Campus phone system to be replaced by computerized VoIP

By Michelle Menner

Up until the fall semester of 2007, students were asked to provide their four digit extension when scheduling an appointment at the writing center, but now according to writing tutor Naomi Raphael, they’re asked, “What is the number where we can reach you?”

Often students provide their cell phone number. The shift from “what’s your extension” to “what is the number where we can reach you” highlights the growing change on campus of students using their cell phones instead of their dorm telephones.
Raphael said that she didn’t even know her four digit extension, and junior Teresa Reardon pulled the plug on her phone.

It may seem that students find their provided land lines useless. However, some students, like Raphael’s roommate, use their extensions when their cell phones don’t work.

Even though the rare student may be using their phone line, the faculty members are using the phone lines the most.

“My sense is that our current phone system is betwixt and between,” said Provost Tom Falkner. “In terms of student use, land lines are pretty much obsolete, but offices still need telephones that can do traditional things.”

The campus’ need for a phone system and the students’ irreverent attitudes towards the system often cause a little bit of trouble.

Kellie Wuorinen, McDaniel’s telecommunication/student network manager, receives complaints from faculty “all the time” about the inability to leave messages for students because their PhoneMail is full.

Since faculty members are now making long distance calls to students on their cell phones is this causing an increase in the phone budget?

Dr. Ethan Seidel, vice president for finance and administration said in an e-mail, “The average total cost…over the last three years has been approximately $157,000. There have been no signs of any increases in cost over time. In fact, the total expenditure for budget year 2007 was lower than budget year 2006.”

“For the seven months thus far completed in budget year 2008, we have experienced no discernible difference from prior years,” Seidel added. “If staff are calling students more frequently on students’ cell phones rather than students’ four digit extensions, it isn’t showing up to date in the cost of operating the phone system.”

However, some new expenses may be on the horizon if the college decides to switch to a new phone system called Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP technology.

The FCC’s website explains this as “a technology that allows you to make voice calls using a broadband internet connection instead of a regular (or analog) phone line.”

“The two immediate advantages [of VoIP] will be savings in space/power and unified messaging. Currently our PBX system takes a lot of valuable space in the computer center, and uses lots of power that generates heat. With VoIP, basically all the hardware will reduce down to a few boxes, and the phone network will be replaced by our Internet infrastructure,” said information technology CIO Esther Iglich. “Second it will allow unified messaging which means that phone mail messages will reside on your computer . . . and you can choose to view them in any order either in text or audio formats. Once VoIP is set up, it will form the infrastructure for future potential systems like video and data transfer over ‘phone’ lines.”

So, if there are several advantages to this new phone system why isn’t it in place yet?

“There are new technologies out there, like VOiP, but we’ll want to make sure that whatever we decide will work for the whole community, not just some of us,” said Falkner.