Is SIP the new USB?

A school board in Winnipeg announced its plans to install IP phones this week from Grandstream Networks Inc. of Brookline, Mass.

Pembina Trails School Division, which has more than 2,000 staff at 34 buildings, is using the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) version of ObjectWorld Communications Corp.’s Unified Communications Server.

Don Reece, the school division’s IT director, said his organization chose Ottawa-based ObjectWorld’s UC Server because they can use their existing switches from Dell Inc., plus Microsoft Active Directory. “ObjectWorld is hardware agnostic,” Reece said. “We looked at Cisco real hard because you’re scared not to go with Cisco (or) Mitel,” he said.

But when Pembina Trails evaluated bids from Cisco Systems Inc., Mitel Networks Corp., Nortel Networks Corp. and ObjectWorld, the latter was the lowest bidder. “ObjectWorld was a fraction of the cost,” he said. “We could replace existing phone systems with unified communications and still save money.”

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Pembina Trails moved to voice over IP because they were replacing phone systems from different vendors, which had reached the end of their life cycle.

“Some of the hardware we could only find on eBay,” he said.

Grandstream, which makes IP PBXs, SIP trunking gateways and voice over IP products, plans to supply 500 IP phones. Their GXP280 includes a 128×32 graphic liquid crystal display, three keys that can be programmed in Extensible Markup Language and two 10/100 network ports.

SIP was a major selling point, Reece said.

“We see SIP as being the new USB,” he said.

With UC Server, Pembina has the capability to broadcast emergency alerts through a paging system, combine e-mail with voicemail and fax, give remote staff access to voicemail and auto-configure phones when staff plug them into Ethernet connections.

“Very few people use phones for voicemail,” Reece said. “Almost everyone uses their e-mail package.”

He added teachers will normally have phones forwarded to their e-mail.

ObjectWorld UC Server also includes administrative functions for IT staff.

“It managers can administer pretty much anywhere on the system,” said Vincent Guihan, the company’s director of marketing. He added it will help cut down on the number of telephone lines they need to purchase from carriers.

“Lots of educational customers will eliminate redundant lines,” he said.

Reece said an update to ObjectWorld, scheduled for release in March, will have new features that will be useful to Pembina Trails.

“SIP paging is what we’re really looking forward to,” he said. “ObjectWorld’s software is going to become the air traffic controller for all the communication, video and audio, in our school division.” The entire unified communications system will cost Pembina about $500,000 but will save them $200,000 per year, Reece said.

The school division has a number of other IT initiatives, including digital printing, whereby all documents are scanned remotely. The organization also uses soft phones.

“I travel quite a bit. I use a soft phone and all I need to do is VPN in through whatever Internet connection, and all our calls are local calls,” Reece said. “It’s kind of like our own Skype.”

Of the division’s 34 buildings, four are hub sites housing unified communications servers. The school division installed 47 kilometres of its own dark fibre, so it has one Gigabit per second of bandwidth running between sites.

“We have an overhead projector, computer and telephone in every classroom right now,” Reece said.

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