Lakehead University is thinking big

A partnership between Bell Canada, Brampton, Ont.-based Nortel Networks Ltd. and Lakehead University of Thunder Bay, Ont. has resulted in one of the largest IP telephony network installations in North America.

Using Nortel’s Succession Internet Telephony technology, the Lakehead network will support more than 2,000 IP telephony-based phones by the start of the September semester. Possibly the largest installation of its kind in North America, it’s even bigger than the Bell initiative at Ottawa’s Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology, which implemented approximately 1,600 IP telephony phones using technology from Cisco Systems Inc.

The first phase of the Lakehead project is almost complete, with about 550 IP phones to be operational on the campus by this summer. And according to Terry Mosey, president of Bell Ontario, the partnership between Bell and the university will forge a training centre for both Bell employees and university staff, faculty and students. Also, Bell and Lakehead will work together to jointly develop applications driving content and commerce on the Internet. Bell and Nortel will also have a hand in a new technology and academic centre that will begin construction this summer.

“What we intend to see happen from this agreement is a working relationship that will allow the university to select appropriate technology as it’s rolled out by the industry and to function as a beta test site for the new technology,” said Fred Gilbert, president of Lakehead.

When the project is complete, the IP telephony system will be the main telephone and Internet form of communications within campus buildings, as well as within university residence housing. According to Gilbert, the new network will also be used to provide services such as course registration, library book renewal, e-commerce and teleconferencing anywhere on campus. Mosey added that a student with a laptop computer could be working on the network in residence, disconnect, walk to the cafeteria and plug into a wall outlet there, and the network would immediately identify the student.

The installation was started in March and will take approximately five months to complete. Gilbert said the servers and most of the fibre optics are now in place. The total hardware commitment, including the academic centre, is more than $6 million. Exact financial terms between Lakehead, Bell and Nortel, and the exact cost of the IP telephony network itself, remain undisclosed.

Nortel’s Bruce Hanley, director of sales, Canadian territory, extolled the virtues of having one network handling voice and data traffic to manage instead of one network for each. The buildings only need one set of wiring, he said.

However, one network for both voice and data means that if the network goes down, all communications are lost, right? Hanley said redundant equipment will be put in place in case parts of the network stop functioning. Also, the university will leave a few select “legacy” phones in place for emergencies. Hanley stressed that the probability of a network crash is very low. And according to Gilbert, there will be Bell technicians on site to monitor and maintain the network.

“I think an IP telephony solution in its present form is best suited to a campus environment where you do have more control over the network,” said Mark Quigley, associate director, research, at The Yankee Group in Canada in Brockville, Ont. These types of installations in post-secondary institutions will become more commonplace, but the factor keeping some of them away from new IP telephony networks is the big price tag attached to the technology, he said.