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6/14/2013
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Iowa State Chooses Cloud For Phone System

By switching to a cloud voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, ISU will save $600,000 annually on its campus phone network.

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Iowa State University is weeks away from a rapid refresh of its telephony infrastructure, changing out 8,000 telephone handsets for ones that will use voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

In addition to bringing new services -- such as automatically forwarding calls to ISU staffers' cell phones -- the switch is expected to save the school $600,000 annually. "Instead of phones on desks, we'll have a totally integrated communication system, which has the potential to be part of the campus communication fabric," Jim Davis, Iowa State University vice provost for IT and CIO, told InformationWeek Education. In the future, he added, the new system could play a "prominent role" in interactive, Internet-connected learning.

The network back end of the new phone system is being provided by Internet2, which ISU already uses for Internet connectivity. A member-owned advanced technology community founded in 1996, Internet2 consists of more than 220 U.S. universities, 60 corporations, 70 government agencies, 38 regional and state education networks, and more than 100 national research and education networking partners representing more than 50 countries.

[ Should kids use more electronic gadgets in school? Read Parents Press For Mobile Tech In Education. ]

Other companies tapped for the new infrastructure include Aastra for PBX hosting, and Level 3 Communications, for SIP trunking services. A SIP trunk allows a location using VoIP to connect to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) without traditional fixed PSTN lines.

Savings will be in maintenance and call trunking, "which will be quite a bit less," Angela Bradley, director of networks and communications/systems and operations, told InformationWeek Education.

Part of the appeal of the new system, and another cost savings, will be the self-service aspect, said network engineer Jennifer Lohrbach. "Through the Web portal, users can set up their own call-forwarding and buttons," she said. ISU is ahead of schedule on the upgrade, which calls for swapping out 1,000 phones every week. Already a month ahead of schedule, the switch is slated to be completed by the end of June.

The deployment team includes five ISU technicians as well as eight Internet2 technicians working under contract. The installation won't affect phones in student dorm rooms. That's because, several years ago, ISU students voted to have free Wi-Fi instead of in-room phones. Typically, students use their own cell phones when they want to make a voice call.

There will be some VoIP phones in the resident halls, however. There will be hall phones and phones in the resident assistant rooms.

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