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VoIP in a Campus Environment

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Internet protocol (IP) telephony, or voice-over IP (VoIP), has proved to be a wise decision for many organizations. This technology crosses the boundaries of public and private networks, enterprise and residential markets, voice and data technologies, as well as local and long-distance services. The convergence of voice and data into a single, powerful network enables an organization to reduce costs, consolidate and simplify networks, as well as better serve its customers and constituents.

IP telephony is an enabler of increased productivity and customer engagement. Running on a converged, application-optimized network, IP telephony solutions now scale to 200,000 users - serving remote users, telecommuters, remote offices, contact centers and broad campuses. The Internet is used extensively for employee, partner, student, and faculty remote access and connectivity to remote facilities and small campuses while leveraging IP-VPNs (virtual private networks) for data applications. Therefore, it is very appealing to enhance the productivity of mobile users and remote office workers by supporting IP telephony.

IP telephony over wireless and soft clients on PCs and laptops give mobile users access to full multimedia capabilities from anyplace at anytime. In addition, IP telephony over wireless, combined with the plug-and-play nature of this technology, serves a major role in campus safety. It also helps to provide business continuity in the case of natural disasters or emergency situations.

An IP telephony system is a hardware and software solution made from a set of four logical functions:

1. IP telephones and PC soft clients.

2. Communications servers, a.k.a. call management servers or gatekeepers.

3. Media gateways providing flexible network access - for example, via traditional public branch exchanges (PBXs), the public switched telephone network (PSTN), the pubic wireless network and beyond.

4. Application servers - for example, unified messaging conferencing and session initiation protocol (SIP)-enabled collaborative applications.

These functions are distributed across an enterprise IP network, with extended reach and mobility provided over wireless LANs and the Internet.

True IP Telephony

To offer true IP telephony, providers must deliver network capabilities on three layers: hardware, enabling software and application software. Network hardware includes the call controllers, gateways, optical transmission elements and end-user equipment that physically transmit packets from one place to another. Enabling software is the core intelligence that gives users access to the network and performs basic functions such as completing a call. The enabling software types are call control, quality of service, directory services and security services. Application software includes the software modules that control specific services such as point-to-point voice calls or messaging. It is also useful to divide applications into four categories: network services, managed services, advanced services and future services.

In addition, VoIP technology has matured to allow full-scale enterprise deployment, including centralized or distributed control, enterprise-wide access to applications such as unified messaging, uncompromised voice quality, choice of features and functions, multiple migration paths, and c'existence with legacy systems.

Reinventing Communications

Traditionally, IP networks achieve reliability through a combination of nonredundant routers running dynamic routing protocols and applications running error-recovery protocols. In IP telephony, voice packets are transmitted over digital transmission facilities with very good error performance. Like some data applications, IP telephony systems have high reliability requirements and are assumed to be secure.

IP telephony technology is also improving the way higher education and research organizations use networking resources to communicate, conduct research, teach students, and provide mobile collaborative multimedia technologies on and off campus. Leading institutions are currently building state-of-the-art communications infrastructures to attract top-notch students and faculty, as well as to develop the next-generation Internet. These deployments make it possible for institutions to deliver new communications services at a lower cost, while improving network security, reliability and mobility.

The transformation of enterprise networks to IP telephony is not just about reducing toll charges or recreating PBXs, but about reinventing business communications. For instance:

· Moving voice to the Web model d'es for person-to-person communications what it did for information and transaction networking. That is, it puts end users in control of their communications, enriches how corporations and governments communicate with customers, and enhances collaboration.

· IP telephony offers a cost-effective way to provide users with anytime, anywhere voice and unified messaging.

· IP telephony lowers capital and operating costs by converging disparate voice and data on to one network.

· IP telephony increases revenues by adding new value to voice applications such as unified messaging and management, Web-enabled multi-media contact centers, remote PC-based call management, and more. It can also scale to embody emerging features that will meet future needs.

These benefits, and the vast potential of IP telephony, give users the opportunity to take advantage of this revolutionary force that enhances the way in which people communicate.

For a PDF of Nortel's "2004 VoIP State of the Market Report," click here (or click here).

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

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