Integrating Voice Into the School Network: Benefits of Wireless VoIP

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Voice communications are critical for the proper functioning of primary, secondary and higher education environments. At the K-12 level, teachers and staff must be able to communicate with each other between classrooms and the school office. Also, teachers often need to communicate between schools within a district as well as with the district office. Similarly, higher education institutions require faculty to be accessible not only in their offices, but while they are traveling about campus. In addition, many colleges and universities now offer voice services to students living on campus.

Though voice is clearly a crucial application for both K-12 and higher education, there are numerous obstacles a school faces when deploying traditional voice technology. These hurdles include budgetary constraints, limited technical resources, geographically dispersed campus buildings, and outdated infrastructures that cannot support new applications.

For these reasons and more, voice-over IP (VoIP) - specifically, wireless VoIP - has emerged as a popular choice for educational institutions. While only 19% of colleges and universities have formally deployed VoIP, 64% are considering it, according to the “EDUCAUSE Core Data Service 2003 Summary Report” (log on to www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/PUB8001.pdf). Though progressing more slowly, its adoption in K-12 is also on the rise. Furthermore, according to two surveys from Market Data Retrieval, 37% of K-12 public schools (from “The College Technology Review 2003-2004”) and 70% of colleges and universities (from “Technology in Education 2004”) report that they do use wireless networks. Together, VoIP and wireless technology offer better geographic coverage, increased mobility, improved network performance, and significant cost savings for schools and campuses.

K-12 Advantages

Today, the majority of U.S. classrooms are not equipped with phones. The existing voice system for most K-12 environments is a traditional PBX (private branch exchange), which provides a basic telecommunications link from the main office to the world outside of the school. This system typically d'es not allow teachers to communicate with each other or enable them to be reached directly by parents. It also d'es not let mobile staff, such as security and maintenance personnel, communicate with teachers or office staff. In addition, most schools do not have the budget to upgrade their existing PBX and install new phone lines for every classroom. And even if they did, the outdated infrastructure probably would not support mobile users.

Wireless VoIP can also help schools deploy additional voice services quickly and cost-effectively. Therefore, a school d'es not have to completely replace its current phone system to implement VoIP. Instead, they can use wireless technology to extend voice services to areas where it is currently unavailable. Most schools already have a high-speed IP network to provide access to the Internet and other network resources. So, by adding strategically placed wireless access points to the network, a school can allow access for mobile laptop users as well as provide the backbone for deploying Wi-Fi-equipped phones to teachers and other school personnel.

The key to a successful wireless VoIP installation is selecting a VoIP gateway, wireless access points, and phones that are compatible with the school’s existing PBX system. Wireless VoIP can also help schools reduce their capital and operational costs by eliminating the need to install new wiring or upgrade an existing network.

Making Campus Communications More Accessible for Higher Ed

Like K-12 schools, most colleges and universities still have a traditional voice system. This system typically provides basic phone service to the administrative buildings and faculty offices. Unfortunately, traditional phone systems do little to facilitate the growing communications needs of a modern-day university. Since faculty spend a significant amount of time traveling around campus to classrooms, lecture halls and other locations, they need to be reachable wherever they go. While cell phones are one possible solution, they have proved problematic for most institutions because they are expensive and it is difficult to regulate faculty usage of them for nonwork-related calls.

Thus, the combination of VoIP and wireless technology is the ideal solution. Most higher education institutions can leverage their existing network to add voice services, which saves the expense of adding more voice lines. With wireless technology, faculty and staff can be reached anywhere on campus, maintaining their connectivity to the network throughout their “mobile” workday.

For large campuses, the geographic distribution of buildings can also be a problem for deploying traditional voice lines. However, with wireless VoIP, a school can combine its existing wired links with wireless connectivity between buildings to add coverage. Finally, for schools that have students living on campus, VoIP is a cost-effective way to give students phone access while reducing the school’s expense for providing such services. Most important, by adding voice as another application to the IP network, colleges and universities can improve their return on investment.

Conclusion

Implementing the proper communications infrastructure is critical to the smooth operation of K-12 and higher education institutions. The use of wireless VoIP lets schools reduce their network costs significantly, while providing an ideal foundation for the institutions’ evolving needs. Although integrating voice into the school network can be challenging, the combination of VoIP and wireless technology removes many of the previous obstacles to deployment. It can also result in numerous benefits for faculty, staff and students.


Key Wireless Access Point Features for Supporting Wireless VoIP

1. Wi-Fi Certification - Ensures interoperability with other Wi-Fi certified products.

2. Tri-Mode Support - Access points that support multiple radios allow data communications over 802.11b/g while supporting voice over 802.11a.

3. Quality of Service - Allows toll-quality voice communications.

4. Load Balancing - Regulates the bandwidth needed to ensure clear call quality.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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