Telephone Service

I don’t imagine you spend any more time thinking about the phone on your desk than you do thinking about the light bulb in the ceiling. It’s just there, it works, so why the heck are we changing it?

Up until the 1990’s, all phones were what we call “analogue”. If you have an old looking phone on your desk, chances are it’s an analogue one. With an analogue phone each phone has it’s own wire which goes all the way back to the University’s telephone exchange system. 1,500 phones = 1,500 wires, some going quite a distance.

In the 90’s, it became clear that telephone calls could be carried over computer data networks, which by then were becoming standard in buildings anyway. This is called “Voice over IP”, or “VOIP” for short. At a very basic level, this saves on wiring. For our big new campus buildings, we save hundreds of thousands of pounds by using VOIP instead of analogue, and for that reason alone nobody puts analogue phones into new buildings any more.

But that’s not all – as well as saving money, VOIP allows many more features than are available with analogue phones. I explained some of these in a previous post on Unified Communications.

At RGU, about half our phones are already on VOIP, but with the new Masterplan building opening up next year, it will all be VOIP and we are just now taking the opportunity to move all the remaining analogue phones across to VOIP. This is well underway and those of you with old analogue phones are going to see these replaced over the next couple of months.

If you have an analogue phone, this is what will happen:

1) Before we can do anything else, we have to get the new VOIP phone onto your desk and make sure that it’s working – we don’t want to leave you without a working phone. So, first you will be given a new “VOIP” phone which will sit on your desk along with your analogue phone. At that point, all your incoming calls will come in to your analogue phone, but you will be able to make outgoing calls from either phone. We’ll do that for all analogue phone users before moving to the next stage.

2) Then, phone by phone, we have to move your extension number from the old analogue phone to the new VOIP phone. We’ll tell you when that’s happening. After that, you use your VOIP phone for everything.

3) Then, we’ll take away your old analogue phone.

4) Once we have all staff safely across onto VOIP phones, then we will start to look at making other features available.

For those of you moving into the new Masterplan building down at Garthdee, you’ll get your new phone well ahead of that in your existing office. Then when the time comes to move, it’s just a question of unplugging the phone and plugging it in at your new desk down at Garthdee (someone will do that for you).

You can see more details of the project here:

Mobile Phone Signals Indoors

One of the issues that we have inside some of our buildings, particularly on the Garthdee Campus, is that the strength of mobile phone signals varies and is quite poor in some places. We’re not alone in having this problem – it affects other Universities as well although I am sure it varies hugely depending on the types of building and their location.

Just about everyone uses a mobile phone, so early on in looking at the Estates Masterplan, we decided to see what we could do to improve the signal strength inside our buildings. This turned out to be anything but a straight forward exercise. First of all, OFCOM regulations mean that only a licensed mobile telephony operator can legally operate the equipment that we would need to install inside our buildings. So, before we could do anything we had to find a mobile operator willing to help. We did find one of the big operators who was willing to take a look at this with us, but it was very unclear whether or not we would be able to reach an agreement with all the main mobile operators.

There are significant costs for the mobile operators to install their own equipment on campus, and they have their own cost/benefit calculations to go through before they will make any commitment. On top of that, there are also significant costs for the University and complete high quality indoor signal strength across the Campus, even for one operator, was starting to look very expensive.

So, faced with a situation where (a) a total coverage solution was very expensive and (b) we had no guarantees that we could persuade all the main operators to come on board, we went back to the drawing board:

Most people today have a “smartphone” as their mobile phone. This gives:

i) Ability to make and receive phone calls (!)

ii) Ability to send and receive SMS messages

iii) Ability to access the Internet for web browsing, web-based services such as e-mail, Facebook, etc

iv) Maps and location based services

v) Personal communication media including voice and video conferencing across data networks using services such as Skype, instant messaging and Twitter

(iii), (iv) and (v) can all be done on the University wireless network. SMS messages can usually get through even where signal strength is very low, and that just leaves voice calls.

Interestingly, from around 2010, data traffic carried across mobile networks had exceeded voice traffic, and is forecast to grow significantly. Some figures suggest that by 2015 95% of mobile traffic will be data related and all of that will be accessible inside our buildings on the wireless network.

So for the time being, we have concluded that it is not cost effective to implement a complete indoor signal solution for mobile phones across the Campus, as the wireless network will cover most uses. There are still other ways to make voice calls over the wireless network (e.g. Skype) and our new “Unified Communications” system will also allow members of staff to install “apps” on their smart phones to access the University telephone system.

We won’t completely lose sight of indoor mobile telephony, and we may yet put some small, low cost, solutions in particular areas if there is a real need for mobile voice access. We’re working with other Universities to see how best to do that.


Unified Communication – bringing it together

As part of the refurbishment of the University Estate, we are replacing the University telephone system.

The first task, which we will do over the summer this year, will be to concentrate on the basics – just the new telephone system. Those of you who already have one of the new phones will notice little difference, those with older phones will get a new phone and immediately some better features on call forwarding, voicemail etc. You will also be able to use software phones to access the University phone system when you are on the move or at home. Behind the scenes, we will be installing the equipment to run the new system which incidentally will also make our whole system more resilient as part of our disaster recovery plans.

Once this is installed this system can become the hub for allowing much greater video communication, internally and externally. It will be possible to run video links from your desktop, iPad, iPhone or Android and link to Skype. We will equip a range of meeting and teaching rooms with video conferencing ability. A key aim is to make it easy for you to start a video link by looking up somebody from the Outlook address book. The equipment in the main video conferencing room in the Faculty of Health and Social care will also be upgraded. 

We will also be integrating Outlook with the new system. You will be able to pick up your voicemail messages directly from Outlook. We will also be deploying an instant messaging system. More about that nearer the time, but very simply it allows you to see instantly if someone is available and fire off a quick message or start a phone call. It keeps email traffic down, and avoids you wasting time phoning someone if they are not available. 

All this represents quite a big change in the ways in which we can communicate, and other organisations which have adopted this have welcomed the flexibility that this brings. We’ll send out more information nearer the time as we are ready to start making this available for use.