Coorong District Council, says the network's origins date back to 1997 when council chose to amalgamate. "However, the political decision was to keep three offices, covering an area of around nine thousand square kilometres. An STD call was required to each office. Bandwidth was also an issue, and the decision to break up administration meant the accounting division was seventy-five kilometres from the servers."

The Council eventually secured $1.3 from the Commonwealth's Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (RTIF), made available through Telstra's privatisation, the South Australian Government, and in-kind support from the local council.

The central aims were to create a backbone in the area, make connection between councils more efficient, and reduce call costs.

The council's previous ISDN system of two 64 kbps links cost just under $20 000 per year. Voice was carried via a Commander system. Costs are down to $8000 through the Agile network and traffic runs at 2 Gbps. In addition to the microwave network between four towns, the Council has implemented an IP phone system, wired through the network.

Calls made within the network region are charged at between 4.4 and 8.5 cents per minute, and capped at 99 cents. National calls to any other fixed phone in Australia are available for 13 cents per minute at all times. These calls are also independent of the calling distance and represent a saving of up to 50 percent compared to Telstra national long distance calling rates.

Across the border, two organisations in Victoria, the Victorian branch of Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia (MSSA) and William Angliss College, are using wireless VoIP solutions.

The Victorian MS Society has installed a complete Internet telephony system as part of a move into new headquarters in suburban Melbourne.

Before the upgrade, Tony Mizzi, general manager IT Services for the Victorian MS Society explains, "we were running an NEC STS2400 system, probably about fifteen years old. The system was hitting its upper limit in a standalone environment and wouldn't connect with other products or applications."

"We were getting to a point in time when to do anything further," Mizzi continues, "anything else would be a bolt-on. In our other two offices, we had smaller PABX systems but none of them were talking to each other." After the organisation moved into a new building, he made the decision to invest in new infrastructure. The system was implemented in December 2001.

Their complex straddles two sites. "The nerve centre at Blackburn and the regional office are linked via a DSS link," he says. "We have plans over the coming months to integrate two more sites into the core system. All four sites will be powered by one unit, which also integrates with our LAN. Desktop computers are linked with the voice network."

The advantages for an organisation such as The Victorian MS Society, says Mizzi, is greater efficiencies, reduced maintenance and cost reduction. Instead of waiting a week for cables, he explains, "now we can do it ourselves and there is no need for new cables, just plug-in."

On a practical level, Mizzi provides the example of a caller to the Society. "As someone calls, their database details pop-up on the screen. What that allows are contact details to appear before we answer the phone call. Additionally, at Blackburn, the use of hot-desking create efficiency. "We have a number of desks or workstations for part-time employees. A user can key in a pin number and that phone essentially becomes their own with all the same functionality."

Maintenance agreements were reduced from approximately $18 000 to $3500 or $4000 per annum. "Networked telephony provides a heap of flexibility," he says, "These include more efficient management of record contacts, and enabling users to get information from the system that is more accurate. Being a charitable organisation, we're also wary of dollars."

Victoria's largest mono-purpose TAFE, William Angliss College, has also increased efficiencies by implementing a networked telephony solution.

"Our old Ericsson system was approaching an upper limit," says Chris Taylor, IT director. "As well as having to physically relocate the system, we had the challenge of users across the road." The College deployed a wireless VoIP system around eighteen months ago.

As with The Victorian MS Society, the implementation of the networked telephony solution was part of a larger IT project. Again, staff input was minimal, the system was plugged in and it worked with very little configuration.

Next, says Taylor, "we'll explore CRM to ensure user's customer contact details pop-up on the screen when they call in. That will allow us to better target business with the client."

The benefits of networked telephony, he says, are the simplicity of administration and use, particularly having everything central in one unit. Additionally, no complicated technical support is required.

Clegett agrees. "It's far cheaper to set-up a VoIP solution than a switch network."

"It's hard to find disadvantages with wireless," he says. "The major issue was the untested nature of the network, setting up something new." Even the traditional line-of-sight issues normally associated with wireless were not an issue. "We have a central high point where the a tower is located. All sites go back that point. Line-of-sight is not a significant issue as the terrain is undulating, not hilly."

Reprinted from australia.internet.com.

Wi-Fi Phones? What's next? Join us at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo, Dec. 3-5 in Santa Clara, CA. One of our sessions will cover "Wi-Fi: Beyond the Laptop."