Good Bye PBX – did you notice?

Ok, what’s a PBX? It’s the old University telephone exchange that until Tuesday 22nd January 2013 was used to connect the University’s internal telephony system to the public phone system. All incoming and outgoing calls went through that system. We actually had two – one at Schoolhill and one down at Scott Sutherland.

 I explained back in November what we were doing to move from the old “analogue” phones to the new “VOIP” phones. The old “analogue” phones were each connected to the PBX by their own copper wire, and the PBX then connected us to the public phone network. As long as we had some analogue phones, we had to keep the PBX – but now that all the analogue phones have been replaced we don’t need the PBX systems any more. They are old, they are very inflexible, and they are “single points of failure”. If one of the PBX systems fails, then we lose all outgoing and incoming calls linked to that PBX. Not something you want to happen at critical times of the year.

So, the last step in the telephone switch over was to remove the PBX systems and that was done on Tuesday. In their place, our phone system is now connected through the National JANET network. We have dual connections into the University, and the fact that we are connected through a modern voice and data network will give us greater flexibility in future. For example, if we ever need to add additional capacity (more lines) it can now be done much more quickly than was possible before.

The switchover had to be done without a hitch – it was essential that incoming and outgoing calls across the University were not disrupted. So there was a heavy programme of testing the week before the switchover, and a final batch of testing on the Monday, and then the system was handed over from one telecom provider to another early on Tuesday morning. Hopefully you didn’t notice!

That’s the core of the new, modern, telephone system very much complete now apart from some tidying up. Oh- apart from fax machines. We still have 70 people wanting to keep their fax machines . . . that’s maybe a topic for another day.

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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: