Saskatoon public schools look to VoIP for productivity gains

With 1,000 phone lines running out of its 54 sites, the Saskatoon Public School Board needed a way to centralize its telephony. The solution was to switch its old PBX system to Voice Over IP (VoIP).

Last month the board revealed it was teaming with Nortel Networks to move Saskatoon’s public schools to VoIP. Nortel is providing its Nortel Ethernet Routing Switch 5520 and over 1,900 of its Nortel i2001, 2002 and 2004 IP phones. The school board will be using its existing data network that connects all its schools and adding voice to it. The central office will act as the hub for this new network.

“[We are] using the managed switches and routers to create virtual LANs to isolate the voice from the data [in order] to guarantee the quality of service on the phones by reserving bandwidth (so that no matter how busy the data side gets, the phones will always work),” said David Hasell, systems administrator for the Saskatoon Public School Board.

The decision to go with Nortel, said Daryl Koroluk, general manager of information systems for the Saskatoon Public School Board, was made because Nortel is a partner of SaskTel (the board’s phone provider) and Saskatoon Catholic schools also used Nortel for a similar deployment.

The reason for shifting to VoIP is to provide every teacher’s desk in Saskatoon’s schools with IP phones and provide every teacher and administrative staffer with their own phone number with voice mail and conferencing capabilities.

“Teachers really appreciate that because it allows parents to reach [them] directly instead of going through the secretary,” Hasell said. In addition, the paging and intercom systems are being upgraded to IP.

Koroluk noted there is more than just VoIP happening with this deployment.

“The phone piece [was a driver for a converged network] but what we saw was the ability to build out the network overall for increased capacity for teaching and learning,” Koroluk said. He added the need for an enhanced network will allow for leveraging of collaboration and Web-based resources for things like distance learning and the ability to carry high-end media.

The benefit of going with VoIP, said Koroluk, is partly cost savings but “[also to] take those savings and put them into other IP applications or teaching and learning applications along with better networking and bandwidth.”

Dan Young, vice-president of global industry solutions for Nortel, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he has seen demand increasing for IP solutions in the education sector over the last number of years.

“Districts are finding VoIP projects are compelling business cases. They are looking at ways to reduce costs and ways to increase their value proposition. Having an IP-based network allows them to accomplish those two objectives,” he said.

The VoIP deployment is being phased in one school at a time and so far one school in the disctrict has the new converged network. Hasell expects full deployment of the VoIP phone system to be completed by end of summer 2006.

Future use of the enhanced network, Koroluk said, includes digital delivery of video over the wide area network and deploying hot spots in student common areas, learning resource centres and libraries so students can connect wirelessly to the school network in order to access learning and teaching resources.

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