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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

ITS to get new VoIP phones for students

Published: March 18, 2005
Section: News

Students will receive new Cisco phones that offer enhanced capabilities next year. The current 7912 model phone will be replaced with the 7940, a larger, two-line phone that is used in most offices on campus. The move comes after ITS discovered conflicts between the existing phones and the proposed IPTV system, which is likely to replace cable television next fall.

While Brandeis was one of the first colleges to adopt the voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone system, were not that unique anymore, according to Associate Director of ITS Anna Tomecka. There are over 22,000 installations, and Cisco has just shipped its 5 millionth phone.

The 7940 includes features students have asked for, including the ability to use speakerphone and to attach headsets. The larger screen is also easier to read and the phone has better capabilities for supporting applications like the Finnegan wake up call system, which was developed by Matthew Sachs 06 last year.

As VoIP usage has expanded, equipment prices have dropped. While the 7940 phones generally cost Brandeis approximately $170 each, Systems Operation Manager John Turner said that Cisco will cover much of the cost of the upgrade.

Cisco recognizes the value to us to upgrade the phones, he said, this is going to be good for Brandeis.

Turner, who is also overseeing the IPTV project, said the new phones will be able to handle the data bandwidth necessary to support that system. With the 7912 phones, calls may fail or sound bad when a user is also watching television. This should not happen with the 7940s, according to Turner.

Tomecka said that the technology is evolving so that within the next few years students will be able to choose their own phones and bring them to campus. An upcoming version of the Cisco software will support SIP, a new standard for IP telephones to interoperate, within the next year or two, said Tomecka.

As VoIP becomes more ubiquitous, interchangeable SIP phones will become available at electronics stores at similar prices to traditional analog telephones. Brandeis hopes to no longer need to provide phones to students within the next two to three years.

Turner called the VoIP phone system a continuing success. We have had eighteen months with no major problems for these phones, he said.

The VoIP project was originally undertaken in summer 2003 as an alternative to replacing large portions of the aging and degrading copper telephone network. The project, which cost almost $4 million and included extensive upgrades to network infrastructure, involved the purchase of over 9,000 phones, according to an April 2003 Justice article. At that time, Hansen speculated that IPTV might be added within a few years.

A faulty software upgrade in Sept. 2003 caused some areas of campus to lose telephone service for hours at a time. ITS blamed Cisco for the problems, which were cleared up within a few days. Since then there have been no major phone-related outages reported, and a new test system has been put in place to verify upgrades before rolling them out on the campus network.