Saving with Packets of Information
Problem: In 2003, when Carl Woody became the network engineer of North Carolina's Dare County school district, the first thing he did was feel discouraged. The equipment was seven years old, the network infrastructure could barely handle the traffic, and there weren't any phones in the classrooms. A phone company estimate came in at $40,000 just to wire the classrooms, and on top of that would have been a monthly leasing fee of $1,500. The district wanted phones in each classroom to be able to reach students and teachers quickly, and provide communication in the case of emergencies. As it was, teachers could only use phones in the main office, and had to write long distance call information on small slips of paper that were often misplaced.
Solution: After securing a $210,000 grant, Woody used the money to update the network infrastructure for all nine schools in the district. Not only did this give the schools more power in terms of using multimedia learning applications and the Internet, but it allowed Dare County to implement an IP telephony system. Since three of the schools had their phone leases up for renewal, Woody decided to replace their systems with IP telephony.
After comparing vendors, Woody chose 3Com and the company's local partner, Alpha Gamma Technologies, to install several pieces of technology, including switches, network jacks, building-to-building LAN bridges and wireless access points. The networked telephony systems also allow the district to do call recording and tracking, eliminating those cumbersome self-reporting duties.
"In terms of functionality, it's been great," says Woody. "You don't even know it's VoIP, it's just crystal clear."
In all, the expense came out to about $30,000 per school. Although that may be a higher initial expenditure than going with a traditional phone system, the lack of leasing costs will start saving Dare County money within just a few years. The district plans to implement IP telephony systems in the district's other schools as those schools' phone system leases expire.
The implementation of VoIP for classrooms is really starting to take off, according to John Halpin, 3Com's public sector marketing manager. "What you're seeing at Dare Country reflects where schools want to go," he says. "Since Columbine, there's been a greater need and urgency for getting phones in the classroom."
He adds that because almost 94 percent of schools already have a data network in place, it is fairly easy to migrate from a traditional PBX phone system to IP telephony. In fact, most new school construction takes IP telephony into account during the network design phase, Halpin notes. "Installation costs are roughly the same as a phone system," he says, "but the real savings come in the ongoing operational costs."
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer based in Saint Louis Park, Minn.