Enhanced 911 ups IP appeal

Despite being one of Canada’s largest metropolises in its own right, Mississauga, Ont. is often overshadowed by its eastern neighbour, Toronto. One area where it isn’t being outdone by any city, however, is that of municipal phone systems.

Thanks to a recent deployment of a converged IP communications network from Cisco Systems Ltd., Mississauga officials say they are set to reap the rewards of more efficient internal communication. And, perhaps more importantly, residents will also be able to communicate more easily with city departments than in the PBX-based past.

“We can now transfer (callers) from one facility to another; we don’t have to ask people to hang up and call again,” said Norm Baxter, project manager for the City of Mississauga. “(Previously) people would have to wait in line, only to find out they have the wrong place and the wrong time, etc. From a customer service perspective, we have maximum flexibility.”

Another key selling point for the City was the prospect of consolidating 40 telephony systems into one by way of IP technology. That adds up to easier management of the system. Voice mail, for instance, now runs on a single platform.

“So now we don’t have 40 different voice mail platforms spread around the city.…It also means that facilities that didn’t have voice mail before have voice mail now,” said Baxter.

Added to that convenience is the ability of city workers to communicate amongst each other much more effectively throughout Mississauga’s 70 locations – namely through the IP system’s four-digit dialing system. Instead of having to dial a multitude of different 10-digit numbers from an extensive and often confusing internal directory, employees can now dial extensions consisting of a mere four numbers to get to the person they’re seeking.

“We’re not having to dial out and in and back out (with) 10-digit dialing, which means you don’t need trunk lines,” said Baxter. “You can reduce the number of business lines and trunk lines because now a lot of the traffic becomes internal traffic that’s managed over your own switch, rather than having to go outside into the Bell (Canada) network and back in again.”

According to Brantz Myers, national manager, enterprise marketing for Cisco Systems Canada in Toronto, some of Mississauga’s biggest savings will be realized with the elimination of costs related to adding, changing and moving employees’ phones from one location to another.

“When you move your phone, or your cubicle, with a traditional phone network, someone had to be called in to go into the wiring closet and literally punch down or move some copper wire or program a few things on a phone switch,” said Myers. “With IP telephony, those costs go away.”

Myers added that the generally accepted dollar figure in Canada for each add, move or change on non-IP systems is about $200.

Another key selling point of the IP system was the promise of utilizing Enhanced 9-1-1 (E 9-1-1) services. This feature will allow fire, ambulance and other emergency response teams to automatically receive the location on the network of a phone that is placing a call.

“The fire department and police department were involved in this, and it’s not often that we have people of such diverse roles looking at technology deployments, but they were so interested and concerned that it could meet the needs of emergency services, so they took a good hard look at it,” said Myers.

All this is great, but what about the price tag? Baxter told Network World Canada that the winning bid from Cisco came in at $3.3 million. He added, however, that the City is expecting to see an annual cost reduction of phone line services “somewhere in the neighbourhood of $600,000 to $700,000 annually.”

“The basic operating cost of our 40 different (phone) systems around the city was $1.2 million (a year),” Baxter said. “At maturity, once we’re fully installed…our operating costs will be reduced to something in the order of $500,000 to $600,000.”