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Universities have VoIP fever

A recent survey of North American universities and colleges reveals that they represent the sweet spot for VoIP deployment plans.

Higher education is looking like the sweet spot when it comes to VoIP deployment plans.

Although fewer than half of the colleges and universities in North America have migrated to Voice over IP (VoIP) networks, a recent survey revealed that a major deployment wave is under way at educational institutions.

Over the next six months to two years, there will be a spike in VoIP deployment at universities and colleges, according to a member survey conducted by the Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education known as ACUTA. The nonprofit education association, which includes about 2,000 individuals and 825 universities and colleges, polled attendees at its VoIP educational seminar earlier this month and found that the most frequently cited reason among the nonusers for considering migration is to improve overall network efficiency and to deliver improved end-user features.

Universities like "the feature richness of VoIP," according to Pat Todus, current president of ACUTA and associate vice president and deputy CTO at Northwestern University. "With VoIP, you can easily do video between two callers, you have the ability to use all of the SIP and Presence functionality, and you have ability to be more mobile."

As much as 43% of polled institutions said that they are already using VoIP, but the majority of those users said that the VoIP network currently covers less than 25% of their campus. Where satisfaction is concerned, some VoIP networks didn't make the grade. Responses averaged out to a solid B (a 3.13 grade point average), while as much as 25% assigned the network an "incomplete" grade.

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Still, a whopping 77% of the responding colleges and universities using VoIP are planning to expand their networks in the next six months to two years, and the only ones not planning expansion are those that just finished recent upgrades. Among the colleges and universities that are not using VoIP, a hefty 70% say a migration is in their plans, anytime between the next six months and three or more years.

The most frequently cited benefits of the VoIP network included improved end-user features, according to 46% of the users; cost savings, cited by 31%; and overall network efficiency, cited by 23%.

"Improved network efficiency is important because higher education is always looking for ways to do things to keep costs stabilized or reduce cost," Todus said. Northwestern University, where Todus is associate VP and deputy CTO, is among the pending deployments. The school is in the first eight months of a 4-year plan to deploy VoIP.

"Northwestern was driven to deploy VoIP by the fact that our current systems were at the end of life," Todus said. "The other reason is ability to serve remote locations easily. I heard that from a number of ACUTA members."

Despite the bright outlook for VoIP in the higher education arena, concerns and challenges remain. Security was named as a concern by as much as 77% of the users, with Quality of Service and emergency 911 issues cited by 69%. Management was an issue for 62%. Other challenges cited were cost, user training, complexity, and help desk issues.

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