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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

New phones to kick off IPTV trial

Published: April 1, 2005
Section: News

Yesterday Chief Information Officer Perry Hanson announced to the community an immediate and mandatory trade-in of all existing Cisco 7912 phones on campus. The small one-line 7912 phones given to all students will be replaced with larger 7940 model phones which include additional capabilities.

ITS would not reveal the specific reasons why the immediate upgrade was initiated, but the most likely explanation for the change has to do with conflicts discovered by Hoot staff when using existing phones in conjunction with the new IPTV service. As reported in the Hoot on March 18th, users attempting to place or receive calls while using the pilot TV service would sometimes hear echos and noise that would make conversations impossible. In other instances, the phones would stop working entirely and spontaneously reboot while students were using the IPTV system.

While ITS initially dismissed the complaints, additional testing using 7912 phones convinced them that the problems were legitimate.

Once students turn in their old phones and receive new ones they will be able to participate in the IPTV trial, which includes two channels streamed through a web interface. The goal of the trial is to determine whether IPTV is a viable solution, according to Systems Services Manager John Turner.

We want as many people to try it as possible, Turner told the Hoot. Now we are really looking for people to provide feedback as to what they think about it and how well it works.

Ultimately our goal is to be able to deliver as good a service as we did with the existing wired cable TV, Turner added. If thats not true, we need to address that.

The IPTV system will not support the use of personal video recorders like TiVo or computer video capture cards. VCRs and televisions will be supported through the use of a special converter box, which will need to be purchased or rented from the school. Students who wish to use a remote control will need to purchase a computer IR remote and program it themselves to work with IPTV.

Initial plans called for launching the IPTV system as a replacement for cable next fall, but that scenario looks increasingly unlikely in light of the delays in the pilot.

Associate CIO Anna Tomecka said that the timing was important because the Universitys five year contract with Comcast will soon expire and there is a desire not to be locked into an inflexible contract for an additional five years. However, additional options have become available in recent months that may change the decision making process.

I think right now we are reconsidering extending the contract for a single year and proceeding with the trial, Tomecka said. The single-year contract may be with Comcast or with another provider, she told the Hoot.

The IPTV trial continues Brandeis tradition of staying on the bleeding edge of technological innovation. In August 2003 when Brandeis implemented the new Voice over IP phone system, it was one of the first schools in the nation to do so. An article in Campus Technology magazine at that time stated that the Brandeis approach was highly unusual and facilitated in part because Cisco offered deep discounts on the 6,500 phones that were needed. Over 4,000 of these phones were 7912 models.

According to Hanson, Cisco is now replacing the phones with the more expensive 7940 models at very little cost to Brandeis. He was tight-lipped on why Cisco was being so generous.

Turner previously told the Hoot that, Cisco recognizes the value to us to upgrade the phones to models that will better support the bandwidth requirements for television.

Eighteen months ago a failed software upgrade on the 7912 phones caused several days of rolling phone outages. Upgrades to 7940 model phones have gone smoothly.

While Brandeis was one of the first campuses to roll out VoIP services campus-wide, many colleges and businesses were experimenting with small-scale VoIP deployments. In contrast, the new IPTV technology is not widely deployed. In additional to questions about the technologys abilities and limitations, this has also led to difficulties in obtaining cable TV content to broadcast.

This is still a very new technology and content providers are finding ways to deal with it, said Tomecka.

Turner explained that currently cable providers charge a flat fee per cable port, which they split with the various content providers.

We will be going to a slightly different model where rather than licensing per port which is how cable companies do it now, well be going to concurrent usage license, so by a set number of concurrent usages, and thats how well measure it, he said.

Once the details are worked out, Turner says, ITS will have much more control over the channels it broadcasts.

We hope to provide the channels that students want to watch, and not the channels they dont want to watch, he said.

The new system, if deployed, may offer additional options not currently available with the existing system, such as the possibility of allowing students in the future to purchase HBO and other premium channels.

That type of improvement, is a very real possibility now, said Tomecka.