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2/21/2003
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Fidelity Matches Phone Service To Employees' Needs

The investment firm will use a tiered IP phone service that will give employees different levels of service, depending on their reliability requirements.

Fidelity Investments is developing a tiered IP phone system that will give different types of service to different employees depending on their need for reliability.

The company now has Centrex service to 15,000 employees and operates 117 PBXs. As of last month, Fidelity had installed 600 IP hardphones and 50 IP softphones, in which employees connect a USB handset to their computers and run their phone through a multifunctional software interface that integrates with Microsoft Outlook and lets them launch instant-messaging sessions, E-mails, or phone calls. Ultimately, the company plans to scale the IP system to 10,000 employees, giving less costly, and less reliable, service to summer interns, for example, while continuing to provide executives with highly reliable traditional phone service.

Fidelity analyzed the importance of the phone system versus data communications to determine whether it was worth implementing IP telephony in exchange for cost savings and potentially less-reliable service. "We thought about how much it would cost to give interns three nines 99.999% reliability, employees four nines 99.9999% reliability," and so on, David Moran, VP of architecture and planning of Fidelity Investments System Company, said at this week's VoiceCon conference in Washington. "Is the phone really as critical as it used to be? If my phone goes down, I have my cell phone, IM, E-mail, and the conference room." Employees tend to be more upset if their computers and E-mail systems are down.

This year, the company plans to convert an entire building to IP telephony with 700 hardphones and 3,300 softphones. The downside of softphones is that when a computer is down, so is the phone. Now, the company sees 99.999% reliability for desktop softphones, compared with 99.999999% reliability with traditional phones. But there's no up-front equipment costs, and the voice calls use the data circuits, reducing line charges and usage costs. Says Moran, "There's a very profound case for softphones."

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