Cole International Inc. is a voice/data convergence success story in the eyes of Dan Royle, the company’s manager of computer services.

Over the past few years, the Calgary-based customs broker has implemented a frame relay network converging voice and data with the help of RYCOM Inc. and RYCOM’s reseller and systems integrator, Expanded Systems of Calgary. The network allows different branches of Cole, as well as some of Cole’s clients, to speak to each other toll-free.

Until 1995, Cole had been using a packet switching solution. “It was ugly,” Royle said. “It was flooded in the sense that it was overwhelmed, with too many people on it.”

So in 1995, all of Cole International’s branch offices located in cities across Canada switched to being serviced through frame relay supporting IBM-compatible remote controllers.

“Around that time, frame relay was in its infancy,” explained Graham Entwistle, director of business development for Expanded Systems.

“We kind of jumped on early which, as it turned out, has proven positive for Cole,” Royle added.

At the Calgary head office, a Motorola Serial MPRouter 6520 was installed, and at the remote branch offices there were Motorola Vanguard 100s, with the exception of Winnipeg and Edmonton — these branches were using Newbridge Mainstreet products for voice and data integration over traditional leased lines.

In 1997, Cole upgraded the head office’s Serial MPRouter to support Ethernet and voice trunks, removed the Newbridge Mainstreet products, cancelled the leased line services and added Winnipeg and Edmonton to the frame relay service using Motorola Ethernet MPRouter 6520 with voice capability.

“The leased lines from Newbridge were not cost-effective anymore,” Entwistle explained.

Cole then began implementing an Ethernet solution which also supported its legacy IBM SNA applications and added voice over frame relay to the new connections.

The next year, Ethernet was expanded to 11 more branch offices and Cole decided to use the Motorola Vanguard 320 as its product of choice for voice and data over frame relay.

The cost savings involved are one of the main reasons Royle considers this project a success. He worked it out — between the three main branches, Cole was saving about $800 per month.

“The thing with frame relay is it’s distance-insensitive, so it’s virtually the same cost all across the province,” Entwistle said. “So to eliminate leased lines, where you pay by distance, seems to be a very good solution for Cole. They continue to reap the benefits of voice and data integration and savings, but even more so because of the frame relay costs being much less than the leased lines.”

Initially, the voice capability was being used just for internal branch-to-branch toll elimination. But the voice quality was better than expected, so Cole opened up a toll-free voice line for clients as well.

Royle said the overall stability of the network has been great. And as for the sound quality, Royle described it as “good to excellent.” Cole employees quiz clients who use the voice line at least once a month, and Royle said the feedback tends to be good.

“The one thing we’ve improved recently is the overall integrity of it — it used to be more of a one-way thing,” Royle said. “Calgary could call Ottawa and Ottawa could call Calgary, but Ottawa couldn’t call anyone else on the voice network…Now we’ve got full functionality where any branch can talk to any branch now, so the saving are going to go up again.”

Carol Neshevich is a senior writer for Network World Canada.