Cambridge signs multi-million pound VoIP deal

The University of Cambridge has announced a multi-million pound deal with BT and Cisco, along with consultants PTS Consulting, to provide IP telephony equipment for staff and students.

The deal will involve the two companies providing around 20,000 IP telephony handsets that incorporate Cisco's Unified Communications Manager 6.0 technology, making it one of the biggest IP telephony deals ever signed in the UK education sector.

Dr Ian Lewis, director of computing at the University of Cambridge told IT PRO that the handsets would allow both basic phone calls as well the ability to make and receive voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls: "The key thing is that we're not replacing the existing telephone system but actually building architecture for the future, and it'll be connected to the internet as it is connected to the PSTN [Public Switched Telephone Network]."

"We think that the architecture that we are building will be able to allow us to do both of these things well."

The deployment will serve 17,000 users across 200 university institutions, allowing them to use a converged voice, video and data network. Students will also be able to make discounted calls as well as make calls with their computers.

Lewis was also very enthusiastic about its research potential: "For research and the academics it fundamentally comes down to the ease of collaboration. You might want a communications session open all day, every day, like a project in Switzerland right now where a large chunk of the project team is in Cambridge. It may in due course extend to video."

He did foresee problems though: "We are waiting for the rest of the world to catch us up to a certain extent. There is a limit to the people we can communicate with, though we are having discussions with MIT and Oxford to test the connectivity we've got."