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Network Takes on Voice Traffic

June 6, 2006

The first phases of Northwestern's voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) are under way.

The current phone system carries voice signals between your phone and a central switching facility. With VoIP, that voice signal is transferred by the same network that links your computer to the Internet. VoIP phones plug into a network port instead of a phone jack, but they can still communicate with traditional phones.

This summer, Chicago campus users will be the first who can switch from plain old telephone service to service via the Northwestern Network. To make the switch, a freeze on phone changes will occur.

"VoIP is the next logical step to update Northwestern's aging phone system. Adding voice traffic to the Northwestern Network improves efficiency and expands communications capabilities," said Dave Carr, Information Technology's director of telecommunications and network services. "This won't happen all at once -- users and advanced features will be added to VoIP in a phased approach over time." 

"The user won't notice a difference when these switches happen, but from an infrastructure standpoint, changing over to IP-enabled service is a major milestone," said Carr. "In the next phase, session initiated protocol (SIP)-enabling users will notice the difference because they will be able to use the services of a typical VoIP phone, such as being able to make calls from a computer."

SIP is an industry-standard protocol that integrates the delivery of voice, audio and videoconferencing, call forwarding, and secure instant messaging over the Northwestern Network. The IT converged communication team anticipates that the advanced features of SIP will be available to all Northwestern users in the coming year or two.

Once Chicago phones are running on the Northwestern Network, the Evanston campus will be switched over to IP-enabled service, scheduled for late 2006 through early 2007.

IT's converged communications Web site at www.it.northwestern.edu/telephone/converge/voip.html provides additional information about this multi-year conversion plan for SIP and VoIP.

Topics: University News