New phone system to be installed over next few years

A new phone system that offers features like instant messaging and advanced call forwarding and doesn’t have fees for long-distance calls is in Rice’s future.

The university will replace the Nortel phone system that was installed in 1999 with a Cisco system that carries phone calls over a data network. The Rice Board of Trustees approved the plans at its December meeting.

photo of the handset that many employees will get when the new phone system is installed

This is the handset that many employees will get when the new phone system is installed.

The new system, known as a Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP), “will change the way we communicate,” Keith Kostelecky said at the Jan. 10 Administrators’ Forum.

As director of Systems Engineering and Communications Infrastructure for Information Technology, Kostelecky will oversee the implementation of the new system.

Because VoIP uses the data networking structure that also provides Internet connections, it allows users to send instant messages and to look up phone numbers of Rice employees and students just by typing the first few letters of the person’s last name. Options for call forwarding include specific instructions, such as forwarding calls to someone when the employee will be out of the office for a meeting and then forwarding them to home or a cellphone at a later time.

Kostelecky said that to allow for a “smooth user migration,” the Nortel and Cisco systems will be integrated; once the Cisco system is working, user migrations will begin, and the Nortel system will be turned off after all the migrations have been completed.

Testing for the migration will begin this spring, and a summer pilot migration is planned for the Mudd Building. During August the migration will be implemented in the new administrative building south of Allen Center.

The migration will continue building by building between 2017 and early 2019. The residential colleges will under migration in the summer of 2018. IT will meet with department administrators about two to four months before their buildings will be affected to survey their needs.

Although the fee Rice charges for phone service will not change, the billing will switch from monthly to annually. Under the new system, Rice will not charge to move phones unless cable installation is required.

Kostelecky said department administrators should be thinking about whether they want to add or delete phones and how they want calls to their departments routed.

Since the VoIP system does not use a traditional telephone line, service may be affected if there is a power outage on campus. However, Kostelecky said there are back-up contingencies for the Rice University Police Department, Facilities Engineering and Planning, the hotline for student counseling and other critical areas.

He said the system is “geo-redundant,” with equipment at both the Primary Data Center on South Main and in the Mudd Building. “If one system goes down, the other is a backup,” he said.

Implementation of VoIP will take a few years because there are more than 6,000 phones in the more than 90 buildings on campus plus the off-campus sites like the IBC Building, the BioScience Research Collaborative, the Rice Children’s Campus and the data center. This includes phones in elevators and the outdoor blue light emergency phones around campus.

The switch to a new phone system was prompted by Nortel’s filing for bankruptcy in 2009. Avaya purchased Nortel and announced that support services for Nortel systems will end in 2018.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.